CATEGORY: Public SectorBest practiceAccessibility

Accessible Communication: A new standard set by Essex County Council

Accessible Communication: A new standard set by Essex County Council

This week we were lucky enough to attend the Public Service Communications Academy event.

The Public Service Communications Academy (Academy) is a well-established annual event for public sector communicators from across the country to come together, develop key skills and share ideas, with a focus on low and no-cost campaigns. Organised by LGcomms and the Government Communication Service (GCS), the event offers a mix of learning, expert speakers, networking, practical training and interactive sessions for communications professionals at all career levels.

The theme this year is “Partnerships, performance, and people”. It has been a fascinating event, with a distinguished and varied speaker list and an agenda that covers a number of challenging topics. The presentations have been informative and insightful and too numerous to cover in detail in this short article – so below are a couple snippets that particularly resonated from Day 1’s opening address.

From Simon Baugh, Chief Executive of GCS:

“The communications profession is changing fast and the landscape we operate in is volatile with a high level of innovation and fragile public trust. The central challenge for government and public sector communications is how we can continue to modernise our profession to harness those technological changes for the public good. To continue to deliver effectively for the public we need a revolution in our own skills capability and especially in data, audience and digital communication. [ ]

Citizens should be able to trust what they read from government channels and should be confident we have made a positive a case as the facts warrant, no more and no less.”


But the highlight for us had to be the final session of Day 1.

Accessible communication: A new standard

Here we had the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the journey the team at Essex County Council had been on and how and why our technology has helped them meet their accessibility goals and objectives.

Performance and purpose

GCS states the role of public sector communicators is to deliver world-class communications that enable efficient and effective operation of public services and improve people's lives. Others see the role of public service communicators to inform and educate citizens, uphold democracy, connect people with timely, accurate information and strengthen culture, community and trust. In short, that is about enabling, improving, informing and educating, and that all has inclusivity at its heart.

As Karen Yates, Communications and Marketing Manager at Essex County Council, affirmed

To me this all means that communications and marketing must be accessible communications and marketing and to not comply is to isolate segments of our population and that undermines our very purpose.”

People, process and perspective

Karen and Louise Alabaster, Senior Content Adviser, shared their experience and many of the, perhaps, surprising learnings that they made along the way.

We heard how @Essex_CC discovered that ~10.5% of their working age population had some form of physical impairment, and their very personal stories of the first-hand frustrations of finding information unmanageably complex and the challenges that someone with dyslexia (the second most common disability in the UK) is presented with from something as easy to correct as an ill-informed font choice.

The session was packed with learnings. Insights including the fact that no colour is 100% accessible, and actually, it is about achieving a level of contrast, that there is not a 100% accessible font out there, but there are a few that come close, and a good indicator is seeing how distinguishable an L, lowercase l and  number 1 are.

They talked of the journey their designers took as they learned about stylesheets, hierarchies of content, tagging content, accessible tables, and the list goes on.

e-shot is proud to be a partner

Our team here at e-shot have been proud to be a part of the journey and delighted to have been selected as the email provider for Essex County Council as the platform is both accessible for users and has features built in to ensure that the email outputs are accessible for audiences.

However, it is more than having the tools, you have to know what to do with them. An accessible platform is only as good as the people who are creating content. So training, support, guidance and information at the fingertips of the team were fundamental to the success of the programme. Easy to use checklists like our Email Accessibility Checklist and guidance from easily digestible articles like Making Accessibility Accessible all help change mindsets.

People, patience and perseverance

Making a communication accessible is not about making it boring. It is about making it more digestible – making your point as simply and clearly as possible. Rather than thinking about how you need to change your content for a particular group of people, a well-considered brief means you design content for everyone to begin with.

We look forward to continuing to work with Essex and continue to be part of their journey – and will share the new more accessible brand look and feel along with more of our own guidance on how you can make your own emails more accessible in due course.

As Louise eloquently closed,

“It is challenging, but be patient, and lead by example. For us, reminding and encouraging colleagues about accessibility has been far more effective than a one-off training session. And it has helped us to start to develop a community of best practice.”

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