7 steps for more inclusive internal communication

The trend toward increasing workplace diversity is not only an ethnic and religious matter; consider how your organization eases interactions for vision- and hearing-impaired staffers.


As your organization strives to diversify its talent pool, you should examine how inclusive (or not) your communications are.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind recently tweeted about a Twitter setting that describes images for the visually impaired. It’s a brilliant idea, yet most people didn’t know it existed, nor had they considered it something missing from their lives.

How often do we do that internally? Chances are, IC practitioners will be aware if they have an employee with specific visual or hearing needs and will accommodate that. Still, if we’re to be truly inclusive organizations that attract a diverse workforce, should it not form a part of everything we do, ensuring that future employees can access content we share inside our organizations?

Molly Haynes is a content manager in the oil and gas industry, and she was born with severe hearing loss. She relies on hearing aids and lipreading to follow conversations. Haynes’ professional life is conducted purely over email, text messages and video Skype/Zoom calls.

The organization she works for has been hugely accommodating, and she has taken an active role in educating colleagues. It’s something she believes more organizations should do.

“I am incredibly impressed with the internal communications where I work. I have an internal comms director who is engaged and interested in finding out about me, my deafness and how to meet my needs, and that’s made a world of difference,” she says.

“Having now worked in a company where the internal comms is so inclusive and accessible, it’s definitely something that would be important to me if I was looking to move companies,” she adds, “but the essence of it is that I don’t want to move companies. This one is inclusive, aware and encouraging without drawing negative attention to my disability. And while I know that in an ideal world it would be mandatory that companies were like this, I feel incredibly lucky to have discovered one that is.”

Haynes makes a great point. In an ideal world, all companies would be as inclusive as the one she works for. We know budgets are tight, so it’s not practical or always necessary to create your employee magazine in Braille or hire a sign language interpreter for your town hall if no one in your organization requires it.

However, there are some simple, free things you can do to make your internal communication more accessible to current and future employees. Here are seven:

1. Put captions on intranet images.

Adding a descriptive caption such as, “Finance team members celebrate their award win,” makes it much easier for people using screen readers. It takes a few extra seconds to add one, and it could make all the difference in an employee’s experience.

2. Include subtitles on your videos.

Not only does this assist people who are hard of hearing, but many people might be watching videos where playing sound isn’t possible. In our personal lives, many of us consume video without sound, thanks to subtitles. Facebook has reported that 85 percent of their videos are played without sound. Think about how you consume video in your personal life; nearly all will have subtitles, so it’s a familiar element for your employees.

For user-generated content, there are free apps that will add subtitles. Check out Clips, which can add voice-generated captions.

3. Use capital letters at the start of each word when using hashtags.

If you use collaboration platforms inside your organizations, chances are you might use hashtags. To make it easier for screen readers to read, always use a capital letter at the beginning of each word.

4. Use collaboration platforms.

Collaboration platforms can be a great way to be inclusive, especially for your hearing-impaired colleagues (depending on your organization and budget). If you have such a platform, consider reviewing your content and channels strategy to ensure all key information is posted there, so it can be easily accessed.

Haynes says: “We have a very well-maintained Yammer site, which is very active with groups for all areas of the business, and it’s a great place to keep track of what’s going on. Any internal comms campaigns are announced over Yammer, and the SharePoint sites have all the additional info. Everything is done online, so it’s great to feel as included as hearing people.”

5. Try Google doc conversations or Microsoft Planner.

If you work with employees who have hearing issues, consider other ways they can join in conversations. Google docs are great for this, as you can chat in real time. I recently did this with Chuck Gose as part of his ChuckChats series. We chatted for an hour about storytelling, and it worked really well. Our personalities came through, and we have a record of the conversation.

You can obviously also use instant messaging systems or ESNs, although instant messaging does work better for short chats than for long discussions. Ensure your employees know Google docs is an option, and provide guidance on how to use it.

Haynes also suggested Microsoft planner, because it “eliminates the need for lots of calls, as updates are posted there between lots of people, tasks are assigned and details are given.”

6. Use Skype.

Skype can be a great tool, both for the vision- and hearing-impaired, as long as everyone understands how to use it effectively.

Haynes says: “I created a top 10 tips for successful Skype calls with a deaf person guide, which has been circulated throughout my team. It gives advice on not having a light shining behind you, as this obscures lipreading, making sure your face is lit up and you look at the camera. It’s been a big success.”

7. Tell stories.

One highly effective way to communicate internally is to tell stories.

If you have someone in your organization who needs to work in a different way, ask whether they’d share their story to start a positive conversation. It not only raises awareness and helps colleagues know how they can support one another, but it could also inspire others to speak up about issues affecting them—for example, someone coping with a mental health issue.

Haynes shared her story in her organization. She says: “There’s an internal blog platform that colleagues are actively encouraged to post on. I wrote about my deafness to raise awareness in the company of what it’s like being deaf in the workplace—the response was amazing. … If you don’t tell people what it’s like, how can you expect them to know?”

Helen Deverell is owner of Helen Deverell Communications. A version of this post first appeared on Alive With Ideas.

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