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Accessibility: Auditing your offline communications

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In the days where organisations are increasingly looking towards digital to solve complex challenges, it is easy to disregard or overlook the importance of offline communications in your marketing mix.

Woman struggling to read paperwork.

We know that there are millions of people in the UK who, for one reason or another, don’t engage with digital channels. For example, in 2020, Office of National Statistics reported that 2.8 million people over the age of 65 have never used the internet and, in 2021, Good Things Foundation reported that 14.9m people in the UK have very low digital engagement.

To ensure that you are engaging with all people in society it is vital to ensure your offline communications are inclusive. This includes making information accessible to someone who may struggle to read or consume printed communications due to a visual, cognitive, or physical disability.

When creating or designing content, every we take has the potential to include or exclude people. Unfortunately, the people we are seeking to engage are too often forgotten and ignored in the creative process. Accessibility should be thought of as an opportunity. It’s a way of including and learning from people with a range of needs and understanding how they interact with (and want to interact) with the world. We can then use these insights to make sure everything we produce - from our websites, to our brochures, and everything in between – is useful, engaging and fit for purpose.

How an audit improves your offline communications
Often leaflets, brochures and printed comms are designed, proofed and signed-off on a screen – rarely is the physical document tested or scrutinised. They are also frequently reproduced and reprinted year after year, with little analysis or refinement.

An audit is an opportunity to pause. It’s an opportunity to look again at what has been produced and see where we might be able to refine and improve.

We know there are a whole range of people who may struggle with offline materials. This includes all visual impairments, conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dysphasia – in fact anything that can affect comprehension - and also any physical disabilities that can impair the handling of a physical printed publication.

When you think about the breadth of conditions and people that encapsulates, we can start to appreciate why it is vital that we ensure the accessibility of our printed communications.

At CDS, we audit offline communications using a wide range of criteria (based on guidance from various sources including Government Digital Service and Royal National Institute of Blind People) that allows us to generate an overall accessibility score for a piece of collateral. Ideally, an audit is combined with user testing to understand how people engage with and consume the content in the real world.

How to embed accessible design practices into the creative process
Designing with accessibility in mind means keeping your audience at the forefront of your mind and ensuring that everything you include can be understood. It’s about going beyond compliance and embedding accessibility into your practices and processes with empathy and understanding.
The key elements to consider with accessible design:

  • Fonts, layout and text: Are you using a legible font, does the document flow in a straightforward, logical way?
  • Images and diagrams: Are the images representative of the diversity of your audience and do any diagrams translate information effectively?
  • Readability: Are you writing in clear and simple terms, using plain English and direct, simple (jargon-free) terminology?
  • Colour contrast: Do the colours used have appropriate contrast and can the information be understood by low-vision or colour blind people?
  • Paper stock and size: How does the physical document feel and work in the real world? Could someone with a dexterity disability use the document?
  • Alternative formats available: Have you produced formats in accessible formats – such as easy read, braille, or large format – and are they easy to find?

By adopting an inclusive approach and embracing accessible communications, organisations have the chance to make a real impact on people’s lives. Those who prioritise inclusivity will reap the benefits. Those who don’t, risk being left behind.