Part 3: The Medium
- To explain the importance and value of accessibility in risk communication.
- To discuss various ways to make your message accessible to more than one audience or demographic.
Before we dive into the various media, let’s talk about accessibility of the materials you create! Accessibility refers to the ability to access information, services, or products. It serves to acknowledge and include identities or disabilities that have been previously marginalized, to promote equality in accessing information. To make your message accessible, incorporate it into the design from the beginning. Be open and considerate with your medium, how you should deliver it, and to whom you would like to communicate to (i.e., the target audience).
There are numerous techniques to make your message and designated medium more accessible and inclusive. Below are some suggestions which can be readily incorporated into communications materials. This list is not exhaustive, and you will add techniques and strategies to this list as you gain more experience with various mediums of communication.
Many communications materials are visual, and these can present challenges for those with visual disabilities. For example, materials that use images might exclude people who use screen readers, as these programs are not able to describe images without text-based descriptors. Text size and colour are also important considerations. To improve visual accessibility, try to:
– include alternative text in social media posts or online materials to describe images
– design materials with large, legible typeface (e.g., choose Helvetica over Papyrus fonts)
– use thick lines and large symbols in graphs and images
– be aware of how colors may vary for colour-blind individuals – use colour-blind friendly pallets like this one!
To share messages quickly and broadly, communications campaigns will often use audio platforms such as radio and podcasts to reach the public, as well as television and videos on platforms such as YouTube. To increase accessibility of these materials for those with difficulty hearing, try to:
- use closed-captioning of videos – YouTube does a pretty good job of creating automated captions which can be checked and corrected within 24 hours of uploading a video. Social media platforms such as Instagram and Zoom now offer closed-captioning options as well.
- provide transcripts of audio conversations or podcasts – programs such as Otter.ai can be used to help in the transcription process
- invest in quality audio equipment to improve audio clarity.
- use applications or software with voice-activated capabilities.
One of the most general ways to improve accessibility overall is to ensure that the language we use is clear and concise. To improve accessibility of content, try to:
- provide brief summaries or abstracts of scientific papers or dense scientific material.
- write using plain language to decrease technical language – to assess the amount of technical language in a written piece, you can paste it to this “Dejargonizer” and use it as a tool to rewrite in clearer language.
For an example of how closed captioning can be used in video communications, check out this video about “AstraZeneca COVID Vaccine & Thrombosis: Balancing Risks” by Dr. Samantha Yammine (a.k.a. Science Sam). This video was created early on in Canada’s vaccination campaign, and while the communications around COVID vaccination risk and efficacy continues to change, this video and the caption underneath it are fantastic examples of providing clear, concise information in accessible language. The video also demonstrates how these kinds of concepts and concerns can be shared with compassion for audience concerns and hesitancy.
How can you work towards more accessible communications?
While designing your medium, developing your message, and determining the mission of your work, it is essential at every step to reflect on your positionality. Is your communication easily interpreted by only you or your colleagues? If so, how can this be changed? Be critical of your work, but be open to constructive feedback and active learning throughout the process.
Awareness of accessibility necessarily requires that you understand your audience and their needs. When in doubt: ask! Ask audience members what would help improve the accessibility of materials. This can be done through polling on social media, surveys, and targeted interviews. Audience needs can also be accessed through social media analytics and data, observing trends, interactions, and engagement. Identifying your target audience leads to more effective communication and authentic connections in your network.
- A strong communication will aim for relevance, engagement, and accessibility of the materials.
- Consider the diversity of audiences that may interact with your work, and incorporate accessible elements into communications materials to reach more audience members.