Creating accessible organizing is challenging. I know that for me, text-based communication is usually preferred. But there are major difficulties for a wide range of people with text.
The go-to as far as access tends to be face-to-face meetings. A lot of orgs and advisories are facing defunding or under-funding because of budget issues. In many cases, this means that fewer face-to-face meetings are doable.
I recently had one of the advisories I’m involved with run into issues. I can’t do phone calls without support if I want to be actively involved. One person was having issues with too many emails. Face-to-face wasn’t in the budget. Another person’s learning disabilities made many emails very difficult.
In response, I sent an email with some suggestions for writing accessible emails. I’ve decided to share most of what I sent, as it seems to be an issue. I even had an incoming search term about making something accessible.
- The first one is that we often ask people to stay on topic in emails. If sending multiple emails is an issue, utilize bullet points. This allows for a visual separation of information. If bullet points don’t work, divide your email into sub-headers that are bolded or underlined. This will create visual sections that let people organize the information better.
- Use short words and short sentences. It is said that brevity is the soul of wit. It’s also the soul of writing in accessible language. Using short sentences makes it easier to process. Using short words makes those sentences even easier to read. If you do need to use complicated words, either explain or provide a link to a definition.
- If you use inline hyperlinks (links), don’t have the text be non-descriptive. This is doubly true when you deal with folks who use screen readers. Instead of using “here” or “at their site”, use the title of the article. For example: “On their site, NYLN has resources on things like Disability History and Disability Pride.” Or, “One good resource is Opera’s Guide to Accessibility for Cognitive and Learning Disabilities.”
- Use white space. White space is the space where you don’t have anything, like the space between paragraphs or at margins. This makes it easier for those with ADHD, ASDs, and so on to organize information and avoid distraction. When there is little white space, it is visually confusing for any number of people.
- Formatting. Making sure that text lines aren’t too long is important. This isn’t so much an issue for email, unless you have a habit of writing in huge text and forcing people to scroll over. Make sure text is tall enough to be legible, but not so tall that it becomes an issue. This is usually between 12pt and 14pt font.
- Use short paragraphs that stay on topic. Paragraphs visually divide chunks of information. By writing relatively short paragraphs that are on topic, you make it easier for the reader to sort information.
- Try to use spell check and grammar, and double check that spell check was right. The wrong words can make things extremely difficult to navigate for those with LDs.
- Use image descriptions. Some people can’t see, but others have processing issues with images. Providing a basic description of images can be really helpful. And use images sparingly unless requested otherwise.
- Create an environment that is welcoming. Don’t act defensive when someone asks for an accommodation. I know that we have some negative role models in this area. Some of us were even shamed and forcibly trained out of asking for our access needs to be met. Make sure you create an environment that isn’t modeled after that. One good way of doing this is to mention what your access needs are. For example, I might need certain information in chart or graph form. Don’t just say “Some people might need x,” when you are talking about yourself, if you can help it. We live in a world where alternative access needs are shamed enough without us internalizing that shame. Instead, add, “For example, I have difficulties sorting out what information is important in long emails.”
These are based on a number of different access guides. Some of them are internal standards we use at Autism Women’s Network. Some of them are from things like the Opera Accessibility article linked above.
Working with multiple access needs