Diversity and Inclusion in Digital Content

A team working at a table. a woman in a wheelchair is part of the group and they are listening to her speak.

Diversity and inclusion are hot topics not just in HR but also in marketing. It is no longer acceptable to ignore these factors when planning your digital content, including your website, newsletters, social media, and emails. Diversity and inclusion go beyond gender, race, religion, and age and should also include disability. 

Make a conscious effort to evaluate your digital content to ensure you are fully representing and including everyone, including people with disabilities. Consider these issues: 

Photos

The photos used in content and on web pages should reflect diversity and inclusion. Do your website photos fully represent everyone?  Do you include photos of people with disabilities?  How are the people portrayed? Choose photos that include a variety of people. Portray examples of various groups intelligently, don’t just include token examples of various groups. For example, consider whether the photos selected portray everyone as part of the group and whether leadership roles portrayed include people with disabilities. 

Evaluating photos

Are the portrayals in those photos extreme? Stereotypical?  Might a person who identifies with a person in the chosen photos (or their friends and family) be offended by the portrayal? Are these realistic depictions?  People with disabilities live their lives just as everyone else does, but they often complete tasks in different ways, using different or specialized tools.  Depicting them as incapable; or, alternatively, as superheroes, can be offensive. 

Consider these two photos of a person in a wheelchair in an office environment:

Diversity and inclusion example photo: A group of people in an office working at a table. In the foreground, separate from teh group, is a man in a wheelchair smiling at the camera. He does not appear to be part of the group.

This first one screams “There’s a guy in a wheelchair in the photo so it’s inclusive.” He’s not part of the group, he’s not involved in what is going on.  He’s the epitome of a “token” person in this photo.

Diversity and inclusion example photo: Man in a wheelchair working in a lab alongside colleagues

Conversely, the second photo depicts a person in a wheelchair, working as part of a team, and looking much like the other coworkers, outside of his chair. 

Here’s another example of a less than correct portrayal.  Both of these photos show two men, one of them a person who is blind using a cane, walking outside on a beautiful day.  

Diversity and inclusion example photo: Blind man with a cane walking with a companion walking outdoors. The companion leads him by the arm

It is not unusual for a person who is blind to accept assistance (if they ask!) in navigating around an unfamiliar environment. However, it’s rare that the person who is blind allows themselves to be LED by the arm. More often, they lay a hand on the navigator’s shoulder, or loosely hold an elbow or upper arm. 

Diversity and inclusion example photo: Blind man with a cane crossing a street while in conversaion with his companion. They are not touching

Even more common is the portrayal in the second photo, where both are walking side by side, conversing, and the person who is blind is simply navigating using their cane and possibly the sound of the other person’s voice.  Just as often, the person with the cane might be the one who knows where they are going. One more note – not every person who is blind or visually impaired wears sunglasses.  Most do not. 

Language

Much of diversity and inclusion focuses on the language that is used. Avoid statements that patronize or belittle another group, even unintentionally. Alternately, don’t speak about people with disabilities as if they are superheroes for engaging in mundane aspects of living their lives like the rest of society. A person who is blind and climbed Mt Everest? That’s amazing!  A person who is blind and cooked dinner? Not so much. Being thoughtful about how you refer to people with disabilities makes your content more appealing to members of those groups and their friends and family, and also reflects positively on you and your company. 

Labels

As content creators, it’s common or even necessary to group people by labels, especially when it comes to defining the target audience for whom or about whom you’re writing. This is not always inclusive, however. Beware of labeling people or groups of people as if their similarities are their only characteristics. Understand that every individual is a sum of many characteristics, not just the most obvious ones such as race, gender (not always obvious or correct on observation), or disability. People with disabilities are also parents, teachers, doctors, car mechanics, and chefs.  Those might be more appropriate labels than the disability a person happens to have. 

Avoid making assumptions or assigning expectations due to what you see.  Beware of labeling people without clear information about who they are. Think about how you are portraying a person in your digital content before you post or send this content. How would someone feel if they were labeled in this way? How do I know what I’ve conveyed is accurate? Might there be a more inclusive way to speak about a person or group? 

People first

It’s easy to place a person into a group or assign them a label in order to speak about them.  “Blind person,” “disabled person,” and “elderly person” are fairly common labels. But many people would prefer to be referred to as a “person who is blind,” “a person with a disability,” or simply A PERSON.  

Consider your context

Context always matters when considering diversity and inclusion with regard to using labels to describe a person or a group of people.  If you are discussing medical care for people with disabilities, it’s reasonable to label people to which this applies as “disabled.”  But it is more appropriate to refer to them as “people with disabilities.” If you are discussing digital accessibility, you might refer to people who require accommodations as “disabled.” But how you assign and use that label matters. For example, not all people who use screen readers are blind. Not all even identify as disabled. Some have dyslexia, or some might have a brain injury that makes it hard to read a screen. A more accurate term for people who require digital accessibility might be “assistive technology users.” 

Get input from your subject

Don’t hesitate to ask those with disabilities how they prefer to be portrayed.  If you’re showing a photo of a person with a disability engaging in a task, check and be sure that what is shown is how they might actually complete that task. For example, if you’re showing a person who is a blind college student, find out how they dress, what they carry, and what tools they use. Meet some real people with real disabilities and get to know how they go about their lives, how they use their tools such as canes, guide dogs, and assistive technology, or research the topic

Diversity includes disability

It is impossible to fully represent society without including people with disabilities. Diversity and inclusion must also be about including people with disabilities. Be aware of how to speak with and about them. Learn how to accurately portray them. Be sure your digital content includes them and is accessible to them. This includes accessible web pages, emails, social media posts, and documents, especially PDFs that are notoriously inaccessible. 

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Tammy Albee

Tammy Albee | Content Marketer | Onix Tammy joined Onix after four years experience working at the National Federation of the Blind. She firmly maintains that accessibility is about reaching everyone, regardless of ability, and boosting your market share in the process. "Nobody should be barred from accessing information. It's what drives our modern society."

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