Campaigning: A (brief) Guide for Inclusion

Before Don told our political party of choice to go take a long walk off a short pier*, I used to be That Girl at Riding Association meetings, at committee meetings, and at rallies.

[You might be thinking “Why would your husband telling a political party to get lost mean you wouldn’t be part of them anymore?” Don told them to go away and they stopped calling and emailing me too. Which is why I don’t deal with them anymore. If you’re going to claim to be representative of women in Canada and then stop interacting with me because my husband told you off, then I guess my money and my time can go elsewhere.]

Anyway, That Girl. That Girl, who would say things like “When you mumble and look down when talking, it’s very hard for people who have hearing loss to understand what you’re saying.” That Girl, who would say “This website is horrible on accessibility issues. Can you suggest your webmaster develop a text-only version? And stop using PDFs instead of web pages!” That Girl, who still emails every political party in Canada once a month to ask for transcripts of their YouTube Videos. That Girl, who has only once seen a transcript, and has never received a response.

One of the problems with being That Girl, who points out problems with accessibility a lot, is people start assuming I’ll become their expert on All Issues About This, and, instead of paying someone to deal with such issues, will just demand a lot of my free time and efforts into making them look better. (They also figure it will shut me up. I’m not good at that.)

I don’t mind too much with groups I’m a part of that don’t really have much money and are run entirely by volunteers or overworked staffers. I find these groups are both interested in what I have to say, and grateful for what (limited) aid I can give them. However, political parties have money. They also have power and prestige, even if they’re not currently running the country or the province. In Nova Scotia, they can work with the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunity and get actual experts to discuss with them actual ways of making their campaigns, their offices, their rallies, and their literature as accessible as possible.

But, since that’s not possible for everyone, let me give you some free (and lengthy) advice on how to make your campaign (however you define campaign) more accessible for people with disabilities. This advice has been influenced and improved by talking to the folks who run the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunity, and I can’t thank them enough for sending a representative to the Campaign School I recently attended.

Clearly, not every person with a disability is going to have difficulties accessing your campaign information. As well, this advice will not magically ensure that your work is available for everyone. We’re talking broad generalities here, but at least we’re talking something. And even though I am That Girl who will snap at you that your rally isn’t accessible if you don’t have an interpreter for the Deaf, I’m also That Girl who will notice that you’ve done something, and tell other people about it.

But, the biggest thing you can do, if you’re really trying to reach and include people with disabilities, is broaden your understanding of what disability means. We are not all men in wheelchairs and women who are blind.

Think a bit about how you get your message out, and who can and cannot access that. Are you using the mainstream media at all? Are you primarily using social media, like Twitter and Facebook? Are you handing flyers out on the street? Are you using word of mouth? Think about how each one of these methods has strengths and weaknesses, and whether or not the primary method you’re using is going to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Print media, such as brochures, business cards, and handouts, can have a variety of accessibility-related issues.

The most obvious is for people who are blind or who have other vision-related problems. You don’t need to have everything done up in braille, but do know where you can get it brailled in your area, how much it would cost, and what the turn-around time is. When I Google “Braille business cards” in Canada, I get two places that will do it across the whole country, but I do know where they are and how much they’ll charge me.

Also consider the importance of large print. If you’re making your pamphlets yourself, you can probably do up at least a few that are in a larger font. It may not be as easy for professionally-produced material, but talk to your printer about it when you are ordering. They may be able to do something.

However, print media can also be a ‘mobility’ issue. Not everyone can open a brochure. Designing something that is more like a postcard, that can be flipped over instead of being opened, instantly makes your pamphlet more accessible to people who have arthritis or some other chronic pain condition, for example.

Create auditory media. This can be as simple as person-to-person, but can also include creating an MP3 of your message yourself or using a service like VoicePrint. Also look at creating a CD or DVD. Heck, use the internet and create a YouTube Vid. Hit two birds with one stone, and make sure your video has captioning of some sort as well. Or, provide a transcript.

Plain Language is also an accessibility issue, not only for people with disabilities but also for people with different levels of education, and people who don’t have English as their first language. Your words need to be straight forward, and you need to avoid using jargon. Consider also whether you’re using acronyms (like PWD) without defining them. Do not assume context will define it. Yesterday I was told that PWD had something to do with protection of wildlife, not people with disabilities.

Ensure your event, teach-in, rally, office, coffee talk, or whatever is accessible to people with mobility issues. That’s not just “Well, they have a ramp”, but also whether you have a washroom that has bars on the wall for support, how wide your doors are, and if there’s enough space for wheelchair users to get around, park their chairs, and be part of the conversation. Ask people what they need, don’t assume you can tell. And be sure you know the answer 100% – do not guess. (I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to get all the way out to a location and find out that “wheelchair accessible” means “after you get over this one step.” No, you cannot lift my husband’s 224lb wheelchair and carry it up the steps, because he needs to be in it, and he’s another 245lb.) Remember: wheelchair lifts are not helpful to people who use canes, walkers, or arm-crutches.

Also, consider seating. Is there enough seats for everyone that you expect to be coming? You can’t tell just by looking at someone whether or not they need to sit in a chair, on the floor, or leaning against something, so try and make sure everyone has an actual chair.

Be able to give directions that are not just for cars, and learn if there are wheelchair-accessible or low-floor buses heading in your direction. Sure, I can track this stuff down, and often do, but if you have that information, it’s so much easier for everyone involved.

Regarding websites: I’m going to be writing a post about how to make your website more accessible, and that’s going to talk about a variety of things, but the painless way to do so is to make your website text-only, or have (at a minimum) a text-only section that is updated with the same information as your main site. Make a clear link to it at the top of the page. The rest, we’ll talk about later.

I know it seems like a lot of things to take into account when maybe the only thing you want to do is hand out some flyers and have a teach-in about child soldiers (just for an example). However, you wouldn’t be handing out flyers printed on paper towel, or that were illegible with light yellow writing on white paper. You wouldn’t hold your 30-person event in a place that only held 5. You wouldn’t kick off a political campaign without having business cards. So, you shouldn’t be designing a campaign, whether it be big politics or little politics, that doesn’t consider accessibility issues.

In Nova Scotia, 22% of the population has a disability, and it jumps to 35% of the population over 35. That’s an awful lot of people that are being automatically excluded from your message when you don’t think about accessibility. We, too, want to get to the polling station and vote. We, too, want to learn about child soldiers. We, too, want to have coffee and discuss the need for a playground in our area. Include us, to the best of your abilities, and we’ll be able to contribute our plans, ideas, and labour.

* They told him at a big public rally we were attending that if he wasn’t going to stand up and cheer for the leader, he had to make it very clear why he wasn’t. That is, he had to look crippled enough for the cameras. No, I’m not going to tell you which political party it was. Ask yourself instead if you’re certain your party wouldn’t do the same thing.


  1. Thank you. I can think of a few people locally who should read this, and will be passing it on to them.

    “but the painless way to do so is to make your website text-only”

    I should perhaps wait for your more detailed guidance before replying to this point, but while this method will help some people, it may well cause greater problems for other people, who find at least some of the graphical elements useful for navigating and understanding the site. (The other option you mention, of making an alternative easily locatable text-only view of the site, of course avoids this, but also requires more maintenance work, or a fairly advanced web development platform to make it automatic)

  2. “When you mumble and look down when talking, it’s very hard for people who have hearing loss to understand what you’re saying.”

    This is an awkward issue. Your statement about hearing loss is true.

    HOWVER, it is also true that:

    1. When you emand that everyone looks at who they’re talking to, you’re making life very difficult for autistics. See here

    2. When you say “You can’t say anything if you’re goingto make your words inaccessible by mumbling” you make it impossible for people with various speech disorders and/or breathing problems to speak.
    .-= sanabituranima´s last blog ..For Danni =-.

  3. I suppose in that case, we would have to use written notes or some kind of interpreter, because if I can’t see your face, I literally can’t understand you. Full stop. It’s not me being mean or unreasonable or refusing to compromise.

    Back to the OP (original post[er]), I can’t count the number of times political emailers send me a freaking uncaptioned video for their message, expecting me to fork over $$. I’ve tried numerous times to complain about this, but have never gotten any responses.

  4. Yes, this is why I didn’t insist that people need to look up and speak clearly, they just need to be aware that when they don’t, people with hearing loss will find it difficult to understand what they’re saying.

    There are other ways around that, including providing material in a different format, such as in print.

    I’m sorry that my words came across as making a demand, or saying you can’t say anything if you’re not going to speak in a certain way. That’s certainly not what I meant, although I can see how, when often the demand is “accommodate whatever it easiest to accommodate, and don’t think about how this might affect other people”, it would come across that way.

  5. This is crucial
    “often the demand is ‘accommodate whatever it easiest to accommodate, and don’t think about how this might affect other people'”

    Because sometimes accommodations do clash, and we have to be aware of this, and not try to wish it away. When we avoid acknowledging these real conflicts, we’re susceptible to “divide and rule.”

    The non-disabled city engineers can say, “Well, there are more people with vision impairments than wheelchair users, so I won’t be installing curb ramps” (since a sloped curb lacks a readily discernible boundary between footpath and street). Or as happened in the US, some blind political advocates campaign to prevent detectable warnings (bumpy bright yellow floor tiles) on the grounds that adequately skilled blind travelers shouldn’t need them. That POV lasted 15 years, even after the ADA passed.
    .-= Jesse the K´s last blog ..With Glee! as a news hook, mainstream media acknowledges actors with disabilities =-.

  6. I’m sorry that my words came across as making a demand, or saying you can’t say anything if you’re not going to speak in a certain way. That’s certainly not what I meant, although I can see how, when often the demand is “accommodate whatever it easiest to accommodate, and don’t think about how this might affect other people”, it would come across that way.

    Ok. Understood. Sorry.
    .-= sanabituranima´s last blog ..Identity Development Questionnaire =-.

  7. Actually, among people working in accessible web design/development, the text-only alternative is becoming less popular. Most standard HTML can be made perfectly accessible (to the blind and visually impaired, for who the text-only alternative is most frequently presented as a solution), although it can have some benefit to people with some learning/cognitive disabilities. Key things is to have graphics described appropriately, use the correct mark-up for the proper elements (including making accessible PDF documents (though why not just do them in HTML?)). And non-mouse accessibility (for people with vision impairments and dexterity impairments) is important.

  8. *nodnod* Mia, but if one is looking for quick and dirty, a text only option is at least a starting point.

  9. Fair enough. Just as long as it is understood that that’s not *THE* solution for accessibility, otherwise you end up doing the web equivalent of putting in a ramp at the back entrance of a building and assuming that’s all you have to think about.

  10. This is an awesome post. I especially appreciate the acknowledgment of conflicting accessibility needs. I love that discussions here go beyond just “make things accessible” to talking about what that looks like and what issues may arise.

    I just want to add that accessibility for fat people can often easily be included in this. This can look like making sure that there are seating options for folks who may not fit into most chairs and that aisles are wide enough etc. While it is debatable whether or not fatness in itself is a disability (and perhaps a discussion for another time), the common thread is that all bodies (and brains) should be able to participate. I guess I just want to acknowledge the overlap.
    .-= KatieT´s last blog ..Refusing to Wait: Anarchism and Intersectionality =-.

  11. Also on the text-only note, a page which is pure HTML styled with CSS can easily be transformed automatically, via a server-side script, into a plain text version. This is true even if it uses images for navigation or decoration; those can be tagged with alternative text which could be extracted by the script.