Reality TV puts spotlight on clear and accessible communications
Written by John Atkin
The behaviour of participants in reality TV shows like Celebrity Big Brother and The Apprentice has once again in recent weeks put the spotlight on how we treat other people.
For every person who still holds the view that business is a macho environment where you sink or swim, there are many more who take the opposite view. Work is somewhere you spend a large proportion of your day, so it’s important to feel that you’re treated fairly.
At The Tonic Communications we are committed to creating an environment where everybody feels safe and welcome, is treated with respect and has equal opportunity. We also aim to ensure that nobody who comes into contact with us feels discriminated against.
But equality is more than just something companies need to consider when it comes to recruitment and customer relations. It also applies to how we communicate through our PR activity.
Take the example of government, which produces a vast amount of communication material every day – and has to ensure it can be read and understood by as many people as possible. When I was at the Driving Standards Agency, we aimed to produce written material that could be understood by someone with a reading age of ten years old.
As PR practitioners, we’re constantly looking to present information in an eye catching way. Infographics are highly favoured, but they can make information out of reach of some audiences.
That’s not to say that creativity and design skill must take a back seat, rather that it’s good practice to consider different designs for different audiences.
Justified text puts uneven spaces between words and means that the reader has to work harder to find the start of each line. This can be particularly difficult for readers with dyslexia or certain types of visual impairment.
When your text is left aligned, the eyes and brain know where to go to at the start of every line; unjustified text is easier to read as the spaces between words are regular and the reader knows what to expect.
Even underlining words or titles to add emphasis can make the word harder to read for some people because your eyes have to work harder to separate the word from the line. Italics, too, can make the words more difficult to read.
Probably one of the oldest discussions between PR practitioners and clients is the debate over whether job titles should be given capital letters.
Regardless of the argument over what’s right or wrong, placing more capital letters in the middle of sentences can make them much more difficult to read. That’s because we learn to read words that use lower case letters, with capital letters at the start of sentences. The most accessible style of writing to read is ‘sentence case’.
The choice of font, too, can affect the accessibility of written material. The web is full of advice over which fonts are the most accessible to all readers. There’s even an argument that the much-ridiculed comic sans can help make reading easier for people with dyslexia, as it most closely resembles handwriting.
It’s sensible to use plain English where you can and to write in short sentences. An old newspaper adage says there should be only one fact per sentence. If you’re considering a dash or a semi-colon, use a full stop instead.
As a rule of thumb, don’t use anything smaller than Arial 12pt – the Department for Work and Pensions and the CIPR have guidance available.
When publishing material online, give some thought to people who might be using screen readers. Again, fonts and font sizes are important, as is text description of any images. Should you offer a high-contrast version of your website?
The Web Accessibility Initiative has plenty of information about best practice in web accessibility and The Tonic is consulting this as we redevelop our own site
We’re proud to have worked with Real Creative Futures to provide inclusive communications to help them educate minority groups in areas of Nottingham about the free business support available for creative ventures.
Nottingham has the highest proportion of people of mixed or multiple ethnic group outside London, according to the 2011 Census. If you want to talk to diverse audiences, it’s best to do it in the language they best understand. Consider translation of your materials, especially if you’re communicating information which is important to how people live their daily lives, such as changes to public services. Poor communication can leave communities feeling isolated.
In summary, it’s crucial for our communications to be accessible for as many people as possible. There’s no value in being elitist.
To talk to us about accessible communication campaigns, you can contact The Tonic Communications by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or telephoning 0115 853 2198.