Public sector bodies should draw up accessible publishing strategies that integrate their approaches to web and print publishing thereby ensuring dissemination of their most important messages to the most relevant audiences, delegates heard at last month’s E-Access ’08 conference.
Katie Grant, director of the accessible communications consultancy Raincharm Communications and former publications manager at the Disability Rights Commission, told a workshop session that ‘accessibility’ is a term used to describe the degree to which a device, service or working environment is accessible by as many people as possible. Within that definition, ‘accessible’ has three meanings: able to be accessed; friendly and approachable; and easily understood or appreciated.
There are certain key steps which need to be followed within any
accessible publishing strategy, Grant said. These are:
– Do you need to publish?
– If so, which audience or audiences are you trying to reach?
– What formats are you going to produce?
– How will the information you produce inform and influence?
– How does what you publish fit within the overall strategy of your
– How will the information be disseminated?
– How do you measure success?
The task of designing accessible information goes far beyond the more obvious and technical aspects such as how information is conveyed or illustrated using images, Grant said. It is important to begin by considering the audience you are trying to reach even before you select a format and design a document.
“Ask yourself who is your target audience, and did you consider their needs when setting up your website, for example? Publishing formats should always be based on user research, and a balance struck between accessibility and functionality.”
Clearly budget issues will affect what formats can be delivered, and how much information can be published, Grant said, but in looking at affordability, organisations should look at the cost versus value delivered in terms of improved service. A business case for accessibility should also investigate the urgency of each type of information.
As part of an interactive exercise during the workshop, delegates produced their own examples of issues to consider when developing the business case for an accessible publishing strategy. These included ensuring there is no ambiguity in stated business requirements; developing a flexible and scalable strategy; and to implement constant reviews and evaluation to keep up with changes in technology.
A range of cultural and ‘people’ issues were also highlighted by delegates. These included the need to ensure broad ownership of the strategy, with buy in from both production/marketing staff and senior budget holders and managers.
“You need to establish a publishing team at the planning stage, involving the people who are going to be producing the work – web people and marketing people – and others from across the organisation,” Grant said.
“Then to ensure proper implementation, who need to work out who is responsible for each bit,” she said. “It needs to be built into job descriptions.”
“Access to clearly designed, easy to read information should be a fundamental right for everyone. Building and embedding an accessible publishing strategy into an organisations communications culture should be at the forefront of any business planning process.
NOTE: Katie Grant is the trainer in an exclusive practical one-day Headstar Training course, ‘Designing for all’, designed to introduce public sector organisations to the importance of designing accessible, easy to read information for a range of different audiences. The first course runs on 24 June in central London. To book a place see: www.headstar-training.com/dfa