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International Partnerships

How to be heard? Promoting accessible communication for persons with disabilities

Think of an image that is spreading rapidly on social networks and that is beginning to generate retweets and quotes but that has no alternative description. Blind people are automatically left out of that conversation. Or a video with very suggestive images but without subtitles, audio description or voiceover. Making it very difficult for people who are deaf to understand. And yet, this happens every day.

Communicating well is crucial for us to understand each other, but, to be truly effective, it must consider the individuals’ ability to interact, and the format should be adapted to ensure it is accessible.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has made this even more evident. In the early days of the pandemic, there was a considerable lack of information on the virus and prevention measures in a format accessible to people with various forms of disabilities. These groups could not access crucial information to be protected against the risks posed by the virus, on top of the multiple forms of discrimination they may face in daily life.

Freedom to express, Sri Lanka
Freedom to express, Sri Lanka. Credit: CBM / Thomas Lohnes

Fortunately, significant progress has been made in this regard, driven mainly by advocacy from organisations of persons with disabilities around the world. Now, most international bodies and public institutions provide all essential information tailored to persons with various types of disabilities.

However, there is still much to be done. Inclusive communication should not be conceived to marginally benefit one part of the population, it must be a valuable resource for the whole of society. For instance, easy-to-read formats are not only useful for persons with intellectual disabilities, but also for persons with low literacy skills, elderly persons or those with basic language knowledge, such as migrants and refugees.

Similarly, the inclusion of closed-captioning or subtitling, which display text on a screen, also benefits those who do not master the language and facilitates following a video broadcast when there is significant background noise. The are many examples , but, there is still a long way ahead to use inclusive communication tools as a normal practice.

Reading in braille.
Reading in braille.

Aware of its great value, the Bridging the Gap project has a communication strategy based on inclusive and accessible communication's principles and this is one of the project's resources for mainstreaming disability in international cooperation, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the 2030 Agenda.

The project has developed its own Inclusive and Accessible Communication Guidelines available in the three languages spoken in its participating countries, English, French and Spanish, to serve as a guide for its communication actions but also for other users. It has also trained partners about a range of communication barriers to each disability. For example, using inclusive language, improving digital accessibility, and good practices for the organisation of inclusive meetings and events.

The project also dedicated a specific module to promote inclusive and accessible communication in English, French and Spanish in its webinar-based training cycle on disability and development, a crucial topic to increase social inclusion.

All these valuable resources are available on this project's website, for all persons and organisations to progressively incorporate the good practices not only into their daily work but also into their daily lives, so that people with disabilities are not discriminated against when accessing information.

Do not leave persons with disabilities behind!

Sign-language and captioning at a Bridging the Gap conference. Credit: Bridging the Gap.
Sign-language and captioning at a Bridging the Gap conference.
Bridging the Gap. / Bridging the Gap.

Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap is a project funded by the EU aimed at increasing the inclusion of persons with disabilities through more inclusive development cooperation and supporting specific actions in Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Paraguay and Sudan). For more information see here.

Further resources:

Inclusive and accessible communication guidelines: English, French and Spanish

Watch the video: Bridging the Gap's inclusive response to the COVID-19 pandemic