"People are aware that they cannot continue in the same old way, but are immobilized because they cannot imagine an alternative. We need a vision that recognizes that we are at one of the great turning points in human history when the survival of our planet and the restoration of our humanity require a great sea change in our ecological, economic, political, and spiritual values."
-Grace Lee Boggs, Activist
At Clear Language Lab, we cross paths with so many amazing folx who are excited about making information clear, inclusive, and accessible. Sometimes, their enthusiasm lights a spark at their organization that spreads change rapidly, but other times, some feel like they are fighting an uphill battle against institutional norms that reinforce the status quo and avoid true systemic change for varied reasons.
Where can we start if we are looking to make a change but overwhelmed by our systems or lack of support? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Start with Community
What do community members think? What do they care about? What barriers are your organization creating through unclear content?
Talk to people, and find out what they think. (And compensate them for their labor!) Raise up what you find with others.
Develop a Vision
What do you want communication to be like? Easy to understand? Warm and friendly? Tech friendly? More accessible? Find examples of others in your sector that inspire you!
Challenge the Values
Does your organization talk a lot about equity? If so, draw clear connections between accessibility and equity. If the systems are not accessible or if people cannot understand them or use them easily, how can they even begin to approach being equitable? (Hint: they can’t!)
Identify What’s In Your Control — And Take The First Step
What CAN you do right now? What’s under your purview? Can you start with one form, flyer, or slide deck? Can you be a model for others in your department or on your team?
Make the Time and Space
It’s easy to feel like there’s not enough time for everything. But the scarcity mindset around time is not helpful in the long-run. And the truth is that centering your audience is going to be ultimately more effective, accessible, and justice-aligned, even if it takes more time on the front end.
Prioritize making time and space to review and update your documents. Did you stop getting that one grant and no longer need to ask people how many widgets they own? Get that useless or unnecessarily invasive information off your forms. And if you must ask hard questions, explain why.
Identify Training and Resources
Are there training opportunities at your organization where you can raise these issues or share ideas? Are there learning circles or working groups that you can participate in?
What about resources? Is your website difficult to update, leading to unclear communication? Do you need more access to diverse stock photography to be more inclusive? Or do you need better design tools? (Did you know Canva has a non-profit version?)
Change can be much more likely if you have a solution in mind!
Connect with Others Who Are Passionate About the Work
Maybe you are disappointed that your organization isn’t moving as quickly as you’d like. You can still stay connected to others passionate about this work.
At Clear Language Lab, we hold a quarterly Community of Practice and also a Slack channel (email firstname.lastname@example.org to join!) to connect with resources and others. The Design Justice Network is an exciting virtual space across a variety of sectors that includes many folx passionate about justice and liberation in all aspects of design. The Institute for Health Care Advancement has a hopping listserv where folx all over the country ask questions and share resources around health equity. Build out your community of others who are passionate about anti-oppressive practices!
What does communication that leads to justice and liberation look like in your work? What do you know is not working for your community members? What changes can you make right now — big or small? You CAN start today.
Whether you are new to thinking about communication equity or you've been at this for a long time, we’d love to see you at an upcoming event to share your knowledge. Feel free to join us for our next Plain Language Foundations workshop, Cultural Humility in Written Communication, on Thursday, September 23 from 2pm-3:30pm CST or our next Community of Practice on Wednesday, October 13 at 2:30pm-4pm CST.