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How can you make content more accessible?

8 June 2021

Twelve million adults in the UK have some form of hearing loss. This means one in five people might struggle to access the content your organisation is putting out.

Our vision at the National Deaf Children’s Society, is a world without barriers for every deaf child. By making communications accessible, you can avoid discrimination and reach the widest possible audience. But what works for one person, might not work for another.

Why? Well, someone might be deaf, deafened, hard of hearing, deaf blind, profoundly deaf, or have a mild to moderate hearing loss. They might be born deaf or have lost their hearing quickly through injury, illness or with old age. They might use speech but also lip-read, or use Signed Supported English (SSE), which follows English grammar but uses signing at the same time. They might use British Sign Language (BSL), with its own grammar and structure and incorporates facial expressions. They might have hearing aids or cochlear implants, may not sign or lip-read, or they may use a BSL interpreter, lip-speaker or palantypist.

So how can you communicate effectively with everyone?

Simple changes make webinars, workshops and virtual meetings more accessible

The biggest barriers deaf people face in accessing video meetings and webinars are:

  • poor sound quality and background noise
  • too many faces on screen
  • people speaking over each other
  • too much text on screen
  • speaker’s face not visible for lip-reading
  • no subtitles or BSL interpretation

But with simple adjustments and forward planning you can change this:

On Zoom or Teams: pin speakers and communications support staff. Ask everyone else to go on mute and (if more than four participants) to turn off video. Announce who will speak and in what order. Encourage turn-taking to avoid talking over each other. Ensure there’s an interpreter in the same breakout room as each deaf delegate. If this isn’t an option then use a live transcription like Otter.

With PowerPoints: use bullet points instead of lots of written text and give people time to read what’s on screen.

Use auto-captions: they’re not perfect, but are often better than nothing.

Think ahead: send out documents, the PowerPoint and anything that will be used in the meeting, to deaf attendees and their interpreters in advance.

Take a break: at the end of each hour, if only for five minutes. It’s tiring watching a screen, especially when trying to lip-read or focus on an interpreter.

If you’re not sure… Ask those with lived experience.

Co-creation ensures videos that work

Last year, the National Deaf Children’s Society won a Drum Content Award for our Deaf Works Everywhere video campaign, to inspire deaf young people (and their parents) to believe that deafness need not prevent them from doing anything.

The fully accessible film – featuring 38 real deaf role models, from a NASA engineer to a driving instructor – was watched over 23,000 times in the first three weeks. The number of deaf young people agreeing with the statement ‘deaf people can do any job’ doubled after watching it. A success that was made possible by working closely with our Young People’s Advisory Board (YAB) – a group of deaf young people aged 13 to 16 – and involving them in every key decision.

The campaign had to be accessible to all deaf young people, and include BSL, voice and subtitles.

So, our deaf staff, the YAB and our networks were a vital part of ensuring the film was accessible and clear. Deaf staff with a strong knowledge of BSL approved the script so it would translate correctly and as always, to make all our video content accessible, we provided audio information in another form:

  • subtitles
  • in-vision (the addition of BSL within a filmed clip, often shown by a person signing in the corner of the screen)
  • BSL translators

Research by SubText Digital showed that over 50% of 18- to 34-year-olds would be more likely to donate to a charity that used subtitles in its advertising. It’s a small change that can have a big impact, find out about it here.

Building a fully accessible website

In April, we relaunched the Buzz, our fully accessible website for deaf young people (the first in the UK). Beforehand, we held focus groups and extensive consultations with our target audience, followed by months of testing.

We had to consider not only the different levels of hearing loss of our audience and how they like to communicate, but also the age groups and their different levels of literacy.

What did we do?

  • Had separate areas for 12-year-olds and under, and 13-year-olds and over.
  • Presented all content in spoken English, BSL, written Plain English, images or a combination, with users able to upload their own questions, polls, events etc.
  • Had a clear safety policy to keep deaf children and young people safe on the website.
  • Allowed users over 13 to edit their account to their own preferences, including an avatar to help them express their deaf identity.  
  • Built the site on a mobile-first principle. Mobile phones are deaf young people’s preferred device.
  • Chose design colours only after consultation with deaf young people.
  • Made sure body copy was clear and easy to read using Graphie regular font on a white background.

Accessible communication needs an integrated approach

No matter the platform or medium, consult with those with lived experience and take a company-wide approach.

  • Use mixed media e.g. visuals, words, a video, a case study.
  • Think about the layout of your page, online or in print. Break up chunks of text with images and photos. Pull out key information with bullet points, boxed text, subheadings and bold fonts.
  • Consider your audience’s age range and literacy levels. Use short sentences and plain English. Simplify technical terms. Explain acronyms. Avoid jargon.
  • Avoid too much text on bright colour blocks – difficult to read.
  • Include people with disabilities such as deafness in your design and imagery.
  • Caption videos and add BSL interpretation where possible. 
  • Test content with your audience for their feedback.

Accessible communication needs an integrated approach

If you’re not sure where to start, pick a couple of the above ideas and go from there!

The following websites will also help:

For social media accessibility tips read: Making your social media accessible

Image: C D-X on Unsplash

Danielle Simpson

editor, National Deaf Children’s Society

Danielle is the editor in the Communications team at the National Deaf Children’s Society. With a passion for writing and language, she has taught creative writing workshops to service users at Mind, been a proofreader for Little, Brown Book Group, a copywriter for many luxury brands, and a feature writer on various glossies. She launched Good Housekeeping magazine in the UAE and has written travel guides on the Middle East. In her spare time, she’s working on her first novel and is the author of a blog View From A Broad.