On Message: Are your communications disability-inclusive?

Two persons check out a video on a laptop. Photo by: rawpixel / CC0

Let’s talk about inclusion. It’s a popular buzzword in the global development lexicon, but depending on who you talk to, it can mean a lot or a little. Why? For one, inclusion is a nuanced problem, there are many ways to consider and solve it. In the communication space, the inclusion debate remains a broad challenge. When it comes to inclusive content, there’s much to be done in content creation, access, and consumption.

Devex’s Development Enabled series:

Development Enabled explores the daily challenges of people with disabilities, while looking at solutions on how to support a disability-inclusive world.

Last week, the World Economic Forum highlighted disability inclusion as a key theme toward SDG progress — challenging business leaders to make commitments for more inclusive workplaces. As development communicators, I feel that we have a crucial role to play here too. We can amplify a new way of thinking and working. We have the power to make critical hiring decisions. We choose what gets designed, what copy is used, what is pitched, what gets promoted.

But where do you start? I spoke to communications experts working in the disability space to find out.

Start small and expand

For communicators wondering where to start on inclusivity, Anna Paix, global coordinator at CBM’s End the Cycle team, suggests that you can start with a simple question: “Ask yourself, who is missing out on this message?” From there, you can start to identify the gaps in access, Paix said.

André Félix, external communication officer at the European Disability Forum, suggests that communicators start with what he calls “accessibility at no cost.” Platforms such as YouTube or Twitter, for example, have built-in accessibility tools. YouTube autocompletes video captions allowing publishers to edit for accuracy and post. On Twitter, users have the option to compose a description of the images so the content is accessible to people who are visually impaired.

But captions are just one way to be inclusive. Content creators can also incorporate screen readers, audio transcriptions for video, and sign language interpretation. These are just a sample of the tools available to make the internet — and content broadly — more accessible for persons with disabilities. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines provide extensive practices by accessibility experts, as does this checklist. Tech giants such as Google offer guidelines for developers and content publishers to help them create accessible content, products, and apps.

Moving toward intentional inclusivity

Félix argues that fostering accessibility is fundamentally a series of behavior changes: “It’s about adding an extra step to the work you’re already doing on a daily basis.” It’s also taking the time to think about disability inclusivity before you begin your work.

 From CSR into HR: Disability inclusion in the workplace

What are the benefits of a disability-inclusive workforce and how can more employers, regardless of location, be encouraged to employ people living with a disability?

True inclusion for Kirsten Suto Seckler, chief brand and communications officer at the Special Olympics, has persons with disabilities embedded in both strategy and decision-making. At the Special Olympics, she has been intentional about hiring persons with disabilities and inviting them to serve on the Special Olympics board.

“True inclusion means that employees [with disabilities] have meaningful roles, goals, and are held accountable for their work,” Suco Seckler said.

Lessons for the wider communication community

Within the disability movement, the slogan “nothing about us, without us” is a guidepost for working with the community. Its universal application strikes me. Simply put, it’s a practice that communicators across development could be more intentional about adopting. When you tell stories or develop campaigns about Africans, how often do you include them in your ideation or message testing? — Have you seen #BlackTwitter? We have opinions.

When we talk about disease eradication, how often do we include those living with the disease to not just “tell their stories,” but allow those individuals to dictate what stories to tell? It's a question we could all do a better job of answering.

For more coverage on creating a disability-inclusive world, visit the Development Enabled series here.

About the author

  • Umuhumuza carine 1

    Carine Umuhumuza

    Carine Umuhumuza is the Associate Director of Communications at Devex. She writes about the latest trends, tips, and insights on media and communications to the global development community. Previously, Carine has led digital initiatives at Devex for development agencies, major corporations, NGOs, and social enterprises.