Virginia Devlin, CEO of Current Global, describes what inspired the Accessible by Design initiative, highlighting data from the “Digital Accessibility: The Necessity of Inclusion” study and sharing tips for communicators to make their content more accessible to people with disabilities. Virginia also discusses her hopes for the future of the industry.
LYNSEY: PR’s Top Pros Talk, Creating Accessible Communications, featuring Virginia Devlin, CEO of Current Global. And here’s your host, Doug Simon.
DOUG: We’re talking about accessibility. So, Virginia, can you start with sort of a self-description of what people would be looking at?
VIRGINIA: Thank you, Doug. Self-descriptions are really important when you’re doing podcasts, webinars, any kind of meeting to make sure that people who are visually impaired, are neurodivergent in any way, or maybe even joining with low bandwidth, or not paying attention to what they’re seeing visually can understand who is talking. So, I will give my visual description then maybe you can give yours. So, my name is Virginia Devlin. My pronouns are she/her. I am the CEO of Current Global. I am a white mid-fifties woman. Today I am wearing like a denim jean jacket in front of a purple background. My hair is light brown and my eyes are blue.
DOUG: I’m Doug Simon. I’m the CEO at D S Simon Media and the host of the show. I like to say youthful, prematurely gray, that might not pass muster with people as I’m in my early sixties. I’m sitting in my living room wearing a blue sweater with some art pieces on the wall behind me. So, Virginia, what is the Accessibility by Design Initiative?
VIRGINIA: Accessible by Design is a fast company, world-changing idea, that was exciting to get that acknowledgment in 2021 after we launched this program. And the reason we created Accessible by Design is that DE&I is so important in all of our workplaces and across industries. And the World Economic Forum had this stat that kind of stopped me in my tracks. And it’s that 90% of companies claim that they are prioritizing diversity in the workplace, but only 4% of businesses are focused on making their offerings inclusive of people with disabilities.
VIRGINIA: So, that is kind of a shocking number. And this inclusion gap permeates, like I said, all industries, including our own. It impacts what into whom we communicate. And so, as communicators, I think we have a huge opportunity to do better to create accessible communications that connect with audiences of all abilities.
DOUG: Sounds like that’s what inspired this movement, that huge disparity.
VIRGINIA Yes, exactly. And our team in EMEA does a lot of work with Microsoft, and Microsoft has a lot of great technology functions that allow you to check the accessibility of documents you’re creating. It’s easy to use a spellcheck. And so, that team was working with Microsoft on a campaign that was highlighting those accessibility features. And afterward, you know, one of our managers came to us and said, you know, we really should like make sure we’re doing this as part of all of our work. And we were like, you are absolutely right, we should be doing this. And then we kind of poked around and we didn’t see anyone really talking about it as communicators. And we thought it was a huge opportunity because I think closing this disability inclusion gap is not just the right thing to do, it also makes business sense. I mean, this is a population of over a billion people.
DOUG: I was going to say you also did a Necessity of Inclusion study. What were some of the key findings you had there?
VIRGINIA: We did a survey of 800 people living in the U.S. and the UK. They were either visually impaired, hearing impaired, or had, you know, neurodiverse or cognitive disabilities. And you know, we wanted to make the business case for communication. So, we did this study to understand the lived experiences of people. And three of the key findings I think, that are most relevant to our industry are one, that social media is the biggest problem. People with disabilities are regularly consuming all forms of content, but social media is the most problematic. It’s a struggle for many. They find it very difficult to navigate and consume content on, and a lot of people use assistive tools when it comes to their technology, but that’s not fixing the problem. So, the majority of participants who use like, say, like a screen reader, if you’re visually impaired, they say that that doesn’t help. Really, the problem is the content itself. So, that directly points to where organizations and brands have an opportunity to help make sure that the content they’re putting out into the world is accessible.
DOUG: Are there things communicators can do now? Guidelines, maybe, things that they can do to implement that could make a difference that they should be doing, in your opinion?
VIRGINIA: We did create a very comprehensive set of free guidelines so anyone can download them and use them in partnership with the PRCA and the PR Council. And we’re committed to updating those at least annually because technology and best practices are always changing. These guidelines are a great first step to just become familiar with them because you’ll learn things about, you know, how to do alt text. This is making sure that all of the meaningful images you’re using like sometimes say in a presentation, you might have a decorative image and you can take that aside, but if your image is trying to help you communicate a key message, you want to make sure that you’re giving alternative text to that. And as great as, you know, AI can be, it creates very generic text. So, it’s important that you go in and read it yourself. And, you know, the key is really just to be descriptive about, you know, just pay attention to exactly what’s happening in the image and describe it for users who are using screen readers and other things like that.
DOUG: Yeah, with all the great work you’re doing, is that making you hopeful about what the future of communications will be in regard to inclusion and increasing accessibility?
VIRGINIA: I mean, I certainly hope so. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the forefront of the issues that we are addressing within our industry, and that includes the work that we create for ourselves and our clients. To me, the most important word in the equation is inclusion. It’s so critical. I believe that without it you won’t achieve diversity, or equity, or a sense of belonging. And unfortunately, the disabled community is excluded far too often. I think as communicators we have the power to curate culture and catalyze social change, like that’s a superpower for us. So, together I really do think that we can create a more accessible and inclusive world. And I always say to people to just progress over perfection because it can feel very daunting. Oh my gosh, I have to change my whole way of working. Just start taking the baby step and those guidelines I mentioned will help you do that. If you just start putting it into practice on a daily basis, some of those things you’ll realize and other areas where you can improve and it’ll just snowball from there.
DOUG: Well, I think you’ve done a lot to contribute to the progress, especially here for those who watch the video and beyond that. Can you share again where people can go to get more information?
VIRGINIA Yeah. So, the research I talked about, the guidelines, we also created a 21-day challenge on the notion that it takes 21 days to form a habit. So, every day you can challenge yourself on a new skill. Plus, like articles, and webinars, and podcasts like this are all collected on our website, https://accessible-communications.com. And you’ll also see on there a pledge if you want to pledge to join the Accessible Communications movement. We’ve started to hear from agencies and organizations around the world who are committing to this, and we’d love to have more people join us.
DOUG: Yeah, it’s definitely something important to be a part of, and we’ll also include links to that as well. Thanks so much for the important work you’re doing and for spending time with us.
VIRGINIA: Fantastic. Thank you for having me, Doug.