According to AmyJune Hineline from Kanopi Studios, “diversity” and “inclusion” aren’t the same, but they’re often lumped together as one idea. Diversity, she explained, is about representation; the array of differences in humans. Inclusion, however, is a conversation deepened by diversity.
Diversity is when you count the people, inclusion is when the people count.
Many of us know that designing websites and digital content with accessibility in mind is now dictated by more specific laws, but our desire to make accessible content should reach well beyond that. 26% of people in the United States live with a disability. 88% of people who use screen readers on mobile devices. How can these users have an equally delightful, and inclusive, experience?
By understanding that accessibility needs come in many forms, we can better embrace it and be better. They include:
- considering visual needs by making images and content easy to see (or, providing alt text, for example)
- considering motor needs by questioning if everyone can interact with the content
- considering auditory needs by making it easy to hear (or, use captioning)
- considering cognitive needs by making content easy to understand with clear language and content structure
According to AmyJune, there are several ways we can commit ourselves to use more inclusive language in web and social media content:
- Do not devalue people with a disability by using ablist language. This assumes that people with a disability – physical, cognitive, or otherwise – are “abnormal.”
- Consider how specific words can make people feel, even if they have become “common” words. “Crazy,” “insane,” and qualifying someone who simply likes to be organized as “OCD” are hurtful terms, and there are many synonyms that can better define what the author is trying to describe.
- Use gender-neutral terms such as “humankind” instead of “mankind” and “folks” instead of “guys.”
- Avoid assuming levels of education, socio-economic class, or overall life experience.
Shifting the paradigm
People – our users – want to be seen as equals, not afterthoughts. So, what can we do? First, start with clear headlines and subheadings on webpages, and make sure content is easy to read by using images, diagrams, bulleted lists, shorter paragraphs, inclusive language, words the user (actually) understands, and easily-scannable content.
But what is “easy to read?” According to AmyJune, content writers should aim for a 9th-grade reading level, avoid long sentences (20 words or fewer) and five or fewer sentences per paragraph. There are many readability and usability tools online that grade both tone and reading level of your content including Grammarly, Hemmingway, and readability.com.
AmyJune identified several instances when higher ed campus may not have fully inclusive or accessible languages or experiences. They include:
- Your hiring process language – make sure it is inclusive and inviting
- Events on campus – is the room accessible for all?
- Presentations – captioning, explaining images, and ensuring those with auditory issues can hear
- Videos and images – captioning, alt text, and verbal descriptions
- Acronyms and abbreviations (that NEVER happens in higher ed, right?) – Tell users what these mean! Not everyone knows what you’re talking about, or may have a different interpretation of that same acronym. Also, help screen readers out by using periods between letters; the reader will read each letter individually, instead of trying to smash it together into garbage.
- Links – Using “click here” and “read more” is not helpful for screen readers at all. Give more context to those links within the copy.
- Social media – For hashtags, use camel case (#nowthatcherisdead can be saved by #NowThatcherIsDead!) and remember that screen readers say every emoji in a tweet or post, and that can get confusing for users who need it for assistance.
So, now what?
It’s simple: Take the first step.
That first step could be getting your team together and talking about it, determining a way to re-allocate resources in order to support a more inclusive and accessible experience, or working to educate content creators and web developers about why this is important.