We live in a time where diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are at the forefront of corporate agendas and what we do as professional communicators. However, one critical aspect often overlooked is digital accessibility. It is a vital component that ensures the inclusivity of all individuals, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities.
Let's delve into why digital accessibility should be integral to your DEI strategies and how you can seamlessly incorporate it into your daily routines as a professional communicator.
Digital Accessibility: A Core Pillar of DEI
DEI efforts aim to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for everyone. However, without addressing digital accessibility, these efforts can fall short. Digital accessibility ensures that online resources are usable by people with various disabilities, including visual, auditory, motor and cognitive disabilities. It's not just about compliance with legal standards like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Accessible Canada Act (ACA), or the UK's Equality Act — it's about extending inclusivity to the digital realm.
To help keep accessibility top of mind in everything you do as a professional communicator, consider shifting from using the acronym DEI to using IDEA, or inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility.
The Business Case for Digital Accessibility
Incorporating digital accessibility into DEI or IDEA practices is not just a nice thing to do, it also makes good business sense. Globally, over 1 billion people live with some form of disability. Ignoring digital accessibility means potentially alienating a significant portion of the market. Additionally, accessible websites and digital tools often rank higher in search engines, have lower maintenance costs and provide a better user experience for all users, not just those with disabilities.
But when it comes to digital accessibility, remember: it's progress over perfection. Changing one thing at a time to be more accessible is better than not trying at all. And if you make a mistake, that's OK. You can learn from it and ensure you do it right the next time. This is a journey.
Tips and Tricks for Professional Communicators
What can you start to implement in your strategies to ensure you're progressing along your digital accessibility journey?
- Start with Awareness: Understand the importance of digital accessibility. You can start by familiarizing yourself with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and how they apply to your work.
- Inclusive Language: Use language that is inclusive and respectful. Avoid ableist language and ensure that your content does not inadvertently exclude or offend.
- Accessible Design: Embrace principles of accessible design in all digital communications, including readable fonts, appropriate color contrasts and a responsive design that works across various devices.
- Alt Text for Images: Always have alternative text for images. This simple step can make a huge difference for those using screen readers.
- Captioning and Transcripts: Provide captions for videos and transcripts for audio content. It benefits individuals with hearing disabilities and those who prefer reading to listening.
- Audio Descriptions: When creating video content, make sure you have either post-production audio descriptions or integrated audio descriptions built into your videos for people with sight loss to experience what is happening on screen fully.
- Accessible Social Channels: Social media is a great place to showcase digital accessibility. Write in plain language, add alternative text to your images and the main post, and limit and place your emojis at the end of a message.
- Check Your PDFs: Ensure your PDFs are accessible, usable and compliant with the PDF/Universal Accessibility (UA) standard. You can use free tools like the PDF Accessibility Checker (PAC) from the PDF/UA Foundation.
- Regular Testing: Use accessibility testing tools to check your content regularly. Consider involving people with disabilities in the testing process for real-world insights.
- Ongoing Education: Stay informed about the latest developments in digital accessibility. The field is constantly evolving, and staying updated is key. Join groups or follow accessibility advocates on LinkedIn to learn more.
- Encourage Feedback: Create channels for feedback specifically about accessibility. It shows that you are committed to continuous improvement.
- Lead by Example: Advocate for digital accessibility in your organization. Your commitment can inspire others to follow suit.
The Role of Leadership in Digital Accessibility
Leadership support is crucial in integrating digital accessibility into an organization's DEI or IDEA practices. Leaders should champion the cause and allocate the necessary resources for training and implementation. By doing so, they not only reinforce the importance of accessibility but also set a precedent for an inclusive organizational culture.
A More Inclusive Digital World
Digital accessibility is an essential component of comprehensive DEI or IDEA practices. By incorporating accessibility into their daily work, professional communicators can play a pivotal role in creating a more inclusive digital environment. This commitment to accessibility aligns with ethical and legal standards and strengthens the overall effectiveness of DEI initiatives.
As we move forward, let's embrace digital accessibility not as an afterthought but as a key driver of diversity, equity and inclusion in the digital age.
Matisse Hamel-Nelis, ADS, CPACC
Matisse Hamel-Nelis, ADS, CPACC, is a communications and digital accessibility consultant and professor in the PR and Strategic Communications program at Durham College. She sits as the vice president of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility for IABC Toronto. She is the chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee for IABC. Hamel-Nelis holds two designations through the International Association of Accessibility Professionals as a Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) and Accessible Documents Specialist (ADS).