Speaking plainly: inclusivity and accessibility starts with the written word

This article was originally published in HR Magazine on 23rd June 2021.

Most employers want to build a fair, inclusive and accessible organisation. Not only is it good business sense, but it’s important for attracting and retaining talent. However, many companies still exclude current and prospective employees through poor communication.

Whether you're addressing neurodiverse staff – with dyslexia, ADHD, Aspergers, etc – or supporting those with low literacy levels, improving accessibility through language should be a constant priority. 

Falling at the first hurdle

Complex language is a common barrier to communicating efficiently with teams. This is something companies need to consider as early as the recruitment stage. Job specs are often long, complex and overwhelming – even for those who are not neurodiverse or struggle with literacy.

However, for those that do have these challenges, the job details are a barrier they can’t overcome. These individuals may in fact meet the criteria for the role and be an ideal fit for the team. However, they could be discounted because they don't respond like other candidates. It’s here that the business needs to review its job descriptions, level the playing field and give every prospective employee an opportunity to showcase their skills.

Making the job description less complex is just one part of making your recruitment process more accessible. Often, the requirements set at the application stage don’t reflect the demands of the role itself. Certain skills that appear in the job spec may not actually be necessary.

For example, it’s very common to see ‘excellent written skills’ as an essential on a job application. However, with the growing use of digital tools to aid writing, this skill isn’t always vital. It may also put people with a neurodiversity such as dyslexia at a disadvantage. We know that around one in 7 people in the UK are neurodiverse, so that’s a large section of potential employees to exclude.

As a result, on top of simplifying the application process, HR leaders must also consider the competencies that are genuinely needed and remove those that are there out of habit. 

To ensure you are meeting the needs of all employees and candidates in this area, it is also worth getting involved in the Department of Work and Pensions’ Disability Confident scheme. By progressing through the different stages of the scheme, companies can not only improve their internal processes but also improve employer branding. It is a great way to reassure candidates with extra challenges and encourage their application. 

Making internal communications inclusive

Making your internal company content simple to understand should not be just about supporting people with learning difficulties, or those that are neurodiverse. With the average UK reading age at nine years old, there are many employees who will struggle to understand complex information.

Complicated language, distracting visual layouts and even multiple fonts will affect the average employee as well as those with neurodiversities such as dyslexia.

These factors need to be considered when putting together internal documents, or content for company intranet pages. Going further, it needs to be something that managers are aware of. Senior members of the team should be trained on how they communicate, the need to avoid jargon and the emphasis on simplicity. 

This will improve output as managers improve the way they brief colleagues. For example, if the company is involved in an acquisition, it is crucial that every employee fully understands what this means for their role and the businesses. Keeping things simple will make sure everyone gets the message.

Outside influence

Changing internal business processes is vital, but no organisation is an island. External documents, reports and even emails can be challenging for employees  with a neurodiversity, low literacy or those with English as a second language. 

It’s here that you need to provide tools or software to help your employees consume information and communicate with ease. These tools can’t be exclusive to a particular group of employees. Those who experience accessibility issues may be slow to raise problems with their managers or HR. To make sure no one is left out, support tools need to be available to all employees at every level.

The new normal

Even with these processes in place, your company should aspire to build a more inclusive and accessible workplace. We should all be striving to create spaces for talented people that welcomes all.

The post-pandemic office is almost certainly going to involve some level of remote or blended working. While flexible and hybrid working is great for staff and makes the workplace more accessible to those with physical disabilities, we shouldn't neglect those with disabilities or conditions that can’t be seen.

Employees can feel isolated working remotely or having less physical interaction with colleagues and for some, the lack of a routine can be difficult to deal with. 

Whether they are in the office or not, it’s vital that you support your staff and communicate well. Without physical interaction, some employees may miss out on nuances in a conversation, tone and even just basic understanding.

Even if they are in the office, staff will most likely be communicating with colleagues who are still working from home. As such, it’s important that you empower employees to produce communications with confidence and quality.

Making internal and external content easy to understand by everyone will ensure that no matter where staff are based, they are on the same page. If you get this right, you’ll make sure you reach all types of employees – regardless of age or background. 

Going further, consider establishing working groups or regular meetings with a cross-section of your workforce to confirm where challenges lie.

This way, even if the business changes how it operates or its work style, you can be prepared to adapt. Communication is at the foundation of any efforts to provide a welcoming workplace.

It needs to be built into the heart of your company. Starting right from the recruitment stage and factoring into any change in the organisation, clear communication and improved accessibility needs to be a priority. 

About the author

Kerry Alderdice, HR Manager at Texthelp