Have you ever thought about how a blind person reads a tweet or a post on your company blog? Or how a deaf person watches an Instagram Story or a video with no captions? According to the Digital 2020 Global Digital Overview report, 3.8 billion people worldwide use social media. Yet there are 285 million visually impaired people and 466 million hearing-impaired people content creators have not only overlooked with their existing content, but have failed to consider through inclusive digital strategies that would address these consumers’ challenges.

What does it mean to be digitally inclusive? By definition, digital inclusion is the ability of individuals and groups to access and use information and communication technologies. Since the onset of COVID-19, digital inclusion specifically means making accommodations to communicate with everyone–with or without disabilities. With nearly everyone working or learning virtually, there has never been a more important time to implement a  marketing and social media strategy that is digitally inclusive.

To dive deeper into the what, why, and how of a digitally inclusive strategy, I interviewed Joanna McElnea, the volunteer community manager at Creative Spirit US. I have had the pleasure of working with Joanna on Creative Spirit content creation, and through our collaboration have been introduced to the necessity of implementing inclusive digital across content types and channels.

How have you ensured that every Creative Spirit social post is inclusive for a variety of disabilities?

Joanna: At Creative Spirit our standpoint is that no two people are the same, let alone groups of people. The prefix “dis” means not or none, which assumes that people with disabilities “can​not​.” We know this is far from reality. Each person may be “abled” differently, and therein lies the challenge! We understand that individuals with intellectual disabilities process information differently. We also know that, realistically, every social post will probably not be inclusive of ALL disabilities. However, we recognized that we had to start somewhere. We built an inclusive team with diversity of thought. Each member of our content operations team lives with a different disability. By drawing on our own experiences, we have identified tools, designed and produced content that resonates, engages and is inclusive of all audience members, connecting them with Creative Spirit’s incredible resources.

The best way to describe how we approached making Creative Spirit’s social more accessible is to imagine a simulation based on Excel tools. Data table column A lists all the intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDDs) we are aware of and their needs, and row one lists available platform tools. We then utilize a social best-practice coding key to identify plausible matches between platform tools and disability needs. Our goal is to incorporate as many needs into each of our posts as possible.

As an example, our team has created several innovative opportunities for accessible content for various disabilities. We featured a colored background on an article for a reader with dyslexia (making it easier to read), used pictographs and highlighted text for easy skimming, and utilized platform-specific tools like LinkedIn Documents so our audience could download articles directly into any text-to-speech program. Building with authenticity from the ground up allowed us to uniquely observe opportunities and improve our posts’ accessibility throughout our social platforms.

For me, digital inclusivity began with looking at every platform and every post as an opportunity to reimagine how content is consumed from diverse thought perspectives and needs. Expanding our consideration for every disability is the goal–we are certainly not there yet. We began to produce content for an incredible mission and followed the natural path to get there. I have been producing business content for social media for several years. This team and this role have provided me the first real opportunity to give back authentically to my peers in an accessible way. Accessibility within social media is just one tool to inject inclusivity of thought and represent IDDs in a whole new space. And we are very proud to be the first team to do so for Creative Spirit.

Why is it important to be inclusive on social media?

Joanna: Content creators or brand managers who want to have the most significant reach to their targeted audience should be inclusive to maximize their messaging impact. People with disabilities are often an untapped market. Not only is it just the right thing to do, but it also extends your voice/message to a potential audience of 1 billion people (​15% of the world’s population!​). It is important to re-think inclusively within every industry. As we build back our economy, no community should be left behind. Individuals with IDDs are found across all demographics and segments of the population. Presenting information so that more people can process it seems to make sense from a diversity and inclusion perspective and is good business sense as well.  

What advice do you have for social media managers and content writers trying to implement a digital inclusivity strategy?

Joanna: It is crucial to start with what you know, the job you must do and the skills/perspectives you have around the table. Then you can start to address the following:

  • Set a formal percentage per hire goal for the disability pool of talent.
  • Educate yourself, raise awareness of disability successes and increase representation within your organization.
  • Use captions, sound and visuals to convey your messages.
  • Pick three disabilities, analyze and empathize with their needs, then build digitally inclusive content.

According to ​Medium.com​,​ we spent an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes on social media everyday pre-pandemic. That is 876 hours a year and 9.7 Disney movies (a whole week of binge-watching!). We have seen the digital world become a nucleus for our country, our communities and our businesses in unprecedented ways during the current pandemic. If this space holds that much attention, we surely need to do a better job making it accessible for all individuals. It’s an imperative to start thinking inclusively if we want to build businesses back better and stronger post-COVID.

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