Virtual Roundtable | Business language accessibility

Business language accessibility:
benefits & techniques

  • What does “accessible language” mean? Why is inclusive communication something that business should be aware of from a legal, ethical and commercial perspective?
  • The assumptions we make about our customers’ abilities can make the commercial messages we use to connect with them either misunderstood or undeliverable.
  • In this virtual Roundtable we explore what “language accessibility” means, legal and ethical obligations for businesses, and case-studies demonstrating how an inclusive communication mindset can open doors and create opportunities for businesses.


+ - Roundtable details
Co-hosts: Niamh Kelly from Tigim, and Trevor Fenton from Plain English Law.
Industry Experts: Carrie Clewes from Chattertons Solicitors, and Paul Ulett from Lasting Legacy Planning.
Moderator: Lucas Nightingale from Plain English Law.
Recording Date: 27 Jan 2022
Recording Length: 00:47:41
YouTube link:
Additional resources mentioned in this Roundtable:
Article: “Making your service accessible: an introduction”
Accessibility app: Stark

+ - Roundtable transcript
LN: OK, so welcome everyone to our first Plain English Roundtable of 2022.
This roundtable series will be looking at plain English communications and what that means for businesses. With the help of industry experts we’ll be discussing specific legal and commercial issues around all types of business communications.
We'll be including customer case studies and will describe practical tips and tricks for how companies can incorporate plain English into their workflow. We want these Roundtables to be a resource for businesses to help them communicate better with their customers.
To that end, these Roundtables are being recorded and will be available on-demand on the Plain English Law YouTube channel.
Please be reassured that these recordings will only show the faces of the panellists. The names and profile pics of attendees will be hidden. If you have any questions or privacy concerns about that, please send me an email directly. I'll put my address in the chat window.
So our next virtual Roundtable will be in two months’ time. It is scheduled for Thursday 17 March.
The topic will be the challenges and opportunities of intercultural business communications. The industry guest will be Gerry Higgins, and he'll be looking at this topic from a global scale bringing in his experiences from an extensive career in international shipping.
And because of the multicultural makeup of businesses in the UK, we'll also be looking at this topic from a local scale, discussing how companies can take advantage of their internal resources to provide insights on our multicultural marketplace. There will be an Eventbrite link to on our social media pages posted early next week, so keep an eye on that and please sign up.
So for today's Roundtable, we'll be talking about the accessibility of business communications. This includes everything from your marketing content to client presentations to legal documents.
Key to accessibility, we'll also be discussing the assumptions we make about our customers, that is, their ability to receive or not receive the messages we send them. So I'll be asking our panel: “Do the assumptions we make about our customers actually undermine our efforts to connect with them?”
So with that, I'll introduce our panel. Panel, if you can give me a wave when I call your name, that would be helpful.
First, our two co-hosts. First we had Niamh Kelly, CEO and founder of Tigim. Tigim is a communication dynamics platform whose mission is to enable companies use language in a more accessible way to benefit both their clients and their brand. Niamh is joining us from Dublin. Welcome!
NK: Thank you.
LN: Next we have Trevor Fenton, who is a solicitor and the founder of Plain English Law. Plain English Law is a boutique commercial law and data privacy practise based in Dundee, Scotland. Welcome Trevor!
TF: Good afternoon.
LN: Our first guest is Carrie Clewes from Chattertons Solicitors. Carrie is an equality and disability rights lawyer who specialises in assisting a wide range of clients who wish to bring claims for discrimination. Carrie deals with many discrimination cases, both in goods and services and in the education sector. And she also supports the disabled community when it comes to accessibility of services. Carrie is joining us from Sheffield today. Welcome, Carrie!
CC: Hello!
LN: And last but not least, our second industry expert is Paul Ulett. For over 30 years, Paul has run companies that have helped businesses be more effective at what they do. As the founder of his current project, Lasting Legacy Planning, as well as being a Master Licensee for the platform HoneyPro, Paul uses plain English to help his clients understand the processes of will-writing and estate-planning. In his own words, Paul is a connector and protector of people, their health and their assets. Paul is joining us from the Lake District, which I believe you've just moved to. Congratulations and welcome, Paul!
PU: Thank you very much and hello.
LN: Excellent, alright, so what I'm going to do is – Niamh and Carrie – I’m going to start with you. With your backgrounds, I want you to be our guides on this deep dive into accessible language. So, let's start off with the questions: “What are we talking about when we speak about accessible language?” and “Who is the audience that we are aiming accessible language at?” Maybe Niamh, you go ahead.
NK: Sure. So, in a really easy way, when we're talking about “accessibility” in terms of language, it's are we communicating in a way that everybody can understand or the majority of people can understand?
So for businesses, really there are two types of communications. There's the external to the public who you hope will become your customers, your potential customers. And then there's your internal communications as well. So if you just look even at the external – what's on your website, what's in your terms and conditions, your data, what you're trying to sell – are you using language that can be understood by a lot of people?
And one thing that we do, especially if English is your first language, we're writing at a level that we're able to understand. But often we forget about the level or the ability of the potential users, the potential readers. In the general population, there are people with dyslexia, people that English isn't their first language, people who might have different literacy skills. And so on to take on board the idea that not everybody can speak at a high level or read at a high level, it's just about trying to use more simple terms to explain ideas in order to engage your potential clients and bring them in.
Which can be really good for your business as well because any complexity can really create barriers. And you can potentially lose interest from people and they can go away from your site as well, especially if you're just talking about the online environment and everything is through written text. So it's about kind of thinking about them and using language in an easy way that more people can understand.
LN: Is that the same with yourself Carrie? Is this the type, the client profile that you work with?
CC: Absolutely, all those examples. And then just to expand slightly on that, there are other elements as well. So a lot of the work that we do is to do with accessibility, both digitally and verbally and verbal communications. And so it's not only about English and being plain to those people that understand English, but when you talk about languages and the translations that you must make for the people where English is not their first language. That also comes across to, such as the deaf community and BSL (British Sign Language). BSL is its own language and you have to be able to communicate with people such as the deaf community and have things translated for them.
It's also like you said, like Niamh said about websites. Are they accessible from a language point of view, but are they actually physically accessible as well? And so people who are blind or have visual impairments – are they accessible to those people? Are they compatible with screen reading technology and things like that? So it's just taking into account all the different elements of language, both digitally and verbally.
LN: OK, I want you to, can you paint us a picture about what the experience is like for a person who has either a physical or cognitive disability when it comes to apprehending language. So they come across a website that they can't understand – what is it like for them? What is the feedback you've received from clients?
CC: So for a lot of clients, quite often they can't even get as far as a cookie banner on a website. So they want a service, they Google said service, they get to the website and they use their screen reading technology. Now depending on the cookie banner and how that's formed, and depending on the website, they may get stuck at a certain point. So if on your website you haven't got colour differentiation between and different sections, if you can't tab across so the menu at the top where you see ‘about us’, ‘our people’, ‘contact us’, they may not be able to tab across there. If they reach these barriers and they can't get as far as even your ‘contact us’ page, not only can they not get the information, but they can't contact you to get that information either. So there might be a number of businesses and business owners that aren't getting their clients and the clients can't get to them because they immediately experience a barrier and they can't reach the service.
With the deaf community we've just implemented signed video because, for a lot of the deaf community, English is not their first language. Their written English might not be to a standard where they feel comfortable emailing, so again they need a way to be able to speak to somebody. That obviously isn't a phone call, so there's different platforms where they can have an interpreted conversation and they can use that to speak to that person and gather that information. So it's just about removing these barriers and thinking that step further, really.
LN: So there's the component that it's, I mean, it must be upsetting and a challenge for the person, but also the business itself, it may not know it's lost a sale, a potential sale, and may not know how to deal with that. Is that the same experience that you've had Niamh in terms of feedback?
NK: Yeah, I suppose we don't work on that scale with the physical things, but with the language. And I think one of the elements there is maybe thinking about the audience and having that empathy towards them. Because especially with the last few years, what we've just come through you know, there's been a lot more, you know, people couldn't go out, go into retail or they couldn't just talk to somebody in a shop, you know they had to do things online. People that maybe wouldn't have done things online before.
Even on websites and things like that, sometimes the ‘contact us’ can be buried. You know, it might not even just be easily across the top. And maybe we've all experienced it that you just can't find information in the website and all it does really is when, if you're a potential customer, you're going to lose a customer. But if you already are one, it's going to annoy them. Brand loyalty as well and reputation can be impacted. So if you're using lots of words, long sentences, and hiding information because you don't want people to contact you, you're really damaging your brand reputation.
There’s a lot of organisations out there that it's a nightmare to try and get in touch with them. So you see people taking to Twitter or something like that, you know, somebody just, I need to talk to somebody.
So, beyond just how the information is presented, it is really going to turn people away from giving you more money or staying with you as a loyal customer. So I think we've all even experienced that and so that's something that companies should really consider when they're given instructions as to things on the website.
TF: And one thing that struck me when I was talking to both Carrie and Niamh for the first time was that the same audience can actually, you know, you may want to think about more than one way of communicating with the same audience.
So thinking, for example the, the deaf community. Carrie, you pointed out that for the deaf community, I guess by and large, BSL is the first language not English, and most people who aren't, who don't have a lot of contact with the deaf community probably don't realise that. I certainly didn't realise that. But that doesn't mean that in order to communicate with deaf people through a website, you have to focus entirely on BSL and, if you can't provide that, then give up. You can do that and you can also simplify the written language. Both approaches can help the same people.
LN: When we're talking about the population that benefits from these accessible strategies, what are we talking about here (in terms of size), like if do we have the numbers or statistics about how many, how big this population is?
CC: So, the deaf community, the last campaign that we did the figure was about 80,000+ deaf community across the country. And like you say, Trevor, there are very different ways. You can also use text relay and things like that. There are different formats. There are so many people, I don't know the figures between BSL and non- BSL users within the deaf community, but there are different formats for different people, so you can adapt that for the people where English is their first language. And there's a text-to-talk and a text-to-type format and things like that. There's relay services, and so you can adapt to that whole community in various different ways.
NK: Yeah, and text-to-speech in that sense is a really powerful thing as well, even for people visually, older customers you know older people there, they might not be able to see especially if they're on their phone. If you’re trying to read things on your phone it might be difficult as well
So there's a lot of different elements that you might be thinking about people with certain abilities or disabilities, but bringing in some additional elements could actually benefit a cohort of people that you didn't even consider beforehand. Maybe you would like to listen to the website rather than read it while you're walking down the street, things like that.
So there's a lot of different ways to look at it: How do you communicate your message, your product, your brand, so that it covers more segments of the population rather than cutting them out? Even with dyslexia, it’s like 15% of the population. And then, in the UK there's a lot of people with weak literacy is 70% as well, people with a lower literacy level. So, the different perspectives could be more wide reaching I think.
LN: From a legal perspective, since we've got you here Carrie, you’re the expert. What is the prevalence of cases (of this type) that are coming across your desk? I suppose, have you noticed any peaks and valleys? Are they getting more because of we’ve said about everyone has, all the businesses have had to go online because of the pandemic. And business have  been approaching this challenge in a way that a lot of the opportunities are being taken away. You can't go into a bank branch, for instance, you have to do everything online. So what is the prevalence of discrimination that's coming across your desk these days?
CC: Enormous, to be honest. Obviously the pandemic has brought with it its own challenges, like you say.
One of the biggest ones that I've seen personally was a matter against the (UK) Prime Minister. So I was involved in a case against him for the deaf community because he didn't have an interpreter for any of his (Covid19) briefings throughout.
LN: Sorry. This was Boris Johnson?!
CC: It is unfortunately, I know. So yeah, we wrote the government legal department because they had failed to put an interpreter on for any of the briefings, so the deaf community is, as we said 80,000+ people at the beginning of the lockdown, didn't have any of the information that they needed. They didn't know about the rules they didn't know about the fines. I had clients that were coming to me that were fined on the spot for being out and about and getting on with their daily lives because they weren't aware of the rules.
And I would say at the time, and even now it is, it's life or death, it's very serious. And they failed to interpret any of that for the whole deaf community, so that was enormous. We had 300 clients approach us quite quickly at my old firm, and that like you say, the community that it affects is far and wide.
We also had a lot of problems with face masks. So, the deaf community going into hospitals and GPs and things, having to wear face masks, they lip read and rely quite heavily on lip reading, and that is obviously taken away. So that's another form of communication that failed to be amended or adjusted to, and that was quite a big problem.
There was there was so many of them, especially when lockdown happened and there was no deliveries from supermarkets. There were barriers being put up in supermarkets so wheelchairs couldn't access. One way systems would really affect people and with mobility issues. The pandemic just caused such a plethora of issues for all sorts of communities. Yeah, it's the most I've ever seen in one hit if you like. It was madness.
PU: I think that's a really valid point, Carrie, about the supermarkets and peoples’ access to things that they would ordinarily have access to. We've just moved to the Lake District and one of the retail stores, which I won't name it, but I've noticed that in the fresh food aisle… I used to shop at the same store in Rippon, and now I've gone to the same store here in Penrith. There's a Perspex screen on across all of the fruit and veg. Now if I was a wheelchair user or I had mobility issues, there's absolutely no way that I would be able to access any of the produce behind those screens. I would have to open the door outwards, and it's a Perspex screen from floor to ceiling so it's probably 7 or 8 feet high from the handle, which is a hole in the Perspex higher than it needs to be for somebody that would be in a wheelchair, so there hasn't been any thought there on how those people are going to access those services.
I actually had a look yesterday morning when I was in the store and there isn't any signage to say if you need support getting their groceries out. There was nothing. So I think these people in those situations that are clearly being overlooked because they're not the masses.
CC: Absolutely, we saw so much of that, so much of that through the pandemic. Even with home deliveries. So before any of this happened, there would be people that had their own deliveries because they were clinically vulnerable, they didn't leave the house, they were agoraphobic, they had mobility issues, they didn't have support or carers. And when the pandemic happened, everybody and their Grandma went to online delivery and everybody needed those slots. So the people that really needed them, the people that were clinically vulnerable, couldn't access those slots, they couldn't get deliveries.
It was about getting to the supermarkets and saying: “No, really. This is a priority. The people that physically can't get to the store need to be priority, and then second the people who would rather not go to the store because of COVID, fair enough.”
It's just about thinking forward, who is this affecting and on what level? We had clients that literally had dog food left in the house and they couldn't get anything else. They had no support, no family, no local stores. It was terrifying to be honest at the outset.
LN: Wow. It's just case after case. You can understand exactly how it happens with businesses reacting, making knee jerk reactions like: “We have to do this. We have to do these updates and take precautions” but not seeing the big picture or seeing or including everybody in that and asking who is this going to affect? Who is this going to negatively affect?
I think this leads really well into Paul’s story because I think it's a great example of how Paul was confronted with a situation where he needed to react to, and you changed on the spot, you were able to adapt. I wonder if you could share that story about the presentation you gave?
PU: Yeah, of course. So there was a charity that we were dealing with, or wanted to deal with. It was a prospective client for our will-writing service. I’d had a few verbal conversations and a video call with one of the two founders of this charity, and we'd arranged a particular day to run through the presentation. The presentation was largely a PowerPoint presentation, so it's audio and visual because I was expecting he and I and two other people to be on the call.
The charity in question is a blind charity and (one of the founders) is a blind racing driver. What happened was, I was expecting one representative from the charity on the call, somebody that had full sight. The chap who is the founder at the other founder who is the blind racing driver appeared on the screen. My immediate reaction was horror because I thought: “How is this going to work? I've got a presentation which is a visual presentation. How am I going to present this to somebody that's blind?”
My second response was to confront the chap who was blind and I actually said to him: “Look, I wasn't expecting you on the call today but I'm really grateful that you're here. The presentation that we're normally going to run through would be a visual presentation on PowerPoint. Now, I understand that you can't see that PowerPoint, so if it would be OK with you, what I would like to do is each slide that I put up I'll explain what's on the slide and I'll talk through it and I'll read all of the words on the slides.” And he was quite grateful for that.
So we ran the presentation. It ended up running for about maybe 12 or 15 minutes longer than it usually would. And at the end of the presentation, he actually said that he'd been on several other video calls over the last 18 months during the pandemic, and pretty much 100% at the time he'd been ignored on those calls because people didn't know what to do. They didn't know how to approach the subject. And so they just ignored the fact he was even in the meeting. Whereas what I'd done, because I'd made him the focal point of the meeting because everybody else could see and hear what I was doing, he was really appreciative of the fact. And he said: “You know, unbeknownst to you, you've done something really powerful for me because, as you were talking, I was able to visualise what was on the slide. So in my mind I could see what everybody else could see with their eyes.”
And that was that was really powerful for me actually because it is something that I've never experienced before. I've always been pretty good and adaptable to change, but I've never been in that situation before. So that was quite a unique situation for me.
It was something that was very much eye opening for me because it was in the middle of a sequence of events. So there was a series of a few weeks where different things happened for different people with diversity or language issues that I'd had to overcome or that I’d had to face. So yeah, that was really quite profound.
TF: Do you know what, Paul? What struck me when I first heard that story from you, there were a couple things that struck me. First, I think you were lucky to have been in this situation where you could recognise what your audience was facing. Because you could see the person, you knew who you were dealing with, they were a colleague right.
It turned a light on for me because it made me realise how often we don't even know who our audience is. So you're creating a web page, you're writing a blog, in my case as a solicitor I'm drafting a contract – a lot of the stuff that I write will end up being used by my clients. It'll be their terms of business, for example, that they'll put on their website. And so it'll be members of the public people I haven't seen, I don't know what their capabilities are, that's my audience. And an experience that you've described like, you got an opportunity I guess sort of thrust at you. You were well, not forced to confront it, but a lot of people might have just ignored the problem and just ploughed on and done what they were going to do anyway without accommodating that person’s needs.
Still, I'm looking at this screen here. We've got a number of people in this call today, but who else is going to look at this video afterwards? We don't know what their needs are. And so it’s just about thinking about and empathising for all the various different kinds of audiences that we're all facing, when we're trying to get ideas across, whether it's on a PowerPoint, in a written document, verbally, even what words we choose.
How do we express ourselves to make sure, not so much that I get my message out, I mean, that's a lot less important than making sure that I understand what's being received at the other end Because if what's received at the other end doesn't work and doesn't match what I'm trying to tell people, then I haven't done my job.
PU: Yeah, I couldn't agree more.
LN: It's a great story because it doesn't end there does it? Paul, you said this was part of a sequence of events. That that is was only part of your journey in changing your mindset.
PU: Yeah, do you know what, there was a six or seven week period sequence of events that happened that was really the catalyst of why I'm here now. Because I've always just assumed that I was an OK communicator and we do assume this, don't we? We assume that people are going to see and hear what I see and hear, but that's absolutely not the case.
Another example would be in my other business. One of our networking groups which was male dominant, and we all understand the complexities of what that brings. So we wanted to make the group more gender diverse. We had a conversation with the guys in the room saying look we don't want to have a boys club. Do we want to have more females present in the room which would make the group better in the whole sense of the being. So naively, what I'd done is I'd asked some females that were part of another group in my network if they would like to come along to the meeting that we were having so we could have a more of a female presence in the room.
I was very innocent in doing this. But after I had a physical meeting with two of the three ladies that I’d asked and I asked them, I said: “Oh, you know, the event’s been and gone. Why were you not able to come?” And the response that I got was: “Well, it was really nice to be asked, but what you asked was the wrong question. That's why we didn't come.” And I was like: “Why was it the wrong question?” And they said: “If you'd have asked for an accountant and a travel agent and a mortgage broker to come along, we probably would have jumped at the chance. But you asked us to come along because we were women, not because we were good at what we did, and that was quite offensive.” I said: “You know what, I didn’t think of it that way.” And she said: “It would be a little bit like me asking you to come to event because we needed a little bit of colour in the room. It might not be offensive, but it’s kind of the same thing.” And so I thought about it and I was like: “Do you know what, I'm actually so sorry that I overlooked that.” And so I apologised.
What this series of events are making me do is making me look at our communication, not as the deliverers of the communication, but we're now thinking about what we do and how are other people going to construe our messages? How are they going to think and feel about it?
And that's having a really big effect on what we do across the businesses and how we do our marketing, how are people going to receive the messages that we're putting out, or can they even receive the messages? That's the more important thing, isn't it: is somebody going to hear what I'm saying or are they going to hear what they want to hear or their version of what was said.
It's something that I've never thought of before and I've been 30 years in business and I've never really thought about communication in that way before.
TF: The alternative is, they don't understand so they just tune you out. That's another possible problem.
PU: Yeah, they do. So in the middle of all of this is where I met Carrie and the conversation that we had about it. And I think because of these situations that had been occurring and that we'd had to overcome and think about, at the same time there was there was a another chap contacting me via a message on a social media platform and he was being quite insistent. He'd been asking for feedback regularly, but he only wanted feedback by text. And I kind of felt I was being blinkered because I didn't view it as being important so I didn't really do anything with it. I thought I'll do it when I'm ready to do it. But then, because of these other events that had been going on in the background, I was looking at his communication and I started thinking: “OK. Flipping it on its head, why would somebody want to only communicate with me by email?”
So I went back to the person that introduced me to that person and I said: “Why would that person only want to communicate with me by email?” And they said: “It's because Gary is deaf. He wouldn't be comfortable doing a video call and he just can't do a telephone call.”
Long story short, Gary now works for us. He works with my organisation now. We went out of our way to recruit Gary and now Gary is doing a great job. Gary is one of our liaison people who introduces us to charities. Gary’s fantastic.
So I think, just thinking about things in a different way and thinking about other people first, it's proving to be a much better way to conduct business for me.
LN: And what kind of feedback have you received? Because you've seen both sides of this: the guy in the audience who with the visual impairment, and now Gary your new employee. What kind of feedback are you getting from your customers now with Gary working with them for instance?
PU: The funny thing is, so there's a couple of organisations that Gary has introduced us to that we previously tried to communicate with and for whatever reason we weren't being responded to. But because we've taken on a totally different dynamic and a totally different way to try and communicate with that customer for a different reason, we've now had two meetings with companies that we've previously tried to have meetings with before that wouldn't hear it. They weren't hearing our message. But now through Gary, they're hearing a different message with a with a different, not a different voice, but a different mode of communication. So the feedback from him is he's absolutely ecstatic.
Now Gary, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind me saying, not that anybody knows who Gary is, but Gary is having a bit of a tough time at the moment. You know, through the pandemic, his employment had changed, his mental state wasn't amazing, he was finding it difficult to find work. And here he is now with working with a company that's embracing his, I don't even want to call it a disability because it isn't, he just has a hearing impairment. Now Gary is knocking it out of the park because he's so enthused because he's got something that he feels valued for. He can't get enough!
He messaged me last week and said: “Would you have a problem if I worked for you and I was in Spain?” And I was like: “Why would you want to work for us in Spain?” And he was like: “Well, every year I go to Spain for four weeks for a break, but would you mind if I still did some work in Spain?” And I was like: “Gary, you can do work wherever you want, but don't work while you're on holiday.” And he was like: “No, but I really love it.” So he's going to go and work while he's away, not back to the 1st of March. So I said: “Look. If you want to do it, that's totally your call. That’s not your prerogative and I’m not asking you to.” And he’s like: “No, I really want to.”
So, it's totally different. I've gone from an environment of trying to get people to do more better work to people wanting to do work. It's a totally different dynamic that I'm finding in thinking about other people's feelings and how they interact with us is totally different to anything I've experienced before.
LN: And there's another big learning point there too, because companies for a long time have been concerned about, what is it, CSR “Corporate Social Responsibility”. It's called something else now. I can't remember what the new acronym is.
TF: Called ESG now I think, which is Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance? But that's just basically CSR on a slight dose of steroids with a bit of rebranding.
LN: And that's the thing. What Paul has done, he's actually walking the walk and talking the talk, instead of, doing a sticking plaster here and saying: “Ra ra ra, we're being accessible.” The difference is, I mean, it's palpable, isn't it?
PU: Yeah, it is. In the past, I've been guilty of the same thing. I've written CSR policies and we've had environmental policy statements and all this wonderful stuff. But you know, we're just recycling the same as everybody else, and we've embellished here and made it sound wonderful there, and we put it on the website. But actually working with somebody and making the difference to somebody's life, is making a difference to them and making difference to us and making a difference to the companies that we’re communicating with because everybody benefits from that scenario, right? Whereas on the other side, for companies that don't want to embrace those things, everybody loses.
So, now I'm kind of torn. We want to recruit but I'm kind of torn between a rock and a hard place because I want more people like Gary. But how do I do that? Because I can't just advertise for people with other impairments to come on board with us, because then I'm discriminating against people that don't have any. In the fullness of time, I'm sure we'll figure it all out.
It’s great having people like Carrie to keep us on the straight and narrow. We had a couple of conversations and we only spoke twice and look at the difference that you've made to my businesses already. It's phenomenal.
LN: That’s it. It's about people, it's about a mindset, an awareness of accessibility.
So I guess the big follow-up question is, like you said, if everyone is just recycling CSR clauses and they think that makes them instantly accessible, what are some real ways of actually being accessible? Or what are ways that businesses can check: “Well I think we’re being accessible. Are we actually that accessible? Are we quite as accessible as we think we are?”
NK: I can start, but before I do I want to just say to Paul that I really commend you on what you've done because you're making it sound like it was really easy, like you met these people and OK, everything changed. But at every point of those instances you had a choice to make. You had a choice – do I acknowledge this or do I continue on the way I've always been doing it? – and you've made a choice to acknowledge that and, like you said, make changes in your organisation, which is amazing.
You know, sometimes people don't recognise when they’re at a turning point, that they can do something differently. So I think that's amazing and, the changes that you're feeling, I think as time goes on it will develop. So I think that's amazing, first of all.
Talking about a language perspective, if people just think about: “Is the language that I'm using, is it accessible?” There are some very simple tips that you could even do just looking at your own website. For example, when you use really long sentences, that can be like what Trevor said, there's a difference between the message sent and the message received. So when you use really long sentences, or words that you wouldn't use in your normal everyday conversations, when you use all of these things you put a lot of cognitive load or you put a lot of processing and a lot of burdening on the user, on the reader. So in a simple way, what you can do is even count on your website how many words are there in a sentence? If you have sentences that are going to have more than 20 words more than 30 words, you're putting too much of a burden on the user.
Try reading it aloud. Read it out loud for yourself, and if it doesn't sound natural, the way you would speak with someone or the words that you would use with somebody in-person, then it probably isn't that natural and it probably isn't using common everyday words that you would use in a conversation.
So count the words in your sentences. Shorten it, be more concise, and use words that you’d use in a conversation. That a first step you can do in a simple way.
LN: How about you, Carrie? What tips would you share with people?
CC: I think there's a lot of people that think, commercially-speaking I can't do that because it's going to cost too much or it's going to be, like you say, a burden to the business or difficult to implement. There’s so much you can do that doesn't actually cost a thing or is minimal cost. It's just about making adaptations. Speak to your clients and your client base and see what their needs are and how to adapt best to them.
Sometimes it's as little as picking the phone up and reading a document to them. Trevor will know from a legal point of view that lawyers can write things that even lawyers struggle to get our heads around, and we’ve trained in it, never mind the layperson. It's about turning that into plain English, and even then, pick the phone up and speak through it with somebody and read it to them if need be.
I have clients that have dyslexia, and it's about reading it to them and helping them understand. Or seeing if they've got the technology themselves like, there are text-to-read devices that can read it out for them. So they might have troubles reading, but they can listen and they'll take it all in that way.
Considering languages, picking up on what we were saying about BSL, it's not a case of having to interpret every time you speak to a person. If you have standard documents, like your terms and conditions, they're the same every single time. So ask an interpreter to record a video while they're interpreting those terms and conditions, and save that video and you can use that every time you sign up a new client.
If it's your website, and we've touched on these things, you can also do that on your website. There are website accessibility specialists that can do a small audit and just tell you how to tweak things, again at very little cost if any cost at all.
People with dexterity issues. Obviously with COVID people coming into your businesses you tend to ask them to write things down or scan things. They might have dexterity issues where they can't do that, so you can make it so that you take their information, or use an iPad so it's touch screen which is a lot easier than writing or grabbing a pen or what have you. It might be that you can do the same with electronic signatures rather than physical wet signatures in a lot of places.
Things like, I've been asked to do a blog recently, and that's fine. So with the blog, I want to have speaking and a conversation, but then I want to also have an auto caption so that there's words along the bottom of the video so anyone that can't hear me can read that. And again, if it's text and you can highlight the text, your computer or your laptop can read it out.
Also if you're posting images and there's a lot of imagery on your website and things like that, just put a caption at the bottom saying what this image is.
So there's just little things that cost very little that you can do to make small adaptations that makes you much more accessible to your entire client base.
LN: Those are really great tips, Carrie. We’ve had a question come in on the chat from Peggy who is asking about the increased use of emojis in marketing copy. And she asks: “How are emojis translated via screen-reading apps?”
CC: That's a new one, to be honest. I'm not quite sure. I know there's some, I think some of them do say like “smiley face” and things like that. So I do think some of them do. I'm not sure about all of them, so I will do some research. But I do think they read something out depending on the emoji.
TF: I'm really hoping that “eggplant” is just an eggplant.
PU: Carrie, I have a question. Is there a place that people can go where there's an easy crib sheet for, for example, if I'm creating a website, is there some ‘do's and don'ts’? Is there somewhere that they can go to find that information?
CC: There is but it’s not brilliant. There is guidance available on a government website. Basically it scores single-A, double-A, and triple-A levels of accessibility, and you have to do an accessibility statement on your website to say what standard you reach. It's a good place to start. It's good to kind of get some information from there and it gives you an idea of the technicalities and the IT behind it including coding and things like that, so you can have a look at that. (see link below)
The government website is good but it's difficult at the same time, because it says you have to be double-A standard, but nowhere does it say anything about the single-A standards and you've got to tick those boxes first. Common sense says you have to do single-A before you do the double-A, but single-A guidance isn’t actually published.
NK: I know of a software tool called Stark (see link below). I think they offer an audit service, I think you can even just do it with your URL or with an API key. They will look at the visual aspects of your website like looking at the alt text and the images and the colour contrasts, to see how well it performs for visual impairment, colour blindness and things like that.
So there are a few different things that you can maybe use in lots of different ways. Tigim does it from the language perspective, but for the visual perspective I think there's lots of information in different places but not one cohesive resource because, just thinking about the point on common awareness, I think that awareness is only really starting to happen now.
Even though we've all been using the Internet for a long time, I think that people are becoming more empathetic towards their audience and seeing that accessibility is good for people, and it's good for branding and business at the end of the day as well. I think it's definitely going to increase.
TF: Yeah, and it's not just the technical tools. I think it's also how do you sell this to the organisation, to the business that you're trying to convince to do things differently?
And we've used the word ‘accessibility’ an awful lot in this conversation today, and one thing that keep keeps occurring to me is that ‘accessibility’ is actually the same as, it's almost interchangeable with, ‘approachability’. If you think about it from the user experience point of view, it's not just about: “Can I access this?”, it's that this business or this organisation is open to me, they are looking out for me, they are welcoming me. And if you're sending that message to a segment of the market that other people aren't sending that message to, maybe think about how powerful that is and approaching it that way.
Going to a board of directors or management asking for resources to look at the accessibility of our website etc. Maybe it's the approachability that you need to look at.
LN: I think that's a really great point, and I think it's also a great place to end. I'm looking at the clock and we've just gone over time a bit, so I think we should wrap it up here.
Thank you everyone. Thanks to our panel, thanks to our audience for your questions and your comments.
Again, the next round table will be in March on the 17th. Please watch for the link that will go out probably later next week, and we will hopefully see you then.
Have a great rest of the week.

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