May. 27, 2021

Inclusive communication: “words change the world”

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Communication has published new internal guidelines to ensure inclusive and accessible communication. In the recent past, WCC communication has been stepping up efforts to have a more inclusive and accessible communication. One example is that the development of the new WCC website took into consideration accessibility needs of persons with disabilities. Another example: the WCC has been testing sign language interpreta-tion in webinars. In 2021, the communication team explored even more ways to ensure our communication work is inclusive and maintains high accessibility as we prepare for the WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe—and beyond. All this necessitated the need to have guidelines for inclusive and accessible communication.
https://www.oikoumene.org/news/inclusive-communication-words-change-the-world
Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC
27 May 2021

As the WCC communications team crafted these guidelines after two internal workshops, Sy-ovata Shalon Kilonzo, a WCC communications officer based in Nairobi, Kenya, shared her ex-pertise from her experience with the WCC Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network. Below, Kilonzo shares some reflections on the importance of inclusive and accessible communication.

Who will use the guidelines?
Kilonzo: I hope the guidelines will be used by all colleagues involved in the WCC communication and inspire others to follow. I hope they will contribute to ensuring that the communication from the WCC is maintaining inclusion and accessibility.

What has concerned you most during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Kilonzo: As a communicator, I am concerned by the unavailability of accessible information on COVID-19 in general and specifically on the COVID-19 vaccine. The WCC has been producing a myriad of resources that help offset this, and help give people not only accurate information but a sense of hope and courage for the future.

From your perspective, why are the words we choose so very important?
Kilonzo: Words change the world. Words may have vastly different meanings for different groups of people. With your words, you can unknowingly contribute to someone feeling like an outsider. The choice of words in our communication is very critical when referring to persons with disabilities. Using the right words in our communication is one way of contributing to the realisation of a more inclusive WCC and a stronger stance for human rights of all persons.

Would you share a small checklist of some inclusive communication tips?

Kilonzo: I am glad to!

Websites

Include alternative text for images; description of data represented on charts, diagrams, and il-lustrations; labels for form controls, input, and other user interface components.

Enable/activate text re-sizes according to user preference on the website.
Ensure colour contrast between foreground and background is sufficiently strong.
It is still considered best practice not to publish anything smaller than the equivalent of Arial 12 pt.

News items

Do not mention someone’s disability unless it is essential to any story.

Use people-first language (persons with disability), which is the language used in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. There are some exceptions. For example, when referring to persons who are blind, we can say either “blind persons” or “persons who are blind.”

Social media

Use alt-text options as much as possible, especially when the image contains information that complements the written text of the post.

Avoid abbreviations that can be difficult to interpret.

Videos

For video files displayed online that do not have captioning, provide a word or PDF transcript, or at least make it known that a transcript is available on request. Consider providing international sign (World Federation of the Deaf) for the deaf and hearing impaired.