Journalism has an (in)accessibility problem
What will it take to convince more newsrooms to take accessibility seriously?
In the latest edition of her newsletter, Time Spent, Jihii Jolly asks us to consider the question, “How might we approach our news consumption from a place of not-knowing?”
Jolly frequently argues that we should think of journalism as a practice, not a profession — it’s one of her core beliefs about journalism. Jolly wants us to think about what it would look like to approach a topic “as if you were a reporter or researcher with no obligation to produce, but a desire to be able to talk about what you’ve learned.”
That is my goal today: to talk about some of the things that I’ve learned over the last year or so about journalism, accessibility, and what it means to be truly inclusive.
Journalism has an accessibility problem.
As I wrote in my prediction for Nieman Lab, accessibility is largely still an afterthought in most newsrooms, if it’s even considered at all.
“Journalism” in the broadest sense has made some strides in recent years. Some of its biggest players have started paying more attention to the needs of people with low vision or hearing impairments. It’s even becoming more common to include alt text with images, and many publishers (and even some publishing platforms such as Medium) now routinely include audio versions alongside the articles they publish — like the one that accompanies this post near the headline.
But we obviously still have a long way to go.
In my time facilitating the Gather Slack over the last month, I’ve had conversations about this issue with a handful of journalists who frequent that channel. Many of them are frustrated by the continued lack of attention paid to making journalism accessible to everyone.
“I know many people who will say we need to do better on accessibility,” wrote Patrick Garvin. “But a lot of journalists seem to treat it as something like flossing, or not eating sugar, or visiting their elderly aunt: something they should do more of, but it’s not so important that they will radically change their behaviors to ensure that it gets done.”
The question, Garvin continued, is “how do we get people to treat it with the same priority as not misspelling a name or not misgendering a source?”
Part of the solution, according to Izz LaMagdeleine, is making accessibility an actual beat in more newsrooms.
“Also having journalists who are disabled in newsrooms is important,” LaMagdeleine writes, adding that it’s still “really rare for journalists who have physical disabilities, or are autistic or bipolar, to be in newsrooms. I think that’s important too.”
On the surface, this type of representation is important both from a market perspective and marketing perspective — making sure your newsroom and your content reflects the people and communities you serve is correlated with potential earnings.
But it’s also important because, as Jolly reminds us in one of my favorite editions of Time Spent, “Seeing stories about your people, your lived reality, your community is fortifying, if you feel accurately represented and able to act on the information you consume, be it sharing it with a friend, taking action or simply remembering to bring an umbrella.”
That sense of belonging, of understanding yourself as part of a whole and not simply adjacent to a community, is consistently and callously denied to differently-abled people and people with accessibility needs.
In order for that to change, we need to broaden the conversation and be much more conscious of who journalism is for. I believe that requires moving from a DEI framework — Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — toward an IDEA framework that focuses on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility.