If you are visually impaired, you see things differently or not see at all. Sure, it is like stating the obvious, but as a communications professional, I learnt it the hard way.
I was in my second job, about ten years ago, a part of a two-member internal communications team in an organisation with over a hundred thousand employees spread out across the globe. You can imagine the importance of effective written communications, mainly e-mails. We were hired as a first team to manage internal communications and we were all set to change the face of communications, to reach out and influence.
One of our responsibilities were effective campaigns, which could cut across cultures and languages, especially on new initiatives, policies and surveys. My then supervisor who had a past in advertising taught me the value of an ‘awesome headline’ amped with a creative, detailed design for our campaigns. Once we launched the campaigns, it worked like magic and soon we were on top of our game.
Until one day, I was told there was a colleague we couldn’t reach to, even with our creative, well-designed campaigns. This worried me a bit. However, I soon learnt that the colleague had impaired vision and was technically blind. Her JAWS (Text-To-Speech) software could only read my text emails while it couldn’t process the awesome creative graphic-intensive campaigns.
We were then on our way to becoming an inclusive organisation in all aspects, therefore we took it upon ourselves to find a solution for her and other colleagues with disabilities and help the company effectively communicate with them.
I am listing down the things I learnt which are important even today when we can easily use a voice based multi-media content. This is from personal experience and while they are new rules easily available on a google search, I must tell you that the colleague in question and I, became really good friends I always kept her in mind when working on every communications and they worked. Therefore, these are tried, tested and approved rules ☺
Never use the disability as a noun
Referring someone like ‘the blind Asha’ highlights her disability and undermines her other abilities. Therefore, never use the disability as a collective noun. The correct way is to use it is as an adjective, ‘Asha who is blind’ if referring in context. Else, it’s just Asha!
Since the advent of Instagram and Pinterest, pictures and photos have taken center stage in our lives. I realized when I was working on this project, that a picture is as I mentioned .jpg .png .gif (graphic) file to a blind person. Therefore when attaching a picture as an email it is a good practice to attach a text document with content for colleagues who have visual impairments. Or even a voice note. Signage accessible at touch level may include braille embossing.
A picture is worth a thousand words, provided you can see.
More 60% of cases of blindness are congenital. For effective and clear communications to people with visual impairments and blindness, it is always wise to assume, that they don’t see the world as people with vision see them. Therefore, if there is a picture in the main creative, always refer to it and mention what the picture shows and signifies. It should be detailed, descriptive and in an extra inset. For example, if the picture shows a sky, the description would be something like this: The mail has a picture along with the text which shows the sky, which is blue in colour, showing that it is a clear sky.
Create content compatible with screen reader
Emailers with graphic mostly lead to a link with more details. Depending on the screen reader software the organisation has chosen, we, as communicators need to create content compatible to it. Not just in the emailers but also in websites, intranet and other media.
Finally, with more and more diverse people joining the workforce, sensitivity in using the right words have become very important. For people with disabilities I like to refer to the link here which helps with sensitive writing
As Helen Keller said, The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. That one month I worked with her was one of the most enriching, eye-opening experience of my life. I am ever grateful for it.