UAMS Webinar Offers Ideas to Make Information Accessible for People with Disabilities

By Chris Carmody

The Disability Subcommittee of the UAMS Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DDEI) hosted the event, titled “Disability Through the Lens of Accessibility.”

Jeffrey DeSantis, educational coordinator for the physician’s assistant program in the College of Health Professions, started with a description of how he sees the world as a person who is colorblind. DeSantis cited statistics showing that about 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women experience red-green colorblindness.

“There are quite a few of us, so it’s a good idea in the workplace to think of people who can’t pick out those colors,” he said.

DeSantis described some of the everyday problems encountered by people who have colorblindness. He said that when he cooks a steak, he asks his wife whether it’s done because he can’t see what shade of red it is. He also exercises caution at stoplights, particularly those with flashing lights, because it’s hard to distinguish between yellow and red.

In the workplace, color-coded materials present an obstacle for those who are colorblind, DeSantis noted. This adds work by forcing them to reorganize the information in a way they can see.

“You have to keep that in mind when you’re creating spreadsheets for people,” he said. “If you send it out to 100 people or you post it online, you need to be aware that some people aren’t going to be able to read it.”

Cari Bogulski, Ph.D., assistant professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Biomedical Informatics, spoke next about ways to make shared materials accessible for larger audiences. The goal is to create an inclusive work environment that minimizes the need for individual accommodations, she said.

She offered several suggestions to improve the accessibility of workplace presentations. Small choices, such as left-aligning headers and using sans serif fonts in text, can make a difference for people who have reading or learning disabilities. It’s also important to face the audience while speaking, Bogulski said, since hearing-impaired viewers might rely on lip reading.

Bogulski recommended the use of web tools such as WAVE, which examines webpages and points out flaws that can limit accessibility. Microsoft Word and PowerPoint also have tools that can check the accessibility of documents, she said.

Bogulski encouraged the audience to listen and be responsive to those who have experience living with disabilities. “They can best tell you what they need to make things more accessible and useful for them,” she said.

Alison Caballero, MPH, director and associate professor at the UAMS Center for Health Literacy, gave a presentation on using plain language to improve the accessibility of health information. Absorbing information in a health care setting can be difficult for anyone, she said, noting that only a small percentage of adults have proficient health literacy skills.

“Many times when you are communicating health information with people, you are giving them information that’s brand new, perhaps at a time when they are not in the best shape for learning,” Caballero said. “If we can get our communication right, then we can really broaden the reach of this information.”

Caballero emphasized that health literacy isn’t solely the responsibility of the patients. “As professional health organizations like ours, all of us have a duty to make health communication equitably accessible,” she said.

Caballero’s suggestions to improve communication include limiting the amount of information provided in a single sitting, improving readability with short words and sentences, and increasing understanding by organizing content logically and avoiding jargon.

“When communication is clear, people can get to the services they need, have better experiences, engage in self-care and minimize health care costs,” she said.