Accessible communication and engagement: online seminars, tools and resources

7 photos in different-sized circles: 1. 4 people in business attire sitting at a conference table, smiling. One is in a wheelchair. 2. A woman using sign language. 3. A woman sitting in front of a laptop, wearing headphones. She holds up a clipboard facing the computer screen and points to colourful charts on it. 4. A woman in a wheelchair holds up a laptop in front of a man beside her. The woman smiles at the man and the man is pointing at the screen. 5. 2 people sitting and 1 standing in a room with a whiteboard and a desk. All are looking at each other and using sign language. 6. Close up of a woman in business attire, wearing a headset. 7. 4 people, each in front of a different background. 3 are smiling and 1 is using sign language.

At The Social Deck we get to engage with a diversity of people across Australia on topics that are important, and often complex. This means that accessibility and being inclusive are fundamental to how we design and deliver our work.

Over the last few years, we’ve been fortunate to help deliver national and state-wide research and consultations focusing on engaging directly with people with disability and the disability sector. This included phase 1 and 2 of the consultations to inform Australia's Disability Strategy 2021-2031, which we were excited to see launched earlier this month.

We’ve gained some real insights into what accessible and inclusive means, by listening to and learning from people with disability, and others in the community.

So earlier this year (2021) we partnered with Department of Social Services to help share some of these learnings through a series of online seminars for government staff and government-funded services. This included some fantastic expert speakers:

  • Jody Barney, Aboriginal Disability Training Consultant at Deaf Indigenous Community Consultancy
  • Jane Britt, National Policy Officer at Blind Citizens Australia
  • Aine Healy, CEO of The Attitude Foundation and Founder of Ideas Info Action
  • Graeme Innes AM, former Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner
  • Dr Scott Avery, Senior Lecturer at Western Sydney University

If you want to watch the recordings of both seminars, they're available here and on the DSS website.

Online seminar: Accessible communication with people with disability

Transcript (.docx)

Online seminar: Accessible engagement with people with disability

Transcript (.docx)

Practical tips for making your communication and engagement accessible and inclusive

We've put together some practical resources and tips from these seminars to share with all of you in this latest blog.

Accessible communication: Top tips from the seminar

  1. Select and distil your most important messages - prioritising your information will help you to make it more accessible for everyone and to translate it to other formats, such as Auslan videos and Easy Read.
  2. Use voices of people with disability to help you communicate your message
  3. Use videos and imagery, which makes complex information easier to understand and can help to overcome language or literacy barriers. Images of people with disability in your communications helps to show it is for the whole community.
  4. Start developing information early – making your communication more accessible can require lead in time. Easy Read translations, Auslan videos and other translations generally require a few weeks to get right. Make sure you build this time in to your project planning.
  5. Talk to experts and listen to people with lived experience about how to best communicate.
  6. Use a communication accessibility checklist, or create one specifically for your organisation.
  7. Diversify your channels and modes of delivery - people with disability are a diverse group and will access information in many different ways. It’s important to find and use channels where people with disability already get and trust information. This might include putting information on relevant social media pages or sharing information through disability networks.
  8. Use tools to test accessibility, including the WCAG2.0 web accessibility checkers and Microsoft accessibility checker. We’ve included some more resources on this below.
  9. Consider language and terms used. In the seminars, we talked about a language guide from People with Disability Australia (PWDA) that explains how we should talk about disability and why: PWDA Language Guide

Accessible engagement: Top tips from the seminar

  1. Ensure any public, community or consumer engagement includes people with disability in your target audience and stakeholder lists - make sure they feature in your engagement plan.
  2. Make sure your venues and online platforms are as accessible as possible. To do this, you need to plan early.
  3. Don't try to do it alone. There are many resources available to help you think about how you might engage with people in a more accessible and inclusive way (see lists at the end of this post just for a start). Or engage a paid consultant or advisor with disability, to help you plan and deliver the engagement.
  4. Make sure people can contribute their views in a range of different ways. This might mean finding hybrid or multi-modal ways to engage people, as well as meeting in spaces where people already go/meet, and feel safe and comfortable.
  5. Don't put 'people with disability' in one box or category when designing your engagement. Always think about how you can make your mainstream community and citizen engagements more inclusive, rather than designing separate activities.
  6. Be genuine about why you're engaging. Trust in an engagement process is very important, for people to feel comfortable contributing their views.

These tips are just a starting point, so we put together some information and extra links to resources that might be useful in your next steps. These include resources that were mentioned during the seminars, as well as some additional ones that we use and that our speakers wanted to share.

Communication resources

Captioning

Including closed captions on videos and using live captioning during events is important. For these seminars, the live captions were provided by Ai-Media.

Auslan interpreters and translators

There are a lot of services available that provide Auslan interpretation, translation of documents into Auslan videos, or both. The Auslan interpreters at these seminars were from Auslan Services. Some other providers are:

Auslan Connections

Expression Australia

Auslan Consultancy

The Deaf Society

Deaf Services

Web accessibility

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the go-to standard for accessibility online. There are some useful tools and resources around these:

WCAG Overview

How to meet WCAG (Quick Reference)

Explainer of changes with WCAG version 2.2

Easy Read

Easy Read, or Easy English, was a key topic. Here are some services that provide Easy Read translations, and some background information:

NSW Council for Intellectual Disability - Easy Read services

Information Access Group - Easy Read services

Access Easy English

Scope Australia - Easy Read services

Scope Australia blog about how and when to apply plain language or Easy English

Tips for Easy English

Alt text

We had some questions about how to write alt text for images. There is some really helpful guidance online about this, including on these websites:

Blog explaining alt text and how to use it

Guidance from Microsoft on using alt text

Video explaining alt text

Blog about alt text in social media

How to use alt text on Facebook

How to use alt text on Instagram

Other tools and resources

Australian Human Rights Commission IncludeAbility - Creating accessible and inclusive communications

Tutorials on using accessibility checker in Microsoft programs

Written Information Accessibility Checklist from WWDA

Accessible Usability Scale (AUS) free tool

Easy Read Videos Easy Read COVID-19 resources (NSW Health) Easy Read COVID-19 resources (compilation) Toolkit for making mental health information accessible for people with intellectual disability

Engagement resources

Guidelines for inclusive engagement

There are a number of handy guidelines available for designing and delivering inclusive engagement, including from government departments across Australia and overseas. Some good examples are:

Communicate and consult with people with a disability, from the Victorian government

Protocol for engaging people with disability, from Services Australia

A Guide to Community Engagement with People with Disabilities, from the New Zealand government

Event accessibility

There are also several checklists and other resources for accessible events. Good examples include:

WWDA (Our Site) Public Events Accessibility Checklist

AHRC IncludeAbility – Hosting accessible and inclusive in-person meetings and events

AHRC IncludeAbility – Hosting accessible and inclusive online meetings and events  Toolkit for Accessible and Inclusive Events, from the New South Wales government (2018)

DHHS (Victoria) Accessible events guidelines and checklist

Accessible Events Checklist, from the Western Australian government

This blog about people’s experiences with the accessibility of online events also outlines some of the ways that online events can be accessible or inaccessible.

Co-design

PWdWA together with the Western Australian government have put together a guide and a toolkit for co-design.

Engagement tools

We've also gathered some resources on accessible practice with some of the tools you might be likely to use as part of your engagement:

We often use Mentimeter to engage with participants at both online and face-to-face events, and have had positive feedback about the tool from participants using screen readers. You can read about making accessible interactive presentations on Mentimeter here.

Accessibility on Microsoft Teams

Accessibility on Zoom

Creating accessible presentations in Microsoft PowerPoint

Other tools and resources

We were asked about a list of Australian disability organisations that may be useful to connect with. This list of National Disability Representative Organisations is a great starting point.

One of the organisations listed is First Peoples Disability Network Australia (FPDN), an organisation governed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability, which Dr Scott Avery spoke about during the seminar.

Scott has also provided the link to the "Living our ways" report he prepared with FPDN last year, which "has more depth of coverage on the intersectional issue for First Peoples with disability".

We also had a question about mental health. The needs of people with psychosocial disability and other mental health conditions need to be considered. The Western Australian government have developed an engagement framework which outlines some of the considerations and best practices when consulting in a mental health context.

Following a video we shared on accessible engagement for autistic participants, from Social Deck team member Alix, there was a request for more information on addressing survey accessibility. Creating Accessible Survey Instruments for Use with Autistic Adults and People with Intellectual Disability: Lessons Learned and Recommendations outlines a useful study on the topic, with some practical recommendations to apply.

For more from Alix on this topic, you can also read a blog she wrote last year about making workshops and engagement more accessible to people with autism.

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