November 24, 2015

Informational Documents are Meant to be Read, Right?

Why does your organization write, design, print, and distribute informational materials like reports, articles, and brochures? Well, my first thought is so people will read it. Perhaps that’s a naïve thought. Of course, nowadays, everything is about SEO and getting found online or on a shelf of a whole bunch of other colorful brochures, but that doesn’t completely answer the question. Someone somewhere must have asked for information, and the best way to provide it was by getting together a brochure. You also must have thought other people would be interested in that information too, right?

So that goes back to my first answer – let’s assume that these documents are out there so people can read them and gain knowledge about whatever that topic is.

If that is the case, then why do so many organizations NOT provide these documents in accessible formats?

We have seen that organizations with a print accommodation strategy in place distribute approximately 3-4% of their documents in accessible formats, but we also know that upwards of 15-20% of the population would benefit from accessible formats. This includes not just the blind, but the aging population and those with cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia as well. As such, if you’re making these documents so people will be able to consume your important information, it is crucial to realize that potentially over 15% of the population won’t even be able to consume that information unless it’s made accessible. Put simply, it is unjust for people in need of accessible documents to not be able to access them.

The shortcoming of distribution is due to a lack of communication with the group of clients who need or prefer accessible documents. It is important to make your constituents aware that this service is available because many people with print disabilities are too discouraged by the lack of accommodation in the past to even ask.

You might think you’ve never gotten a request for alternate formats, but how have you measured that? If you have a call center full of representatives answering questions for your constituents, and of the 1000 calls in a day that center might get, less than 5% are related to accessibility. If your reps don’t know anything about this kind of service, how likely is it that they will go back to management to recommend you offer this service? What system do you have in place that makes it easy for the message to get up the ladder?

Unfortunately, we are not talking about the vast majority of your constituents here, which is why this population is so often overlooked. Many governments have enacted laws to require accommodation for people with disabilities, but if you don’t think you have any clients in need of print accommodation, then why would you worry about it? Well, you should worry about it because the blind and partially-sighted are part of every race, gender, age, wealth bracket, and religion - every walk of life. Although they are a minority, the percentage of the population with a print-related disability is on the rise, which means that the demand for accessible documents is going to increase in the coming years.

So the questions remain: Why do you produce informational documents? And what is most important - getting your name to the top of Google, or spreading your message and knowledge to all?