Five ways to make media offerings accessible

By Shruti Pushkarna

They say charity begins at home. Well, so does inclusion. We all love to judge others, call out their mistakes, conveniently forgetting our own follies. Aren’t we all guilty of excluding people who don’t talk, walk or look like us?

Most of us don’t even realise how and when we omit vulnerable communities from everyday conversations, business, politics, entertainment et cetera.

Persons with disabilities struggle to navigate not only in a physically inaccessible environment, but also among people unconsciously wired to discriminate and dismiss.

My journey of disability inclusion started with observing gaps in things that mattered to me personally.

As a shopaholic, I realised how measly are the options of accessible clothing or footwear. If at all available, the prices are exorbitant. As if living with a disability is not expensive enough. As a foodie, I noticed getting in and out of restaurants was an obvious challenge for wheelchair users but the deaf and blind customers had limited ways of communicating with the servers.

The next logical step was to implement small changes in my behaviour in the personal and professional space. Something others could easily emulate. Obsessed with capturing moments on camera to share with my social media audience, I discovered how using ‘image description’ can help blind people enjoy and participate in the pictorial narrative.

In a largely visual world, fueled by Instagram stories, including persons with disability on social media is a possibility, thanks to technology. A revelation to the television producer in me!

It’s amazing how much we assume and take for granted as creatures of habit.

Various stakeholders as well as individuals can break the cycle of ignorance by introducing little changes in their respective domains.

What can mediapersons/ journalists do differently, to include persons with disabilities in their offerings?

Here are five easy-to-do things to reach a wider audience irrespective of (dis)ability.

1. Make video content accessible for everyone

While adding subtitles can make the audio portions accessible to the deaf, overlaying a separate track of audio description can help the blind make sense of the silent parts in a video.

2. Add sign language interpretation

Recorded or live programming on television can be interlaced with sign language which can help persons with hearing impairment interpret the content easily. This is also true for conferences and award ceremonies.

3. Read out graphic content

Television news and sports coverage is a mix of audio, video and graphic content. A news bulletin has several sections of information displayed graphically, like statistics, forecasts, trends and so on. If the anchor reads out the graphic content on air, it immediately becomes accessible to persons with vision impairment. This is critical for disaster relief broadcasts, where contact and other info is flashing on TV screens continuously.

4. Make websites and apps accessible

Today, more than television, people consume news online. And that’s why it is important to make news websites and mobile applications disabled-friendly. The platforms should be built in compliance to the web accessibility guidelines and all software updates thereafter, should go through the same checks. Some usual suspects include pop-up advertisements, unlabelled images, colour contrast and drop-down menus.

5. Use correct terminology

Media teams should go through a thorough sensitisation and awareness programme to ensure they understand respectful, dignified and politically correct ways of addressing persons with disabilities. For instance, there is nothing wrong with calling someone blind given their loss of sight, but it’s not appropriate to call a speech-impaired person, dumb. Similarly, battling with disability might be challenging, but it doesn’t make the disabled ‘special’ or ‘gifted’. It is a physical/ mental condition and therefore, using the word ‘impairment’ or ‘disability’ is befitting.

The key to inclusion is to accept there is an audience with diverse needs and ask what ways or solutions can reduce the existing gaps. Needless to say, that the media needs to ramp up its coverage on issues facing the large disabled population.

Amidst the increased bellowing for Diversity Equity & Inclusion, does the media contribute anything apart from an incongruous rant for equality?


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