Why words matter: writing that promotes inclusion

The words you speak become the house you live in
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Everyone has the right to information that meets their needs and treats them with fairness and respect.

Sometimes when describing people, inaccurate or offensive terms can be unintentionally used. Making sure you use the right terms isn’t just about being ‘politically correct’. Using lazy language can make people feel upset, excluded and misunderstood. It can also deepen divisions and create an ‘us versus them’ environment in the wider community.

As an organisation, living up to your values is critical. One of the best ways you can embed respect is to use fair and inclusive language in your communications.

In the words of Iranian poet Hafiz, “The words you speak become the house you live in”.

Let’s build a house on the write foundations.

Inclusive communications resources

Getting it right when it comes to language isn’t always easy. Luckily there are a number of great resources to get you started.

The ‘Guide to Disability Reporting’ by People with Disability Australia is an excellent resource for checking your language when talking about people with disability. As the guide says in its introduction:

“Your use of language when referring to or talking about people with disability has an impact on the way people with disability feel and the way they are perceived by other people in society. It is important that you are aware of the meaning behind the words you use when talking to, referring to or working with people with disability. Some terms and language can be a barrier to full participation in society and also can mean people with disability feel hurt and excluded.”

The Mindframe Media Guidelines are another great tool that can support you to talk about mental illness and suicide with sensitivity and respect. Developed in partnership by mental health professionals and the media, the Mindframe guidelines aim to change attitudes and perceptions of mental illness and suicide.

The GLAAD Media Reference Guide provides advice on language, content and reporting about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. This guide aims to support fair, accurate and respectful LGBTQ stories.

The ABC’s Indigenous Content Guidelines, while intended for ABC content making, is another useful resource for organisations. These guidelines share advice on language, naming and references, as well as other important cultural traditions and considerations.

Additional resources

Do you have any guides or tips you can recommend? Share your advice in the comments section below.

Seeking specialised support?

Over close to 10 years, I’ve worked within non-profit and community organisations to drive communications and marketing campaigns and initiatives. Making sure people have access to information that is accessible and inclusive is a true passion of mine; and a passion I’d love to share with your organisation.

Learn more about Pen For Purpose, the copywriting, editing and content marketing services available to you, or simply get in touch to talk about your inclusive communications needs.

Accessibility 101: How to make your nonprofit’s digital content more accessible

Concrete accessibility ramp with red railings
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“Accessibility 101: How to make your nonprofit’s digital content more accessible” originally featured on NonProfit Marcommunity – a space for nonprofit marketers and communicators to learn from and share knowledge with each other.

Nonprofit communicators connect people in need with valuable information and support every day through a range of digital communications channels.

Many organisations support people with disability, older people, people with English as a second language and people with low literacy to access practical help and programs every day. For many people experiencing disadvantage, finding out where to go for help is a huge first step.

As a nonprofit communicator, you can support people to access the tools they need to succeed by ensuring your language is clear and that your website is accessible.

What is website accessibility?

Website accessibility is all about making sure everyone has equal access to information online. While primarily focused on supporting people with disability, good accessibility benefits everyone. It makes information easy to access, understand and navigate.

According to the Website Accessibility Initiative:

“Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web.”

Especially in nonprofit organisations, where many of us work to connect people in need to the right services, providing equitable access aligns to both our values and our goals.

So how can you make accessibility a priority and a reality in your organisation? In addition to using everyday and inclusive language, there are a number of settings and tools you can use to improve the accessibility of your online communications.

Here are three simple accessibility actions you can take today

1. Choose meaningful, relevant images

Images are a powerful addition to your content, however choosing a cheesy image or not providing image descriptions can frustrate or exclude some readers. As this article by a disability advocate shows – How to be disabled according to stock photography – stock photography can get it very wrong when it comes to reflecting reality.

Adding descriptions to the images you use – also known as “alt text” – enables people with visual impairments to make meaning of visuals used on your website. Alt text can be read by screen readers, which are tools that read out loud the information on the page. Without alt text, your images are just empty space!

To make images accessible you can:

  • Describe the image in the alt text settings area of your website or email system. This is usually in the image editing or upload function.
  • Provide an image caption, especially on social media when you cannot add alt text
  • Avoid text embedded in images, or if the text is necessary, make sure you provide a description in the alt text or as a caption.

This University of Washington checklist provides some more detail on how to make your images accessible.

2. Check the contrast between colours

Using a good colour contrast ratio makes your content easier to read and understand. Have you ever watched a slideshow presentation that used yellow or orange text on white, and found yourself squinting? This is due to poor contrast between the text and background.

There are some great tools available online that allow you to check the contrast between colours on your screen:

If you have standard colours you use for your logo or online channels, use one of the tools above to make sure that there is enough contrast between the colours you use.

3. Enable captions on videos

Enabling or adding captions on video content can have a number of benefits. On YouTube you can add your own subtitles or closed captions in the video settings. People can turn on the captions as needed or depending on their communication needs.

You can also add captions visually on a video file during production so they appear permanently. This is a good option if you intend to share your video on social media, where many people have the auto-play feature on and the volume off.

Another way you can make your videos accessible is to add audio description, which is when you add a voiceover to describe what’s shown visually.

The business and values case for prioritising accessibility

After reading these tips you might be thinking, “Wow that sounds like a lot of extra work.” You’re right – implementing accessibility measures can take some time to begin with. However, over time they will become part of your everyday practice and processes.

Accessibility makes good business sense for organisations too; there is a strong vision and values case for ensuring everyone has equal opportunity to connect with your organisation’s support and services. As a nonprofit communicator, implementing accessibility measures are a tangible way you can connect people to the help they need – and that’s what we’re all here to do, right?

If reading this article has sparked your interest in exploring accessibility, check out these great resources:

About the author

Over close to 10 years, I’ve worked within non-profit and community organisations to drive communications and marketing campaigns and initiatives. Creating compelling content and telling great stories is a true passion of mine; and a passion I’d love to share with your organisation.

Learn more about Pen For Purpose, the copywriting, editing and content marketing services available to you, or simply get in touch to talk about your communications needs.