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16.05.2024 By George Coleman, CEO

Brands & Agencies Are Failing At Inclusivity By Design Or By Default.

Black & white photograph from the 1950s of 2 smartly dressed young men. They are stood in front of a fence, holding a dog, with a tree behind them. The men are George Coleman's father and his twin brother.

Image above shows George’s father and uncle (and pet dog). Both were deaf and served as an inspiration to our Accessible by Design commitment.

Why accessible communication is both a moral and commercial imperative.

The marketing industry talks a good talk about DEI, but rarely walks the walk when it comes to our work.

Every day content and communications are put out into the world that aren’t accessible to people of all abilities. By design or by default, it’s anything but inclusive.

1 in 8 of us has a disability – seen or unseen. That’s a community of a billion people with a collective purchasing power of $13 trillion.

Imagine if I told your CEO that your campaign was potentially excluding 15% of the firm’s target buyers.

Imagine pitching an idea to a client knowing that you’ve already written off an eighth of the prospective audience.

For me though, it’s personal. My father and uncle were both deaf. I’m all too familiar with the challenge of trying to engage with a world that isn’t accessible to you.

I remember once taking a phone call on behalf of my uncle. It was a telemarketing call from the company that had sold him assistive technology for deaf people. I kid you not.

A couple of years ago I had a bit of an emotional breakdown. Current Global commissioned first-of-its-kind research into how people with disability consume media and experience brand communications. It painted a picture of how isolated, sad and frustrated people feel when dealing with inaccessible content and communications. But the kicker that had me in tears was this: when asked what brands could do differently, the overwhelming response was simply “I don’t know”. People with disability have normalised these terrible experiences. They feel inured and hopeless it will change.

But it really doesn’t have to be this way.

The changes we need to make to how we work are, on the most part, easy and straightforward. The technology we need is readily available, and much of it free.

So there’s nothing holding us back. It just needs commitment – and leadership need to be explicit about that commitment so that staff see it coming from the top level down.

In 2021 we made our agency commitment that every piece of communication we develop, curate, and publish for our clients and ourselves will meet the highest accessibility standards. We made it an integral part of our client service offer (at no additional cost) – Accessible by Design – and rolled out a global training programme for our staff that we’ve since shared with the outside world too.

While we started with ourselves (‘be the change you want to see’), our ambition has always been to instigate positive change across the entire industry.

To that end, we’ve worked with industry bodies the PRCA and PR Council to develop the first-ever, free-to-use best practice guidelines (now in its third edition). It includes a lot of great practical information and tips. I can’t stress enough how simple most of these best practices are to implement – such as getting into the habit of hitting the accessibility checker tool in Microsoft’s Office suite as much as we automatically hit spellcheck.

And the enabling technology is getting better every day. AI is helping automate creating captions and SRT files, for example, and a new tool recently launched that converts text into sign-language delivered by a virtual avatar.

The main barrier to change, however, remains commitment. Or, more specifically, a combination of inertia created by the perception that it’s going to be a heavy lift or burden and a lack of awareness of the business case for change.

Addressing the later issue was a key reason why we undertook our aforementioned research. The findings gave us insight into the challenges people with disability face – and how brands can help – and quantified the positive impact on brand perception, recommendation and purchase intent for brands who get it right.

Making communications accessible is not just morally the right thing to do, it’s good for business too.

You can find the research, guidelines and much more on the industry resource website we created and host at www.accessible-communications.com. There you can also sign up to take our 21-day challenge and find details on the training courses we provide.

One thing I’m hugely passionate about is the benefit of designing for accessibility from the get-go. Getting the last mile of execution right is vitally important, but making it a core consideration for strategy and creative from the outset can deliver powerful outcomes.

Put simply, it leads to better work. I’d thoroughly recommend checking out the Runner 321 campaign for adidas as a great example.

Many things in life that started with improving accessibility are things that benefit everyone: The electric toothbrush, drop-curbs, voice recognition software, typewriters, bendy straws, audiobooks, and much, much more.

Making the world accessible and inclusive for people of all abilities matters to everyone. For those in the marketing industry, every single one of us has it in our power to contribute through our work. We just need less talk and more action.

Get onboard and pledge your commitment to change.

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