Everyone can SCULPT for Accessibility

What is SCULPT? It’s a handy acronym and brief set of explanations that neatly cover the key areas of accessible, compliant content creation. Aimed at everyone who drafts documents both online and elsewhere, this digestible, concise approach, is explained by Helen Wilson, below.

SCULPT stands for:

  • Structure (use heading styles)
  • Colour and contrast
  • Use of images
  • Links (hyperlinks)
  • Plain English
  • Table structure

It's worth noting that not everyone's going to be able to work with the full set of standards in their daily work - even if content creation is at the heart of what they do - and not every organisation is going to have a team of compliance checkers cleaning up content before it goes live. So this understandable, elegant and easy-to-remember set of rules is potentially a very powerful new approach. 

Guest blog: Helen Wilson, Digital Designer at Worcestershire County Council

The new accessibility guidelines have now raised the profile and the long over-due conversation about accessible content creation. Website designers and developers now have the guidance from WCAG now enshrined in legislation, but what about those everyday practitioners who create content. What about local authority staff who create documents or information for residents, or teaching staff who create handouts and guides for their learners on a VLE? Where is the guidance for them?

Of course, anyone can search the internet for advice and guidance on digital accessibility, but the information out there is mainly focused on web content guidelines, and to those not familiar with tech language this is confusing, overwhelming and almost suggests this is something best off dealt with by the tech staff. The perception of accessibility being a minefield and complicated is therefore reinforced.

Basic document accessibility can be simple

Yet basic document accessibility can be simple! Sometimes it’s the small things we do in a document that can make a big difference. OK, the simple things done correctly doesn’t mean you’ve got fully accessible content for everyone, or changed the world, but imagine at the very basic awareness level if people were more aware of the simple things they could do to help.

Microsoft Word is the most widely used content creation tool we all use, so if we could all adopt some simple practices, we could make a real difference to our end users. Think of all the content we produce daily in local authorities or education establishments. Consider those newsletters, reports, handouts for students, instructions, guidance, policies, presentations and forms suddenly being more usable by more people than they were before, where simple changes could make a huge difference. Imagine how much of a difference could be made if we were all more aware!

But do people know what those basics are? Where is the guidance? Of course, again, back to the overwhelming Google results of confusion, the circle of frustration and eventually give up as it’s too time-consuming and complex in a busy world, this stuff is for techies, right? 

Time to rethink and go back to square one!

How could I possibly address accessible everyday practice and make this happen? It’s a huge task! 

Luckily a colleague in the learning and development team at Worcestershire County Council had a strong passion for the same subject, so a good relationship developed and with a strong vision of what we wanted to achieve between us we made a start, right back at square one.

We held workshops, had many conversations, went to team meetings and searched Google relentlessly to gather our findings and thoughts about how we could possibly take on and address the perception of accessibility being confusing, time-consuming and complicated. Even in our workshops the word ‘accessibility’ came with assumptions and was mis-understood.

“OK, so what is it I need to do?” that is all that people really wanted to know, followed by “But is it easy to do, I don’t have much time?” It was very clear people just wanted some very simple guidance. They didn’t have time to trawl the internet for a subject they didn’t really understand anyway.

We then met with the Corporate Equality and Diversity Manager at the Council who is blind, she shared her own frustrations about inaccessible content and that she had some requirements of her own for people when creating documents for her. These were some very simple things that made a big difference to her. We discussed what these were and identified six main things that people need to know about basic accessibility when creating information. 

Simple to follow guidance to dispel the myths

With a bit of creative shuffling we ordered them to read the acronym SCULPT. The idea that staff could ‘sculpt’ their content for accessibility. 

The SCULPT six are:

  • Structure (use heading styles)
  • Colour and contrast
  • Use of images
  • Links (hyperlinks)
  • Plain English
  • Table structure 

We wanted this to be something for people to remember, a ‘simple six’ for accessibility, a what to do guide. We wanted to also create an identity, a logo for people to see and remember, almost a brand to relate to and acronym to remember. 

We created a recognisable logo made up of familiar symbols used in digital applications and a bit of creativity too, also a nod in the design to these being bookmarks to remember.

SCULPT logo in colour

 

 

 

 

 

We also created an infographic that outlined the six areas of SCULPT reducing it down to simple headings and language to remember that could be used as posters that could be put up in offices around the building.

SCULPT inforgraphic in colour

Using this we built a SCULPT support area for our staff on our Council intranet, each page having simple to follow guidance to dispel the myth that accessibility is complicated. This is focused on addressing the echoed response “OK, so what is it I need to do?

Our answer now, “what you need to do is follow SCULPT”.

The content to build the guidance already existed out there on the internet, so no need to reinvent the wheel. In fact, Microsoft have some great bite-sized videos to show you how to do it, the videos are no more than 5 minutes long. 

Here is an example of a Microsoft video about hyperlinks we use, it is just two minutes long but really explains the why and the how:

How to create accessible hyperlinks in Word

At two minutes long, this is not complicated, nor is it time consuming to understand, perfect!

Each page of our SCULPT intranet site is also introduced with several examples as to why each area is important and why we do it, not just for accessibility, but for everyone. For example, the ‘C for colour contrast’ page, explains that colour good contrast can help people read content on a mobile phone in bright sunlight with screen glare. This relates to everyone, its not just about impairments or screen readers, it helps with the everyday in our digital world too.

Beyond that the links are to existing content on the web, such as how-to instructions, bite sized videos and guides, this way we had identified and simply organised the useful content that our staff had missed or overlooked on their Google search. 

Reframing Accessibility

Our aim with SCULPT was to reframe accessibility, make it simple, to make ‘accessibility accessible’ and to dispel the myth that meeting basic accessibility requirements is time-consuming or complicated. 

SCULPT is merely the framework to raise awareness of basic requirements and to organise existing guidance in a simple to remember way. It is a framework that can be adopted by anyone that creates content. The logo and infographic are a simple to recognise visual and tool to raise the profile of the acronym of six good practices in any office in any institution that creates content. 

We are presenting our SCULPT initiative at JISC Digifest in March 2020 to support the education community. We are in early implementation at Worcestershire County Council but wanted to share our emerging practice and the difference we are already making even in our early adoption. 

We are planning to weave SCULPT around all our future digital training resources and staff development sessions, keep it high profile with regular tips highlighted in intranet news stories and have a visual in every office so these practices become embedded. Our SCULPT intranet area has also since been expanded for our Comms team to include guidance on accessible hashtags, video creation, and accessible document templates.

We see SCULPT as a timely addition to the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) to make sure people know that accessibility is the responsibility of everyone, not just the tech team.

SCULPT is only raising awareness of the basics for those everyday document content creators, but everything needs to start somewhere. Hopefully in a few years we can become a beacon of good practice, a huge ambition of ours in the long-term. 

A PDF guide to SCULPT is available to download.

 

Article by Helen Wilson (Digital Designer at Worcestershire County Council)

I have worked in the digital community for over 20 years as a Digital Designer, Learning Technologist, FE Teacher and more recently in local authority digital content at Worcestershire County Council. The new accessibility guidelines have now raised the profile of the long over-due conversation about accessible content creation. Website designers and developers now have guidance from GOV.UK and WCAG but my focus has always been on those everyday practitioners who create content. This could be documents created by local authority staff for residents, or handouts and guides created by teachers for their learners on a VLE.  I was involved with the JISC Digital Literacy project some years ago and from there I have always had a passion about supporting frontline staff with simple to use guidance to support best practice in a digital world.
Hwilson1@worcestershire.gov.uk