1st Jun 2023
3 Min Read

Don’t leave your people in the dark, light the way with accessibility

People & Change

What can a reality TV binge tell us about the workplace? The latest series from Channel 4 has unwittingly highlighted why accessibility efforts can be so poignant. But for most businesses, there’s always room to do more.

“Big Brother but with the lights out” is exactly how sofa-sitters across the UK described ‘Scared of the Dark?’. The series plunges eight celebrities into complete darkness for eight days, but that alone can’t be thrilling, right? It’s why the show gets them to perform challenges in pitch black for our amusement.

Aside from making for entertaining television, the show shed light on a much larger issue. As the celebrities struggled to adjust and navigate without sight – supported largely by legally blind comic Chris McCausland – they gradually gained a new appreciation and empathy for people with visual impairments. In place of the usual drama, Channel 4 has unwittingly opened up a dialogue on disability and accessibility.

Disability isn’t a choice

There’s one major difference between the show and life as someone with a visual impairment; and it’s that the eight contestants chose to take part.

But for 22 per cent of the UK population, their disability isn’t a choice. Of those 14.6 million people with disabilities, more than 52 per cent are a key part of the UK workforce – a percentage that doesn’t account for those that experience temporary or situational disabilities.

For some businesses, accessibility can seem like a daunting task. You want to make sure every employee has all they need to feel and do their best at work, but when everyone has different experiences and challenges, it can be tough to know where to begin.

Whether a screen reader is news to you, or your workplace is an accessibility oasis, let’s dive into some essential dos and don’ts for embracing accessibility in the workplace.

Essential dos and don’ts for your accessibility efforts

As communicators, it is our job to reach as many people as possible in a way that is accessible – and that means considering all types of disability: permanent, temporary and situational. It is our job to remove as many obstacles as we can to make sure that the message is not just received, but fully understood.

When we give our people everything they need to feel and do their best, not only will they benefit, but your business will, too. To be accessible is to engage your people and every comms professional knows that higher engagement brings higher productivity – 18 per cent more productive to be precise. Accessibility is productivity.

Understanding today for a better tomorrow

Do empathise with your people. It’s the best way to understand the barriers others have to overcome. What challenges do they face in work? What else could you do so they can be more successful and productive? Are all employees able to access and benefit from the same resources? And if not, what actions can be taken to make it easier for people?

Don’t assume accessibility only impacts those with disabilities. More than two thirds of UK employees would consider leaving an employer that doesn’t prioritise their DEI policies. Accessibility is a key part of that: it’s one of the many keys to attraction and retention. If your people don’t feel like you’re doing enough in this space, they won’t wait for you to take action.

Just do it and be more accessible

Don’t forget about the everyday actions. Businesses assume accessibility means physical interventions such as installing ramps and Changing Places Toilets. Both are brilliant, but it also comes down to everyday choices. When you’re sharing content, pay attention to the language and make clear. Is it Plain English? Can you edit the font size and colour? Is there a transcript or an audio-visual version available?

Do create multiple formats. Those with permanent disabilities may not be the only ones with restricted ability to access certain types of content – situational disabilities can also impede access. For example, people who are capacity or time-poor may not have the ability to stop and read an article, but perhaps could listen to a podcast or audio recording whilst travelling to visit a client. In both instances, mosaic content is an essential approach to engage with more people, regardless of disability.

Listen, learn and try again

Do take constructive criticism. When implementing change, be open to being challenged on the accessibility of your organisation. Use the feedback to your advantage; to tweak your approach and improve. Although the thought of doing wrong is scary, doing nothing is worse.

Don’t worry about being perfect. Accessibility is an ever-changing field, so don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. Remember, the more you understand your people and their needs, the more you can tailor your approach.

Accessibility is high on the agenda. Even reality TV – which isn’t famed for its equality efforts – is opening up a dialogue to some needed discussions. And as is always true in the workplace, your actions will always speak louder than words. If you want guidance on your accessibility efforts, get in touch.

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