Communication Accessibility Accommodations

Why I’m Posting This

In a conversation with by Disability in Publishing colleagues, I brought up the idea about including the following in my email signature to get their feedback:

Accessibility is important to me! If you need any accommodations to make communication more accessible to you, please don’t hesitate to ask. 

Someone mentioned adding an example, since folks may not know what to ask for or may think their request was too much/not important. But I know that signatures that are too long would never get read. So on a long drive, I came up with the idea of creating a post here and linking to it in the signature.

While I’ve seen many suggestions in the past, and have my own needs, I’m only one person, so I took to twitter to get a fuller picture on what folks might need. Much appreciation to everyone who chimed in there.

If you know of another accommodation that might help someone and you don’t see it on this list, please feel free to comment. There is also the resource assembled by the Job Accommodation Network, but they focus on ADA-related issues, whereas I don’t expect any disclosure of medical conditions in order to make accommodations.

My hope for this list is two-fold.

  1. I hope that people who don’t need these accommodations see it and keep it in mind, especially when someone asks them for these things.
    • (And honestly, even if someone doesn’t ‘need’ it, a lot of these are just good ideas in general to increase the clarity of your communications and reduce confusion all around.)
    • If someone is asking you for any of these things, they are not being “difficult.” It is scary to make these request so please handle them with sensitivity and dignity.
    • When possible, I will try to point to resources that can help you with free accessibility aids
    • Feel free to use the same or a similar message in your email/website with a link to this post
    • Never, ever, ever reply with “Aren’t we all a little autistic/depressed/anxious/OCD/disabled/etc?”
    • Never say anything like “You don’t seem disabled/autistic.”
  2. That people who need these accommodations might:
    • Know that you are not asking for too much and know that no ask is too small
    • Realize an accommodation they never thought to ask for might help them
    • With me, personally, use it as a menu. Feel free to just send me the section and numbers of the things you’d like me to prioritize for you.
    • If you want/need the absolute opposite of anything on this list, that is valid as well!

Caveats

These don’t apply to everyone. These are things that some people will need, while others will specifically not want or need. Obviously items 2 and 3 in the Video Meetings section are directly in conflict, for example.

For example: I hyperfocus on text and don’t pay attention to images around it, so if I watch a movie with subtitles on it, I do not even see the visuals/video, but this can obviously be a great advantage to people who are hard of hearing or have auditory processing issues. Another example: I strongly prefer direct, concise emails, while a manager at a previous job would think I was mad at her if I didn’t include a couple sentences of niceties.

For situations where two people’s needs conflict, I recommend an honest conversation to find a compromise. Both parties should try not to get defensive and try not to diminish the other’s needs.

Possible Accommodations

Overall Communication

  1. Have what would normally be a phone call in a different format, such as an email, video call, or text chat
    • And vice versa
  2. Use written communication whenever possible, especially when conveying data, requests, to-do lists, or anything a person may need to remember at a later date.
  3. Be precise in your language, especially when requesting things.
    • “Please get this back to me by the end of Friday” vs “Please get this back to me in a couple days”
    • “Explain in 100-150 words” vs “Explain in a couple paragraphs
  4. Do not bury important details or instructions in less/non-important info.
  5. Let the person know when they will hear from you next. If you have to miss that deadline, communicate it before the date passes.
  6. Let the person know when you expect to hear back from them next
  7. Be direct and precise, especially if you need something done
    • Avoid phrases like “it would be great if..” when it’s something mandatory
  8. Set clear deadlines. (Personally, “get it to me when you can” means you will never get that from me)
    • If you’re unsure how long it will take them, or the deadline is not vital, you can ask. Ex: “Do you think you can get this back to me in 3 weeks or do you need longer?”
  9. Set clear priorities when assigning multiple tasks
  10. When teaching someone a new process/etc use examples, such as example formatting, example wording, templates.
  11. Avoid using gendered greetings (“Hey girl!”) or language
  12. Use checklists when appropriate/possible

Meetings

  1. Create an agenda or topic for any planned meeting.
    • Simply saying “we need to talk” or setting a meeting with no explanation causes extreme duress in people with many conditions
    • Even for impromptu meetings, say something like “hey, can you talk about the conference schedule?” instead of “can you come to my office for a minute?”
  2. Send a calendar invite in addition to the emails used to schedule it. Include the meeting link & agenda in that calendar invite.
    • Calendly is an incredible app if you’re in the position where a lot of people are scheduling things with you. I use it to schedule my podcast recording appointments.
  3. Don’t do “icebreakers.” If you absolutely must, inform the attendees ahead of time exactly what they are so they are not put on the spot.

Written Communication in General (applies to email, print, website, documents, chat, etc)

  1. Use high-contrast colors
  2. Use a specific font or group of fonts
  3. Use something other than colors to indicate in-line comments, such as (){}[], different fonts, or comments in a Word document
  4. Write lists of complicated info or instructions in a bulleted list rather than a paragraph, when possible
  5. Keep paragraphs short
  6. If writing out instructions, do not hide multiple steps in one point
  7. Do not bury important details or instructions in less/non-important info.
    • Separate any more flowery, emotional, or inspirational text from data, instructions, or requests
  8. Include alt text or label descriptions for any picture, graph, or graphic element
  9. Do not send documents or highly important information in chat format (like Slack). Send via email so it is searchable and able to be organized for when it needs to be referred back to.
  10. Use section headings to break up a lot of text and make finding what is needed easier

Email

  1. Create specific, informative subject lines
    • “Sarah Fisk from the Florida Writers Conference 2022” vs “So great to meet you!”
    • “Contract for KEEPING HER SECRET by Sarah Nicolas” vs “contract”
  2. Include your title and organization in your signature.
  3. If the email is very long with a lot of information, close out with a bulleted list of action items (even if that info is repeated!)

Video Chats

  1. Use live captions
  2. Do not force or make disparaging comments about people who have their video turned off
  3. Folks with auditory issues may be able to better understand you if they can see your mouth
  4. Do not assume someone is not paying attention if they are looking away or not making verbal affirmations.

Phone Calls

  1. If written communication is not possible, follow up with any important-to-remember tidbits, requests, or to-do lists in an email. Anything you don’t want me to forget.
  2. If written communication is necessary, but the instantaneous back-and-forth is also necessary, try using a text chat.

Website

  1. Avoid anything that flashes, scrolls, or moves automatically
  2. Use a website accessibility checker: WAVE | Deque

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