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Inclusive communications: Reaching your audiences with content that connects

What are the elements that affect accessible and inclusive communication? In this podcast we answer that very question. Join us to hear from Jodie Greer, Founder of Be People Smart. And Erica Wong, Senior Brand Consultant at Radley Yeldar.

Together, we take a deep dive into what it means for content to be accessible and inclusive. We explore what you can do to create content that makes your internal and external audiences feel connected and included. Gain advice that’ll help you to reach your whole audience more effectively.

Resources

We hope you enjoyed this episode of our Texthelp Talks podcast! If you'd like to know more about readability, head to our resources at text.help/readability.

You can also hear more from our podcast guests by visiting the resources below:

Transcript

Louise McQuillan (00:15):

Welcome to the Texthelp Talks podcast. We've got a host of experts covering a range of topics from education, right through into the workplace. So make sure you subscribe through your preferred podcast player or streaming service so you never miss an episode.

Louise McQuillan (00:30):

Today you're hearing from me, Louise McQuillan, workplace solutions manager at Texthelp, and I'm delighted to be joined by Jodie Greer, founder of Be #PeopleSmart, and Erica Wong, senior brand consultant at Radley Yeldar.

Louise McQuillan (00:45):

Jodie is passionate about disability inclusion and accessibility. With over a decade of experience in this space, she founded Be #PeopleSmart to help organizations become more confident about disability and harness the value of inclusion, and ultimately put more human centricity back into all sectors.

Louise McQuillan (01:03):

At Radley Yeldar, Erica works with clients to help bring their brands to life in ways that connect with real people. She has a passion for applying DNI principles into her work and championing more inclusive communications that benefit everyone. In fact, she's worked on extensive research, including Radley Yeldar's [inaudible 00:01:22] D&I report, which cracks open the cliches and complexities of D&I communications.

Louise McQuillan (01:28):

So today we'll be exploring how organizations can make their communications more accessible and inclusive, and sharing advice to help you reach your whole audience more effectively. So first, welcome to you both, and it's great to have you with us today.

Erica Wong (01:42):

Thanks very much for having us.

Jodie Greer (01:44):

Yeah, it's great. Thanks.

Louise McQuillan (01:47):

So to kick off, let's talk about accessibility and what it really means. So in the overarching sense, accessibility is about creating equal access, whether that is to information, or goods and services. And within that, we have two elements.

Louise McQuillan (02:03):

So firstly, complying with accessibility best practice, such as [inaudible 00:02:07] guidelines and legislation. So addressing barriers to access for people with disabilities, and making sure that those barriers don't exist. And then, going beyond the ability to access, there's often forgotten aspect about making sure that the content can be accessed and is actually usable, as well as being understood.

Louise McQuillan (02:26):

So Jodie, I know you work with organizations to deliver more accessible communications. So for our listeners, can you explain the difference between these two elements?

Jodie Greer (02:35):

Yeah, absolutely, Louise. There are so many things people can do to make their communication more accessible, and loads of them are quick wins. It's just that people don't even realize they're out there, and hopefully we can cover some of that today. But I think the difference is, what people consider to be accessible and what actually provides a good experience, so actually enables people to absorb and digest the information you're trying to give to them.

Jodie Greer (03:02):

So I don't want to get too much into the fine detail right now, but it's just so important that we are thinking about people. And often we talk about accessibility, we think about people with disabilities. It's not just about people with disabilities, it's about people. Personally, I'm not living with a disability, and if information isn't fully accessible, I can really struggle with it.

Louise McQuillan (03:25):

Yeah, definitely. I mean, even yesterday I seen an article where Airbnb were doing a accessible guide to some of their experiences, and some of their stays, but it was designed for neuro diverse individuals.

Louise McQuillan (03:38):

But for me personally, I [inaudible 00:03:41] wouldn't say I have a neuro diverse condition, but I think that's great to actually see, and sort of get an experience of that before you buy, or before you try. So I think that that's a really good point.

Jodie Greer (03:52):

Yeah, absolutely. I think it's important as well that we don't try and over-complicate things. I think sometimes people confuse professionalism with very complicated language, and you can be a very high reaching professional and keep it simple. People just need to get through the information that they need to absorb. Nobody wants to spend far more time than necessarily on any task.

Louise McQuillan (04:15):

Yeah, and just on that, I mean, we know the statistics around the reading age of being nine years old, and that may sound like a shocking fact to a lot of people, but it is the facts that we're dealing with.

Louise McQuillan (04:28):

So for some ways, improving readability is really a big thing to accessibility. Erica, as a brand consultant, what would you say to brands? What's the importance of having information that's understandable for everybody?

Erica Wong (04:44):

I think it's really just, at its core of what brands are doing, which is they're communicating to connect people to ultimately what their product or service is. And so how well those messages come across is absolutely key. So if you can't communicate at that most basic level, no one's going to understand your message.

Erica Wong (05:05):

And I think it's something that we see as a way for brands to help stand out, by being able to communicate simply and clearly and effectively. But also, it's what people prefer. I think there's a study actually, I stumbled across, where even in the legal field, even law judges preferred simple, plain speak to this legalese, and getting caught up in all of the complexities of it. So I think we're all just humans. We just need to communicate to each other like it.

Louise McQuillan (05:41):

Yeah. And I suppose we can't really go without mentioning the COVID word. And with the shutdown of a lot of information services, meeting people face-to-face, how important do you think websites have really become now, in terms of that communication channel?

Erica Wong (05:58):

I think they're absolutely critical. I think even before COVID, most people tend to prefer finding information on their own anyway. So it's about making sure that all of your communication channels online, through your website, through your social media, through everything, all of those touch points have to sing from that same song sheet, which is about being clear, being about having those consistent messages, and being able to communicate that in a way that everyone is able to understand.

Louise McQuillan (06:28):

Yeah. I suppose, question to you both then, really. What would be a couple of key tips that you would give to anybody, whether they're starting out, or they're trying to redo some of the information, that they maybe provided previously? What would your key points of support would be for them?

Jodie Greer (06:51):

Sorry. I was hesitant then, only because there's so many points that I'm going to find it hard to give a couple, but I think there are things that people don't even realize make such a difference. And this is not exhaustive. [inaudible 00:07:08] to my first point, but things like alternative text on imagery is so, so important.

Jodie Greer (07:14):

So for the listeners, for someone, for instance, who uses a screen reader, they may have no or little usable sight. When you've got images, they can give some very strange feedback on what that actually is, as well as potentially give nothing. And they may be contextual. So things like that are just so, so important.

Jodie Greer (07:34):

And something else... Again, this is just one other point, because people honestly don't tend to think about it a lot... Is color contrast. So again... I mean, I'm wearing glasses, sitting here in my chair, and when I've got them on, I can see perfectly well, but the amount of times I see what people consider pretty imagery, with a [inaudible 00:07:56] pink background with white text on it, and I find myself really squinting and trying to get closer and closer to my screen to see what it says. And I just think, "Do you know what? People don't realize that actually it's not that pretty." Because it doesn't say anything unless I really concentrate.

Louise McQuillan (08:11):

Do you think there's a challenge for content creators and website developers? It's almost a battle of, "Well, it has to be accessible or it has to be pretty"? They sort of think they can't do both?

Jodie Greer (08:22):

I think that's the thing. I think people think they probably can't have both. And you can absolutely have the best of both worlds. However, sometimes we can all get quite set in our ways, and we have our habits, and the ways that we portray information. And it may well be a different way of thinking, but that doesn't mean it's not a really effective way of thinking.

Jodie Greer (08:41):

And actually, if you think about it, with the increased reach you have for the people that couldn't access your information before, it can look pretty and it's basically just better content.

Louise McQuillan (08:54):

Yeah, having nice colors doesn't actually make anything more accessible, which I think, for a lot of people, it probably is, "It has to be on brand and it has to look a certain way." And I suppose, Erica, in that case, where does the line fall of, it has to be on brand, but also has to be accessible? Is there any tips you could give there?

Erica Wong (09:13):

Yeah. Just to follow on the points that have been made, I don't think it's necessarily to have a hard choice between what's on brand or what you feel like it needs to be versus if people can understand you. Because the point is, if people can't understand you and then don't understand what you're trying to say, then the point is moot, because it doesn't go anywhere.

Erica Wong (09:38):

And I think, obviously, there's always going to be... The design of something plays such a huge role in how people are able to access that message. So I think for brands, a lot of the time, they're so focused on, "It has to be on brand. It has to be this." And they're so inward looking that it's really... Falls short of actually leaving the sphere of within the four walls of your organization.

Erica Wong (10:09):

So it becomes much more about... It should be less about thinking, "How do I focus on my own messaging and my own world of what's going on with me?" But looking at, "What does my audience need to know? How can I make sure that I'm able to translate what I'm trying to say so that it actually has that impact?"

Louise McQuillan (10:30):

And I suppose one of the big things, obviously, for a lot of organizations is certainly the compliance side of things, that legally they have to do something. Where do you think the link of compliance... So you're doing what you need to do to meet your compliance, but actually there's more you could be doing to support more people?

Jodie Greer (10:50):

I think it gets really complicated with that as well, because of course, depending on where you operate... So global organizations in multiple countries, of course they cover so many different legislations. So to be fair, to me, it's about literally making it about human beings. If you can meet human needs, the reality is, you'll meet or probably exceed all legislation.

Jodie Greer (11:12):

So in some countries, you're going above and beyond, but that's not a bad thing. And in other countries, you're doing absolutely everything you should be doing, but really, is it, you should be doing it because the law tells you it, or you should be doing it because your staff and your customers matter to you? And I think that's the question that all organizations should ask themselves.

Louise McQuillan (11:32):

Yeah. So it shouldn't be a box ticking exercise. It should be, "We're doing the right thing for our audience."

Jodie Greer (11:39):

Absolutely.

Louise McQuillan (11:43):

Okay. So moving on then, it is important to note that inclusive content is all about your messaging, and making sure people are able to understand that. Jodie, I know at Be #People Smart, you're centered around actually being people smart and putting human factors into business. So can you tell us again, just a little bit more about what that actually means?

Jodie Greer (12:05):

Yeah. It's literally thinking about people. I think what happens in business an awful lot of the time is we get so busy that we kind of forget... Even down to, for instance, how many line managers have people management training? So these are the kind of things that we're trying to really instill a different way of thinking. But it's basically just considering the fact that anyone that can run a business without human beings involved... Genuinely interested in seeing these business models, because this is really interesting.

Jodie Greer (12:34):

So the reality is, we all have people. How do we get the most out of them, so then they enable our businesses to achieve, to succeed, and to basically be competitive in our market?

Jodie Greer (12:46):

So it's so important that we don't forget we're dealing with human beings. People have good days, people have bad days, people have different needs, and we're all so different. And it's about embracing that and actually appreciating that.

Jodie Greer (12:58):

We talk about the value of diversity, and absolutely that's important, but we often don't consider the diversity that comes with an accessibility perspective. People with disabilities, for instance, are often missed out of this diversity circle, which I find very strange, because that's where innovation really comes in.

Jodie Greer (13:17):

So it's just literally about considering the fact we have human beings in business. What does that mean? What do people need? How do we enable them to enable us to achieve what we need to?

Louise McQuillan (13:28):

And you mentioned there, obviously, about the line managers, and often there's maybe some training, there's maybe no training. Sometimes there's days and days of training. Do you think that sort of key thing of supporting staff with their disabilities, their needs, that communication... Do you think that's a part of that training, or is that something that's maybe missing in that awareness piece for line managers?

Jodie Greer (13:51):

I absolutely think that's part of that education. Line management training isn't just about people with disabilities, but people need to have confidence to have a conversation. And the reality is, most people don't sit there with that confidence, and so they'd rather skirt around it.

Jodie Greer (14:06):

And also, if you don't portray yourself as having that open door kind of policy where you welcome those maybe more difficult conversations, so that people can get the best out of their days and so on, it's not really going happen.

Jodie Greer (14:19):

If you've got a closed door, be that literally, or metaphorically, people just aren't going to come to you. And if they're not going to do that, how do you communicate effectively? Because if someone's not going to let you know what they need, or that they're going through a bad time, that communication's already stopped.

Louise McQuillan (14:37):

Funny you mentioned that, because it's something that we hear quite a lot from a lot of organizations, in that they perhaps know there's an issue with a member of their team, but they're almost scared to ask in case they offend them, or it becomes an HR issue. What would you advise to somebody, to approach that topic in a way that doesn't offend somebody, or doesn't upset somebody by basically just asking questions?

Jodie Greer (15:06):

I would literally say, "How are you? Is there anything I can get you? You don't seem yourself." In those very generic caring, genuine caring terms. However, it's so important that those same people allow enough time for proper discussion.

Jodie Greer (15:22):

Certainly in the UK, we can be very British. "How are you?" "I'm fine." "I'm fine." "I'm fine." And actually, you walk away, you're having an awful day. That poor guy over there just found out his wife wants to divorce him. All those kinds of things. But actually, we're fine. Because it's what we say.

Jodie Greer (15:35):

So another thing in a lot of the mental health learning is about asking twice. So sometimes just rewording it a bit. "How you doing?" "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine." "I just wanted to check in though, you know. It's difficult times for everyone." "Well, yeah, it is." And often you find then, you'll get more of a kind of open response.

Jodie Greer (15:54):

But you need to also demonstrate it yourself. So it's not a comfort zone for a lot of people. You only share what you want to, but if you share a little more about yourself, then people actually see you as a human being and not just a professional. And then it kind of flips over, and it enables other people to say, "Actually, yeah, its the same for me." And it can continue into a proper dialogue.

Louise McQuillan (16:15):

Yeah. And that goes back, I suppose, to what you were saying about the tone of language being professional, of the very formal emails of, "How are you today? Happy to help. Door open." Kind of emails, where as you say, all it takes is... I suppose, obviously in this age, maybe it's hard to do... But sitting down beside somebody or sending even a quick... We're all on instant messaging services now, particularly through work... Just, "How are you? How's your day going?"

Jodie Greer (16:40):

Absolutely. I've got to say, in my past life, the best line manager I ever had, what I noticed right at the beginning was at the start of every team meeting, we had a check-in. Literally, everyone did a little mark out of 10, how they were feeling today. But it wasn't just a tick box, let's move on. People had tens and eights and stuff. That's fantastic. Why was that? But if anyone had ones and twos, "Do you want to share? Is there something we can help you with that's going to help build up your numbers and help you feel better?"

Jodie Greer (17:09):

All of that stuff made such a difference, and I didn't realize how impactful it could really be until I experienced it. And so I steal these ideas.

Louise McQuillan (17:17):

Well, it's not stealing. It's all about sharing and being able to pass them on. So that's great to hear. Erica, in terms of your work, you've obviously done a lot of research, as we talked about, D&I, particularly D&I communications. How can brands get the tone right? From some of the findings that you have done, and around the work that you've done, is there any kind of key findings that you've come across?

Erica Wong (17:40):

Yeah, so we work a lot with businesses, and what we've started to notice, or what we had started to notice was that they were talking about D&I more, which is obviously great because it's something that impacts everyone. But the challenge within that, I think, is the trap of when you're speaking as a human being from one person to another versus when you're speaking as a business.

Erica Wong (18:03):

And I think that's what we were starting to see, was a lot of these cliches, both in language, in terms of how you're talking about, "We're being better together." And just the visual cliches of happy, smiling, perfectly diverse people and different multicolors, and all of those things that you just look at, and it's just... This is what I know is to be... The same sort of thing happened with greenwashing, right?

Erica Wong (18:32):

But it's something that we were... Just how bad is this problem? Because it's something that our clients are starting to come to us more and more for. So we actually looked at the Forbes 100 to look at just how bad this problem was. And, well, it was pretty bad.

Erica Wong (18:51):

I think 90% of these businesses were talking about D&I... Great... But half of them were falling victim to these D&I cliches. And so we tried to start to unpack it a bit more, because obviously it's a huge topic, it's very sensitive, it's very new for a lot of businesses to be talking about.

Erica Wong (19:15):

So we understand it can be intimidating. It can be confusing. All of these things. But when it comes down to it, I think what we need to understand is that talking about D&I is just a way to better reflect and connect with your audiences.

Erica Wong (19:32):

And I think that's the piece that should be so simple, but really, it just gets sucked under with all of these other confusing, conflicting things, and that fear of getting it wrong. And I think that's what you were hinting at earlier, which is the point that people just get so overwhelmed by everything that they should do, shouldn't do. And they're scared to say these things, and that's where people actually find themselves tripping up. It's because they're too scared, or they're too worried about saying the wrong thing.

Erica Wong (20:05):

And I think there is a sense of, you have to be a little bit bold, you have to be a little bit fearless, and you have to just go in there and put your heart into it. Because at the end of the day, we're all just people talking to other people. And I think that's what's at the heart of a lot of this... How to get D&I communications right.

Louise McQuillan (20:27):

And funny... You'd mentioned, obviously, that for a lot of organizations, they were talking about it, but they weren't really saying anything, I suppose, would probably be the best way to put it.

Louise McQuillan (20:35):

One of the things that we have come across with a lot of organizations is that they have the D&I managers, the D&I teams, but they're only maybe looking at one or two D&I topics. "Oh, that's not a theme we're looking at the minute."

Louise McQuillan (20:47):

And particularly disability can be one that can often drop down the less, because it's not always maybe a hot topic in the news, or there's topics that, quite rightly so, are getting more press. How do you find the balance in working with organizations to get that full D&I, rather than it not just being one D&I topic or the other?

Erica Wong (21:08):

I think it's always tricky, because there's always going to be multiple topics that you want to cover, but obviously it's just not possible or not practical. And so one of our principles... And we essentially developed a list of very practical principles that companies can use to help guide them in how to talk about D&I.

Erica Wong (21:29):

And one of them is, don't overcomplicate. Don't try to tell the whole story all at once, because when you try to do that, you're inevitably going to leave someone, or somebody, or some group out. And that's obviously not helpful towards what you're working towards, trying to build a more inclusive and welcoming working culture and environment.

Erica Wong (21:51):

So I think what we suggest is just focusing on what you can tell, and noting that this is just one part of the story. This isn't where it stops. It's just, "We're talking about this, and we're talking to this particular person or this particular group at this time, and this is what we're doing towards that." But don't let yourself get overwhelmed with trying to do too much at once, because then you just end up talking to no one.

Louise McQuillan (22:18):

And again, I suppose that comes back to engaging and communicating with your audience, and knowing what's the best way to communicate with them, what's their needs, what it is that they're really looking for from you as an organization?

Erica Wong (22:31):

Exactly. Exactly that. Yeah, I think it's less about the one-way message that you're trying to push out. Thinking about who your audience is, where they are, and how to actually reach them. And then you can worry about all of the little bits and pieces of, "Okay, now actually, how do I do that? What's the best sort of manner and approach for that?" Whether that's through a certain channel, whether that's through a certain form of media. But I think it's really stripping it back to the basics, and really starting with the person that you're trying to speak with.

Louise McQuillan (23:09):

I suppose, really just to finish up our conversation. If there was one piece of advice... Obviously we talked about hints and tips, but if there was one key takeaway that you could give to anybody, to help them develop their inclusive communications, what would it be? Jodie, we'll start with you.

Jodie Greer (23:28):

I think for me, it would be, have the courage. You need to build the disability confidence if you're go into engage. And I mean directly, but also then you're literally going to engage with your materials and so on. Because you need to understand what it really means, which means you need to focus on it.

Jodie Greer (23:44):

But often, it really is the reason... You talk about with the D&I ladder, you tend to end up with disability sitting at the bottom. It's sad, but it is true more often than not. And I think it's having the courage to actually take the bull by the horns... I hope that translates for everyone... And basically get involved, learn more, and just make sure that you really are including everyone and not just the 80% demographic.

Louise McQuillan (24:14):

Yeah. And Erica, what about yourself then?

Erica Wong (24:18):

I think it's just making this normal. Because I think, so often, people approach the topic of D&I, and especially reaching out to specific audiences as, "Oh, I don't know how to do it." And they kind of get caught in that paralysis of feeling, "Oh, I don't know what to say." But really, it's almost a change of mindset, of normalizing it. Because it is normal. That's people's everyday experiences. And it's just about speaking to them in a way that just makes sense.

Erica Wong (24:59):

And it's quite simple when you think of it in that way. All of the other details can be worked out, and companies and people will figure it out, how to do that. But really, I think it's not some special thing that needs to be treated any differently. It's just normalizing the experience and how we approach it.

Louise McQuillan (25:24):

Brilliant. Erica, Jodie, thank you very much for your input today. Really, really appreciate it. And I think that's all we have time for today. So thank you all very much for joining us. It's been great.

Louise McQuillan (25:35):

To our listeners, thank you for listening. You can find more readability best practice on our at text.help/readability. Don't forget to subscribe to Texthelp Talks on your preferred podcast player or streaming service to catch the next episode. Thanks again. Bye.

Jodie Greer (25:52):

Bye.

Erica Wong (25:53):

Bye.