As authors who have recommitted ourselves to the ideas of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our professional lives, one of the many struggles we face is making access to our content inclusive. However inclusive of race, gender, age, and other aspects of humanity our writing is, it is important to also ask ourselves whether all potential readers are able to access it.
As an author, I have often left accessibility issues completely in the hands of the professionals among our publishing team. However, I realize more and more that, in many ways, that sort of inclusion starts with me.
The first thing I want to do as an author is learn all I can about what needs exist among my potential readers. As a hearing-impaired person, I often think of that first. But over the decades, I have learned that there are many types and degrees of auditory impairment. I have also learned about many types of visual challenges, cognitive impairments, emotional and mental health conditions, economic and social challenges, and various sorts of physical challenges.
The next logical step is to learn about ways that we (my publishers and I) can accommodate the many needs that exist in accessing the content of my writing. If I know the strategies used to make content more accessible to a diversity of readers, I can have that in my mind as I decide how to tell the story I want to tell in my article, chapter, or book. Such thinking makes it more likely that needs will be accommodated as the project develops to a final publication, especially if I make note of my thinking to my publisher.
For example, I can consider the use of color in diagrams to make them more easily understood by readers with color vision deficiency (CVD). I can think about the implications of suggesting an audio glossary, which may help visually impaired readers, but which also may require a transcript with written pronunciation guides for those with hearing challenges. Knowing about barriers faced by readers on the autism spectrum or other unique cognitive abilities helps me to under- stand that directness and clarity in my storytelling is of vital importance.
As we authors have gotten better at this type of inclusion, I’ve noticed that such accommodations help all our readers. Clarity of message helps all readers, not just those on the autism spectrum. Captioned audio content and visual content with audio descriptions can help any reader, not just those with challenges. Everyone ends up with better access to our content. Win-win-win.
Creating barrier-free, fully inclusive content is a worthy goal, even if the task seems daunting.
This article previously appeared in The Academic Author Newsletter (Spring 2021). Republished with permission.