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How Accessibility Tools and Approaches Can Help Your Content Reach 25% More People

Ep. 222 How Accessibility Tools and Approaches Can Help your content
The goal of your content is to reach more people so you can make a positive impact, connect with your audience, and eventually convert them to customers.

But you are likely missing out on connecting with 25% of your audience…

Simply because your content is NOT ACCESSIBLE TO THEM!

Did you know over 25 million Americans have a disability? And many have disabilities that are

a) Invisible to you

b) Keeping them from engaging with your content!

How can you take simple & straightforward steps to make your content more accessible to EVERYONE in your audience?

Listen to today’s podcast where I’m speaking with guest expert Erin Perkins!

Erin, an accessibility educator and consultant, provides quite an education for listeners.

As someone who is deafblind herself, Erin understands the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities.

In our conversation, she very generously & clearly shed light on the importance of making digital content accessible...

PLUS she gave many practical tips on how to achieve that…

***We’re talking more than adding closed captioning to your videos!***

We discuss the gap in the market for accessibility, and Erin offers up valuable insights the need for inclusivity in the business landscape.

Erin's tips and strategies are incredibly actionable.

No matter what kind of content you generate, Erin's advice will help you reach a wider audience, improve your SEO, and create a more inclusive online experience for everyone!

Download Erin’s Free Social Media Accessibility Scorecard here: https://www.mabelyq.com/

 

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Full Transcript

Jen Liddy

Hello, this is Jen Liddy. I'm really excited that you're here on the podcast today listening in because I'm talking about an important topic with an expert. Her name is Erin Perkins and I met Erin in September in Dallas where I thought I was gonna burst into flames because it was hot as hell there. 

Erin and I were standing in line waiting for the bus to bring us back to our beautiful hotel and I was curious about what she was talking about in line, but I didn't get to talk to her in line.

I see her being a speaker the next day, and she's talking about creating accessibility in our digital products and our digital content. So of course, my ears parked right up because this is something that I think people need to be thinking about.

I tapped her on the shoulder last week and asked her if she would be a guest expert on Content Creation Made Easy. But I want to read her bio to you because it's so good and tight. 

And just as a content nerd, I wanted to read it to you because I think we can always tweak our bios. So Erin Perkins is a champion for disability rights and an entrepreneur promoting accessibility and inclusiveness. 

As a deaf-blind woman, she founded Mabley Q, an independent online business. Erin also serves as a speaker and an educator. Her unique experiences foster genuine inclusion, empowering people with disabilities, and with Erin's guidance, businesses embrace diversity and unlock the potential of every individual.

And I just thought it was such a beautiful bio that I don't normally read people's bios because sometimes bios are like three paragraphs long, but yours is so good.

Erin Perkins

Thank you. Now that bio has been a work in progress for sure.

Jen Liddy

It's beautiful. So thank you for coming on, Erin. Before we dive into your expertise, and we're going to talk about all things accessibility, can you tell us a little bit about your journey to how you got to this place of being an educator in the online space?

Erin Perkins

Sure, I am born deaf and I worked for a corporate for about 12 years before I was laid off and then at that point I was like “Well I'm gonna have the exact same experience if I work for another corporation” and I didn't want that so I decided just to go at this on my own and it’s scary because it was not something I've ever really dreamed of. 

I was more focused on what the actual American dream was, which is find a job, stay at a corporate for your life, and then retire. That's not realistic, honestly. Not for this generation. 

And as I started my business, I wanted to learn from other people, but the biggest challenge was the fact that most of [what] the businesses did when I was learning from them weren't accessible. 

And by that, I meant like I had a hard time understanding them, they didn't have captions; it was like, “I'm spending money to learn from you and yet, I didn't have the same experience as a hearing person would.”

And then they would ask me how I would do it. And I'm like, “I'm actually not sure because I've always had things handed to me growing up.” 

Because [the] school system, they have that set up to a certain extent. Now I'm not saying that all school systems are perfect, but my parents were huge advocates for me, but I always got everything that I needed.

But as a small business, I started recognizing that you're already having to build all your stuff in your business, this is not one more thing that they need added to their list. 

So I wanted to really keep it easy and simple so that they felt like, “Oh, I can easily do this.” And it would feel good in the long run.

Jen Liddy

So before you decided to really get into this lane that you're in now, what was your expertise? What was your job or what did you think you wanted your business to be before you realized there's this enormous hole in the market?

Erin Perkins

I was gonna be a graphic designer. That’s my background. I've done graphic design since I was 18 years old. And that was something that I've done my entire life. It's all I dreamed of.

I wanted to live in New York City, which I tried for three months. And I was like, “Ew, this is lonely. It's very dirty.” And they didn't pay you nearly enough and you had to work 12 to 16 hours. It was just like, “Nope.”

But I still got to do graphic design for my career. I'm very fortunate I got to work for what I went to school for. So that's what I figured I would do as an independent business. That has definitely shifted.

Jen Liddy

Can you tell us what it means to be deaf-blind?

Erin Perkins

For me, the official medical term is Usher Syndrome. And that is a gene that affects both your hearing and your vision. There's about 400,000 of us worldwide that have this gene and it's caused by both parents having been carriers of the gene and they're both recessive.

So there's three types, but I think there's more than that, honestly. Because it affects my hearing, I am considered profoundly deaf. I wear a hearing aid and a cochlear implant. 

I don't like the cochlear implant, but that's a whole ‘nother story. My vision is basically tunnel vision and I have about between 40 to 50 degrees of tunnel complete central vision.

So you, most people will see 180 so they can see all the way around. I cannot see the person standing next to me. I run into things, I trip over little kids. It's really awesome.

Jen Liddy

Just a complete side note, but I'm thinking about how many times a day I trip over my dog and my cat, I imagine they must get underfoot for you too – pets.

Erin Perkins

Oh my god, my dog, poor baby girl. Because she's so sneaky, you don't see her, and then I'm like, “What the?” So she learned if I'm anywhere near her, she just popped right up and walked away.

Jen Liddy

Yes, they’re like ninjas. So I want to jump in to actually talking about, because accessibility is your jam. Accessibility education is your focus. And tell us, what does this mean for those of us who have never had to think about making things accessible for ourselves, much less for our audiences? What is the definition of accessibility?

Erin Perkins

First of all, when most people think about accessibility, they're gonna think, especially in the online arena, they're gonna go, “Oh, your website.” And I'm like, “Yes, that's true, but accessibility has to go so far beyond it.”

That's the thing that I teach, showing them that if you talk about being accessible as a business, you need to think of all aspects of your business. You need to think about your social media. 

You need to think about your email. Any events you might be hosting, your client onboarding, or even if you're hiring new people, you need to think about all your branding.

All of those things need to be accessible. It does not mean that you're going to be locked into a box if you're going to be accessible. 

It's just you want to ensure that you're creating an experience for whatever ability or disability for the person on the other side of the screen is experiencing no matter how they view things. 

So it's just really creating an equal experience for everybody.

Jen Liddy

I love that ‘creating an equal experience for everybody.’ We're gonna talk about a little later what exactly that means and how that might look like and just get people's minds unlocked to what that could be in their business. 

Before we go into this question, which I was blown away when you said at the event where you were speaking that one in four people in the room have a disability and it's probably invisible. 

I think most people were surprised, but I was sitting in the room with my hearing aids in and so I knew that I was the one, right? Like one of the four people. 

On your website you say 25 million Americans have disabilities and I think that for people walking through the world without a disability, and I would say this was me for most of my life, that number was staggering to me.

And so I wanted to talk about why is this so important now, especially? Sure, those numbers are big, but why now coming up in 2024 is accessibility and our digital content so important?

Erin Perkins

It's really important because people are, I honestly think the pandemic played a huge part in this. The pandemic really highlighted how much people need to have a better experience online and companies have been responding to that.

Zoom made this easy by being able to have captions available in all the meetings and that was great. That was one of the great things that they did. 

And then they made it available when you went into breakout rooms because before I would struggle going into breakout rooms because I couldn't necessarily understand everybody. 

And same with Google Chrome. They have the captions extension that I do use as well. So there's little things that sometimes going out in person for some people with disabilities is very challenging for them. 

I'm not just talking about people that are deaf or blind or who have a physical disability. I'm also talking about people who have ADHD, talking about people who have autism. 

Those or any type of neurodiversity, dyslexia, any kind or chronic illnesses, all those are disabilities that they might not be able to go out in the world, but they still want an experience as much as they do. 

And when you create that experience online, it really allows you to draw in the people that really want to learn from you, want to follow you, fangirl over you. Like, why wouldn't you want that?

Jen Liddy

Yeah, I think that there's a thing that happens when your eyes have been opened to something that's a problem, like this accessibility issue. I don't think until I started losing my hearing and had to 100% absolutely have captions on for everything I watched and I was missing conversations. 

And then of course, when everybody was wearing masks in 2020 and 2021, I couldn't hear a freaking thing. And I found myself isolating because it was just easier to be alone than it was to be sitting at a table where I didn't, couldn't hear anybody anyway. 

I don't think I really ever thought about this, even though I was in education for like 15 years, right? So you would think that I would have been thinking about all of this stuff.

So I want to approach this, and the reason I wanted to really speak with you is I feel like you have such a loving, non-judgmental approach to this, because I feel like when somebody opens their eyes to seeing that they're, “Oh, maybe I'm not doing such a great job with accessibility.” 

There's no reason to feel shame or embarrassment about the fact that you haven't been doing it, but I want to talk about how we can move into doing it, like embracing it and doing it without being like, “Oh, this is a thing I have to do,” or “I'm such an idiot, I can't believe I never even thought about this.” 

And so this is particularly why I wanted to have you on because I know that you come from this really loving, accepting space of helping people with their accessibility in their business.

Erin Perkins

I think the biggest thing is that there are people that have become disabled later in their life and it's almost like you just don't know what you should know. And for me, this is part of my entire life. 

So for me I know what I need to ask for. I know how to advocate for myself. For people like you, maybe, and I'm also part of the Deaf culture so we have that support around us that we're able to advocate for others, for someone like you who maybe lost their hearing later in life or someone who became sick, you don't know what you need to know. 

So you just try to go about your life as you've always known it. And when I've met so many people where they come in and they're like, “Oh wow. I never thought about that.” I'm like, “Well, if you think about it, when was the last time you met a person that was disabled, but you couldn't see it. It was invisible?”

When people meet me, they never know that I have a disability unless I tell them. And half the time I forget to say it because I'm just trying to go about it. 

Jen Liddy

It's just who I am. It's just me.

Erin Perkins

Yeah. And it is a core part of my identity, but I also don't want the focus of conversation to necessarily be on that all the time. So when I meet people and they're just like that, I'm just like, “Okay, I hope you're going to do something about it now.” 

And that to me is important. I've definitely met people that just want me as a token and then move on and I'm like, “I don't care about you, but that's why I really care about the people that become aware.”

I need and want to make it really simple for them. ‘Cause I know how overwhelmed you can get with things like, “Oh my God, I have to do all the things.” I'm like, “No you don't, just start with one thing.” And I usually tell them, start with your socials.

Your social media is one of the easiest things to start [with] because you can really have those quick wins and I know how important having those quick wins are these days.

Jen Liddy

Okay, so let's dive into this because on your website you talk about miseducation, you talk about performative activism, and you talk about tokenism. And I feel like what you're about to share with us will help us make real changes that are not any of those things. 

So I'm excited to hear about it, let's start with social. What are some of the things that people could do to shift and make things more accessible for their audience?

Erin Perkins

So, hashtags make them camel case or initial capitalization. Basically, the first letter of each word should be capitalized because one, screen readers cannot read those. People who have a learning disability actually have a hard time deciphering some of those words. 

I know sometimes I'll be looking at it and I'm like, “Wait.” My brain goes completely the wrong direction. I'm like, “No, I know that's not what they meant in that hashtag.” So we'll keep this PG.

Jen Liddy

Yes. I was just going to say sometimes a misplaced D or an S can really mess everything up in a hashtag.

Erin Perkins

Yeah, so if you initial capitalize each letter of the word in a hashtag, so Instagram, I've said this many times, Instagram, please make this easy for us to do that. 

And then the other thing is, when you have a graphic with text that you've uploaded, you need to make sure that the text in there is actually repeated in the caption because that is not readable by the screen reader.

Jen Liddy

Wow, okay, I literally, A: had no idea, and B: like my mind is blown about these two things I literally never thought of, but are so easy to do.

Erin Perkins

That's the thing, the graphic image thing is something I never thought about too. Because what I would do on my website is because I'm a print designer by trade, so everything I design is for print. 

So with the website, I was like, “I don't have control.” It's very frustrating because in print, what you see is what you get.

On a website, what you see is not always what you get. So my biggest thing was I would create graphics with embedded text and all of that and just put it there. And I didn't realize that as a screen reader, they would not be able to read the embedded text because it's embedded in it. 

So that was something I had to work at changing to make sure that happened. Otherwise you can add alt text to it but I would say for a better experience, adding it in the caption is actually a really good right way to do things.

Jen Liddy

Yeah, we're talking about so much more than just putting the words on the screen as you're talking. We're talking so much more about like than just using Descript or some kind of other thing to translate your words into words on the screen. 

This is such good information. So if socials are the easy place to start, what would be another place that people aren't thinking about making their digital content accessible, that there's just a few lights to turn on here, just a few tweaks to make.

Erin Perkins

My biggest thing is the website with the button. If you say learn more, read more, and if you repeat it several times on your page, and it's not clear as to what that button is gonna take you to, you're gonna lose that person. 

This is what I wanna encourage people to do. Test out a screen reader. Chrome has a great extension, although I am somehow not able to function with a screen reader, because I don't even understand it. 

So I can't test it out, but I've had other people test out the screen reader capability and see how it takes you through the websites. Is it clear where that button is taking you? If it’s not, you need to change the language of that button.

Jen Liddy

Okay. Would it be just being more specific, like buy the workshop here or learn more about the program here? Are we talking about that?

Erin Perkins

Yeah, you could add words. I think some of the websites do allow you to add alt text in the backend so that you could say, learn more about this program.

Jen Liddy

Okay, one of the things you talk about is a holistic approach to accessibility. What does that mean?

Erin Perkins

The biggest thing for me is that not every person that has a disability needs the same thing. I'm okay with doing an interview like this with captions. I don't need to have an interpreter on hand. 

Now, if you met a couple of my other friends who can't speak. She never had that skill to be able to speak but she's very bright. She would have to have an interpreter on hand to speak for her as she signed her answers and stuff. 

Another person definitely preferred having an interpreter to just translate what the podcast host is saying, but she would speak for herself. So we all have different needs and desires of how we want to access things.

I think it's really important to recognize that not every person with a disability needs or wants the same thing, but also recognize that you're not always going to make everyone happy. 

That's why what I teach, I'm trying to just teach simple things that cover as many bases as possible.

Jen Liddy

Yeah. You give workshops as one of your speaker, but I also know that you give workshops. I know that you're a consultant. I know people can work with you one on one. So you're even very inclusive in the way you work with people.

You can work with them one to one in a small group. You have DIY stuff for people. How do you incorporate accessibility into your own work when you're offering so many different kinds of programs and solutions for people?

Because I can think about it being a little overwhelming because even the one thing you said that stuck with me from your speech was, are you thinking about your transcripts? You can't just slap up some transcript up there. 

Are you actually going through and editing your transcripts? And I came home and I was like, “Oh, our transcripts could use a little bit more love” and I actually put my team on that. 

So that was just a small tweak, but it is time consuming. How do you approach this in your business with as many different people, as many different types, and as many different offerings as you have?

Erin Perkins

So one of the biggest things I teach people, especially podcasters, you probably have hundreds and hundreds of interviews done. Start from where you're at now. 

I don't expect you to go back to all the other past transcripts unless you have the time, unless you have the bandwidth, you have the finances to do so. Yes, go ahead and do that. 

But for me, it's about starting from where you're at now and building forward. That's why I'm trying to break through to the small business group. Because once you start hitting six to seven figures, you're gonna have all this other stuff that you're gonna have to go back and fix because you are such a bigger company. 

And that's gonna likely cost you 30 times as much more money and time to fix all of that. That's my mission is to help independent business owners be able to achieve this before they hit the seven figures. That way once they're hitting it, they've already got it all in place.

Jen Liddy

Beautiful. What are some of the results people can start to see or the outcomes they start to see when they start putting into place making the shifts that you're talking about, learning the tools that you're talking about, shifting their mindset about even being open to doing this? 

What sort of shifts in their life and their business?

Erin Perkins

So I know a lot of people want to stay and they want to hear that they're going to see a big shift in your return on investment. That's one of the things you're probably not going to see over the long run. 

I'm just being honest, but it is the way I see it. It's like a house. It's all the plumbing, it's all the electrical, none of the stuff you see behind those walls. But you gotta put in the money, that way your house is still standing 20, 30 years from now. 

But one of the really biggest benefits by putting in the work is you do get a higher return in your search engine optimization. Because you're using more words, you're adding more things.

It's gonna boost your search engine and it's gonna keep moving you up in Google and then people can find you more. That I think is one of the highest ways. 

The other way if you're more interactive. You meet people, you're a speaker, people are gonna be more drawn to you because they see that you're very inclusive, you're very welcoming.

I know that when people host summits and events, whenever they see captions are available, they're like, “Oh my God, thank you so much.” And these are not deaf people. These are people that just don't wanna sit there and listen.

Jen Liddy

That's right. They really could be something as simple as they want to speed it up. You know, that could be another thing that people... I love having the accessibility of how fast I can listen. 

I also can read faster than I can hear. So sometimes I'm like, “Just give me the transcript, just give me the transcript, or let me read the thing.”

Erin Perkins

Yes. That's my biggest thing about podcasts is me reading the transcript. You have an hour podcast. I don't have an hour. I can read your transcripts in maybe 10 minutes and be done with. But to be fair, I read everything all day long. So I probably read faster than a normal person.

Jen Liddy

Mm-hmm. We've talked about a lot today and you've been really generous with giving us specifics to think about. We've talked a little bit about tools. 

I do want to speak about there are a lot of tools out there to help the small business owner make all of this a lot easier. The other thing that I love that you're doing is you're making it OK to ask questions. 

I could ask you, what does it mean to be deaf-blind? Because I am not and I've never experienced that before. I feel like you're just very open and you're here, like “You know what, ask me the questions, go ahead and ask me the uncomfortable questions.” 

I feel like that's what you're here for and you do such a beautiful job with that. So I just wanted to say thank you for letting me ask you these questions.

Erin Perkins

Yeah, thank you. I mean, I feel like I've come across plenty of comments, dumb questions from growing up.

But these are really stupid questions. Like how can deaf people drive? We have eyes, we can see. I'm gonna say that I think that deaf people drive better than hearing people, just pointing that out. But when it comes to what state is the better driver, that's a whole ‘nother issue. 

I think the biggest thing for me was because I've encountered a lot of those types of questions that felt like when you're coming from a business perspective, a lot of the questions are very genuine. They're just like, “I don't know any better. I want you to teach me.“

And I'm more than happy to because one of the things I've talked with my friends about is I am so fascinated by culture. Like other cultures. I am into the Jewish matchmaking, Indian matchmaking, all the reality shows that share the rich side of things. 

I'm so fascinated by it. Because I feel like I don't really necessarily have a culture. I have Deaf culture, but that's really it. I don't really have a religion. I am not religious at all, but I'm just so fascinated by it that I wanna learn and I wanna ask people questions. 

And I'm really just genuine, try to be genuine. I just wanna learn how you have this mindset, how you are this way. And to me, I want that to be reciprocated. So if people have questions about me, even if it's personal or about deaf culture or about being deaf-blind, I need to be open about it.

Jen Liddy

Yeah, I think you're doing a beautiful job. Can you talk a little bit about the social media accessibility scorecard that people can grab from you, which I will put the link to this in the show notes, but this is a gem that I think people should download.

Erin Perkins

Thank you. So this social media scorecard is so easy, it's a quick win. You can literally go through it and just check it, check what you are doing. 

If you're not doing something, there's some instructions on how to do something. You can probably find some of my information on Instagram. And it's to me, it's one of those super easy wins that you can get with being accessible.

Jen Liddy

And you've also given us so many wins that we can do today. And I'm sure there's so much more that we can dive into once we get into your world. How can people find you? I know you're on Instagram and LinkedIn. What's your Instagram handle?

Erin Perkins

They can find me on Instagram, yeah. LinkedIn, my website, my Instagram handle, Mabely M-A-B-E-L-Y underscore Q, and you can find me there. You can reach out to me through email. Whichever way is your preferred way of reaching out to me, I'm always happy to connect.

Jen Liddy

Thank you, Erin. I just wanna say, I've enjoyed meeting you in person. I loved reconnecting here. And I think that I have a lot to do in this realm. And it's something, I'm hoping that listeners can just make one small change and not stress themselves out. 

Like, “Oh, I've been screwing up. I screwed the whole thing up. I need to go back and redo everything.” If people can just take the one big thing that you said was start where you are right now, make small changes and build on them every day. 

I think that that's all we can really expect of ourselves right now. So I just want to say thank you for being so open and making this so much easier than it might feel otherwise.

Erin Perkins

Thank you for having me. You asked some really great questions.

Jen Liddy

Yay, gold star for me. I love a good gold star. All right, come back next time when we're going to be having more conversations about how to make our content easier for us to make and better for our audience to consume. We'll see you next time. Bye.

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