A latte with Fiona Murphy

Episode first aired on May 17, 2024

GAAD Special | Episode 05

In this episode, Matisse chats with Fiona Murphy, founder of the Accessible Communications Collective, about all things accessible content.

Share this episode:

An audio frequency sits behind a headshot of Fiona Murphy.

Listen to this episode

A headshot of Fiona Murphy.

About our guest

Fiona Murphy is an award-winning writer and editor based in Sydney, Australia. She is the founder of the Accessible Communications Collective, which is making the internet more accessible. Her writing about accessibility has appeared in The Guardian, ABC, The Saturday PaperGriffith Review, and The Big Issue, among many other outlets. Her memoir about deafness, The Shape of Sound, was released in Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., and North America.

Episode Transcript

Matisse Hamel-Nelis  00:02

Hello and welcome to PR & Lattes, the podcast where you can fill up your cup on everything PR and communications. I’m your host Matisse Hamel-Nelis. And I am so excited to have you join me today for another special episode in honour of Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Before we get started, make sure you subscribe to this podcast wherever you’re listening to it. To get notified when a new episode drops. We have one more in this special series coming tomorrow. You can also subscribe to our newsletter by visiting our website PRandlattes.com. On the website, you’ll find our podcast episodes plus our amazing blogs with new ones being uploaded every Monday morning. And, of course, make sure you’re following us on social media on Instagram at @PRAndLattes and on LinkedIn PR & Lattes. On today’s episode, I’m chatting with accessible communications collective founder Fiona Murphy. Fiona is an award-winning writer and editor based in Sydney, Australia. As I mentioned, she is the founder of the accessible communications collective, which is making the internet more accessible. Her writing about accessibility has appeared in The Guardian, ABC, The Saturday Paper, Griffith Review, The Big Issue, and so many other outlets. And her memoir about deafness. The shape of sound was released in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and North America. I am so excited to be chatting with her about all things accessible content. So grab your latte, sit back and enjoy. Oh, today’s episode, I am so excited about it. I am chatting with Fiona Murphy from the Accessible Communications Collective and we are going to get into all things accessible communications, which all the listeners know I love. But welcome Fiona; I’m so excited to have you on today’s podcast.


Fiona Murphy  01:46

I’m so excited to be here. And really looking forward to this conversation.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  01:50

It’s going to be so good. It’s gonna be so good. So let’s start off really easy. Before we get into all the deep stuff. Can you tell the listeners a little bit about your journey and communications and accessibility?


Fiona Murphy  02:03

It’s a little bit of a roundabout story, to be honest. So my journey with accessibility and communication started when I was six years old. I was my teachers were noticing that I was having huge difficulties learning how to read and write. And I was really polite, really diligent, but nothing was thinking in at all. And there was a lot of questions around whether I had a learning disability, and whether I should leave mainstream classes and go into special education. So my mom obviously wanted to hop onto it straightaway. And I had a whole host of testing done. And I can vividly remember that of having to do puzzles and answer questions. And the final test of the day was a hearing test. And I had to go into a booth and just press a button. And I was like, This is so easy compared to all the other stuff. I just had to press a button when I heard a sound. But the results came back that I’m profoundly deaf in my left ear. And that was the missing puzzle piece. I couldn’t actually connect letters and sounds, which is why I was having so much trouble learning how to read and write. That changed nothing and changed everything all at once. In terms it changed nothing that I didn’t actually understand what deafness meant. Because it’s more than likely that I was born with profound hearing loss in one ear. So it didn’t like as a six-year-old, I didn’t actually understand what deafness meant. I just knew I couldn’t read and all my friends could so I internalized this great sense of shame about it that oh my goodness, I’m just not trying hard enough. I don’t know what I’m doing here. And that idea of being moved out of mainstream class to a segregated class was frightening. My mum learned how to use phonics, which wasn’t in the Australian schooling system at the time. So it was a different way of teaching people how to read. And she spent hours after school every day, teaching me the sounds and letters and I used a lot of lip reading and I would sit on her lap and I would feel the vibrations through her body. And we just use repetition again and again and again. And it took years for me to gain confidence and becoming fluent with reading. And that the reason why I bring that up is because that has been the foundation to my understanding of communication access and what it feels like to feel ashamed, as well as to struggle to gain access, but it also had these long term ripple effects, even though I learned how to read with confidence and even became a bookworm, my sense of shame traveled with me for years. And at the end of high school, I did amazingly well. In English as a subject, I got 50 out of 50 in the final project, absolutely smashed it. But I still felt like I wasn’t a writer or a writer, I felt like I was faking it, I felt like people would find out that I had to work super hard. So I actually went into physiotherapy. Even though I had gained all these skills, and being a great reader and a great writer, I inherently thought I was just faking it till you make it. So I went into physiotherapy. And I wanted a really practical job. And I graduated in 2009. And I did that for several years, until my mid to late 20s. When I was just exhausted, I had so much listening fatigue, that I felt like I was losing my mind. Because at that stage, I was keeping my deafness a secret. And I didn’t know how to navigate a career with hearing loss. And I was in a career where listening was my bread and butter, I had to listen to people’s histories. And I would be trading them and not being able to see their faces and lip reading was almost impossible that I was working so hard to be able to navigate clinical therapy that I actually realized I just deeply wanted to be with books and words and communication.  So it was quite a long way back to communications. And I entered medical publishing, and trained as an editor. So a very long winded way of getting back to communications.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  07:10

Well, I love it. And I love that I love the story. But I also It breaks my heart to know you know that there was that shame that comes with it. And I’ve been very open about my end being having Bipolar Type 2, and ADD, and sort of that shame or stigma that coincides with it. And so, you know, I understand the concept of shame in terms of do I don’t really want to tell people about this, I don’t want to, you know, emphasize or anything but also trying to find where you fit in, and what in what you’re passionate about. Right. And I love that you found it and communications and went back to that love and what you knew you are good at.


Fiona Murphy  07:51

I think it does become a superpower when you have the opportunity. I think it’s quite a glib statement that I’ve just made that shame becomes a superpower because shame is eroding secrets are eroding. And that’s something that I only became cognizant of that there was another pathway of not keeping secrets and being able to disclose to people once I became a part of the disability community, I didn’t have the language for access and inclusion. Until I became a member of the disability community in my late 20s. I thought the only pathway and the only option for me to succeed in life was to hide my disability. And I became so good at it Matisse, I was phenomenal at hiding my deafness and passing as a hearing person, like unbelievably phenomenal at it. But that also became the issue in that people wouldn’t believe me when I disclosed and that’s become a passion point of mine as well is that it takes not just courage to disclose because it does take a huge amount of courage and a leap of faith. But it’s also the skills to have to then educate others have what an appropriate responses. And that’s something that I’ve done a lot of work in that space with large organizations and arts festivals is what’s a good way to respond. When someone discloses they have a disability, what’s a useful way to respond? How can you progress that conversation forward in a productive way that doesn’t perpetuate stigma and shame because that is a skill set that people aren’t taught how to do.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  09:44

Yeah, that’s so very true. And I feel like this sort of segues really nicely into the next question that I have for you. Can you take me back to the beginning of the accessible communications collective I remember seeing on Instagram this like coming soon posted  I got so excited. So what sparked the idea and motivated you to focus on accessibility and communications the way you’re doing it right now?


Fiona Murphy  10:07

Ah, exactly that I wanted to spark some excitement about communication access. So I purposely chose really bright fun colors. And on my Instagram feed I purposely putting gifts and memes just to kind of give a sense of energy in this space, because quite often accessibility is when some an organization knows that they need to address their accessibility, it’s often in a very shameful way or a way where they’re like, Okay, roll up your sleeves, this is going to cost a lot of money. And this is a big undertaking, it’s really done with a sense of trepidation, or reluctance. And I wanted to flip that on its head and be like, Oh, hey, this is just a really fun feel good place where you can learn some tips and tricks. And it can actually be the most creative thing that you have ever done in your life. Because most people think that accessibility is about going through a checklist, doing an audit, that actually restrains you and limits creativity. But that is not the case at all accessibility can be. It can push your design skills, copywriting skills, web design skills to the next level. And it can be so satisfying. So with the the reason why I started the collective is because I had spent the past seven or eight years consulting for large organizations such as hospitals, Commonwealth funding grant systems, huge festivals and art galleries. And the same questions were coming up again, and again and again. And they’re really common themes and really similar gaps in knowledge, that after several years, I was like, I could keep going one to one with this, which is great. Or I could present information in bite sized ways that it’s almost creating a groundswell of change, that if content creators or businesses that are online, learn just a few tips and tricks that will start reducing the barriers. And so start to get a sense that it isn’t a roll up your sleeves and change everything about your workflow is about small tweaks and enhancing it.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  12:51

That is so true. And whenever I do presentations, I always say it’s the power of one, what is one thing that you can change today, when it comes to digital accessibility, and your best practices are what you’re doing within your organization that you can essentially master and then move on to the next one, right? Whether it’s adding alt text to your images, or CamelCase to your hashtags, or just something that is considered low hanging fruit, that is an easy change, right? Take those small little steps and you start to make the world a more accessible and inclusive place. So I love that you said that.


Fiona Murphy  13:24

Absolutely. And then once you are taught one components such as CamelCase, you’ll start to look around the internet in a totally different way. And you’ll be like, Oh, my goodness, why does it Why isn’t anyone else doing this, it like literally transforms you into a champion because then you realize, I need to actually teach this to someone else. And then you start to recognize this as a set of skills. A disabled person isn’t born with the ability to advocate for themselves, they have to learn that they have to be taught that. I learned that in my late 20s. I had navigated many, many years without those skills, and then I had to practice getting good at them. The same is for businesses and organizations. It’s not that you’re purposely trying to be inaccessible. You just haven’t been taught ways to become accessible.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  14:23

Exactly, exactly. I love how you put that. So with your experience spanning from working with government agencies, nonprofits, art organizations, and so much more, how do you tend to tailor accessibility strategies to help meet the unique needs of each sector?


Fiona Murphy  14:40

I love this question so much because I’ve made so many mistakes, Matisse that. Hopefully this helps other people. I’ve been very fortunate to work across a wide range of sectors with accessibility. And the key takeaway, if anyone’s navigating this space, is to learn how to meet people where they’re at. Which is great in theory, but in practice, you have to be aware of your biases and assumptions, because that’s something that we all have. So I’ll give two examples.  The first one is a large piece of work that I recently did with Writers Festival in regional Australia, and it’s a really large Writers Festival. And they actually came to us to me about becoming more accessible and inclusive. So like the dream client, essentially, where they’re like, yes, we want to become accessible, we know that we’re not doing it just yet. But we really, really want to do it. We know we’re not serving servicing our audiences as well as we could, we’ve had one or two complaints where we felt like we could have done a lot better. And we’re ready to change, Fiona. Now we want to change. I could have a lot of assumptions there. But I have learned to always ask in individuals, so what I do with a consultation is I’ll talk to board members, one-on-one, I’ll talk to staff one on one, we’ll do larger focus groups, we’ll do surveys, and it’s important to create lots of different opportunities for people to speak, frankly, and openly. Because knowing that talking about disability II can feel confronting for people is really important. Not everyone feels comfortable admitting that they feel uncomfortable talking about disability. So that’s one thing that I try and do is to really normalize it and say, Hey, it’s okay. If you don’t feel comfortable, it’s okay, if you don’t know the words that you think you should be using, because that’s another thing people self edit. They’re like, Oh, I’m going to be judged. If I say this, or I don’t know how to phrase it. So I’m just not going to say anything at all. I try to normalize that and say, Hey, like, this is a one to one conversation. I’m not judging you, I just want to understand what you’re thinking. And a really great question to ask, for a number of reasons is a strength space question of what will success look like? How will you know that we’ve succeeded at creating access and inclusion? It’s such a beautiful question, because it’s really generative. It allows people to kind of highlight what they think success looks like. And in this example, every single person in the organization said the exact same thing. In one, two ones, in surveys in group meetings, they all said, we know we will have succeeded if they’re sign language interpreters on stage at every event. And I was like, oh, no, this is great. But they don’t know the full scope of what communication access and digital access could or should look like. And it was so important that I kept that information early in the piece, because it allowed me to gather lots of information about their ticketing, their volunteer process, their transportation process, their seating process, all of these areas that they weren’t looking at, through an accessibility lens. And I did multiple focus groups with disabled people attending the festival. And I was able to recruit a lot of information, but I the most important bid, I figured out how to frame it in a way that was positive and future focus, without putting them into a shame spiral because they’re in the place of being like, Okay, we’re ready. We’re here to change and I didn’t want to put the hand brakes on that of making them feel like they had failed in all these other areas. They just weren’t aware of those areas, being inaccessible, and that was a really good experience.  My other example, Matisse is where I learned a lot about my own assumptions. So I did a consultation piece with a large emergency department. I’ve worked in health care for a very long time. I’ve worked in private practice in hospitals. I went into that Matisse being like, yeah, these are my people with speaking the same language here. I know how emergency departments run. I know that they’re really inaccessible. Obviously, the people working there will know the same thing right? No. And I’m so fortunate that they were honest with me because I entered those initial consultations talking about communication disabilities. And I went on at length Matisse about like this and that And, and kind of partway through the medical director was like, yes, that’s really great. But we don’t see people like that here. And I was like, what? Excuse me? I do that internally. But I was like, oh, no, we’re not speaking the same language at all. And it allowed me to switch gears and start to explain things in a in a way that they could recognize that every single day, they were having to navigate communication access issues, that neither them or their patients had the skills and capability to navigate. Because if somebody’s just had a stroke, their ability to communicate is rapidly changing if they’re deteriorating, or their stroke is progressing. And the nurses and doctors are just phenomenal communicators because they can navigate someone who has aphasia that is developing and has word finding difficulties. So that really taught me to not assume that everyone knows what a communication disability is, that’s a fairly new phrase, whereas people recognize that are okay. somebody with dementia. It isn’t just about forgetting things, it is a communication, disability, there are multiple components there where they might be more sensitive to the sensory environment, and affected by the lights and the textures and the sounds. And that was really, really helpful for me to understand that always meet people where they’re at, don’t assume that you’re going to be speaking the same language about access and inclusion, don’t anticipate what success will look like for that organization or that team.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  21:54

Yeah, that’s a great point, meeting people where they’re at, especially when, you know, in places where there’s legislation in place, and they’re coming into it, maybe thinking I just don’t want to get sued. I don’t know what that means. But I know I just don’t want to get sued. And it’s a whole education piece that needs to come into it. So meeting people where they’re at that is huge, and not just an accessibility, but everyday life, I think it’s like the one big takeaway and just, you know, don’t assume don’t make assumptions, meet people where they’re at otherwise, you know, what’s the saying, you make an ass to you and me when you assume.


Fiona Murphy  22:30

I love it. And I find it really ironic that I spend so much time and have done spent so much time in disability awareness training of teaching people to like, don’t assume what disabled people want. And yet in my consulting, I’ve gone down the mistake of assuming, I think I’m speaking the same language as an organization. So it’s really mistakes have allowed me to improve my own communication. And I think that’s the key takeaway is that there isn’t a guarantee that communication is accessible or successful unless you check, I think a really important piece is that don’t assume what disabled people want or need. But similarly, if you’re consulting in this space, or a communications professional in this space, don’t assume that the organization what their wants and needs are, learning what their drivers are, are really important. And that’s such a good point about legislation and not using that as a motivator. Because often legislation and not wanting to be sued, is a fearful place to be talking about access and inclusion. And legislation is often often a low bar, like that’s the bare minimum that people should be doing. And it’d be so great to uplift and inspire organizations to go above and beyond because the benefits of it are just almost endless in terms of business, profit, profitability, audience reach engagement, retention, like it is honestly a place of abundance and creativity when you start looking at accessibility through that lens rather than the narrow, narrow, punitive lens lens of being sued.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  24:25

Exactly. And I think, at least in North America, we saw sort of the brand reputation side of things also come into play when it came to digital accessibility. You know, certain organizations like Domino’s and even Beyonce Queen Bey, right? She she got sued for it in an accessible website because there was no alt text. Right. I think, while I, while I agree with the whole it shouldn’t come from the fear of being of the punitive punitive damages. I think when these big corporations do get in trouble, it does shed light on it literally can happen to anybody when it comes to stuff being inaccessible that you may not realize, you know, somebody might be engaging with, like a Beyonce website to buy merchandise or Fenty, from Rihanna her makeup line, and clothing line, right, and people trying to access information they can’t, because the content isn’t accessible. And I think, you know, having those mainstream sort of situations come up, I think, highlights why accessibility is important. And it provides that educational piece by completely 100% agree with you that there’s so much more to it than just, I’m afraid of getting sued. Right, the your bottom line will increase because you’re reaching a broader reach, right?


Fiona Murphy  25:43

I do think it is. To be really clear, I think legislation is essential. But as a communications professional, it shouldn’t be your strategy to nurture a relationship with an organization because the legislation and the risk of being sued is the trigger to change, but it’s not going to be what sustains the change. And it’s only going to create an uphill battle. If that’s your framing as a communications consultant or a communications worker, you must really think about the long haul there. I’m understanding people are more responsive when they feel that it’s a strength, space, exciting place of possibility. And that does take a little bit of strategizing and thinking about and coming back to that question of what does success look like? Put that in your toolkit as a communications professional because it is so helpful from working on social media posts or PR. And then it allows you to work with the person rather than nagging or lecturing because that’s what a nice feeling to have as a communications professional or being like, Oh, just put the alt text in already. It’s not that hard, or just use a camel case that’s really draining. And I’m all about a place of ease, and we’re all heading in the same direction.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  27:15

Yeah, yeah. And I think there’s also the fear of making a mistake. I know when I first started in the digital accessibility space, there was a lot of there was good intention there in terms of we’re trying to promote digital accessibility, people being accessible doing the right thing. But it was very easy for folks to sort of jump on when somebody made a mistake and being accessible, right, where maybe they had been posting alt texts all along, and then maybe one post just for whatever reason, it didn’t post with the alt text, and then jumping on being like a new call yourself accessible, and so on and so forth. I’ve noticed a shift away from that again, which is great. But I do feel that there’s also still that hesitation from whether it’d be professional communicators, or even just organizations in general, that fear of making a mistake when they do try and what that potential backlash could be. And I wonder, from your perspective, how do you help organizations overcome that fear to just say, uust do it, just make it accessible, and see, you know, and learn and get better with it, because you’re trying and you’re practicing, essentially.


Fiona Murphy  28:23

I’m nodding furiously here, because I have seen that happen time and time again, online with disability advocates, communication professionals, organizations where it’s that cold out and tear down approach, thankfully, as you’ve noticed, and I’ve noticed that it’s starting to shift and there’s a bit more calling in, and the narrative around it, of it being an iterative process of learning and changing and it’s not a pathway to perfection, that’s starting to get out there. But with organizations, I spend a long time educating and chatting to them about the how golden how beautiful it is, to get feedback. And it feedback is often framed as a complaint, particularly in healthcare of like, you know, patient complaints of I spent a long time saying that is such a gift. And it must be treated as a gift and a point of celebration because pathways to providing feedback are often hugely inaccessible, and they often privileged people with resources, education, or having pathways to feedback. Often privileged people with resources, education and time as well. And people with disability are often short on time because of God’s so much to manage in their lives, busy, busy people.  So that’s what I often highlight to organizations that any bit of feedback must be celebrated because it shows that the individual wants you to succeed. They want you to get better, they want you to become accessible.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  30:14



Fiona Murphy  30:15

And that’s so important in a business, ecommerce or product sales, whatever business that you have. If you are getting criticism or complaints, however you want to frame it, that is so golden, because the research shows that people with disabilities will more than likely drop off or ghost a business if it’s inaccessible. So if they’re staying there and saying something, they actually believe in you.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  30:44

It’s true. I think it was webbing did that recent survey and I believe the percentage was 71 or 72%, of individuals with disabilities, who engaged with an inaccessible website will get off the site and tell their friends and family not to use it.


Fiona Murphy  31:00

Yeah, absolutely. And that, once people understand that it is a philosophical shift of being like, Oh, my goodness, yes, complaints and criticism is a gift people want us to succeed, which can take time for people to make that philosophical shift. But it is so important for them to do that, because then they go from just passively receiving all this golden feedback to then seeking it. And that, again, is another huge philosophical shift of an organization becoming accessible, because then they start to look at ways of inviting that feedback and going to the customers or the clients or the patients with disabilities and saying, Hey, how can we do better? And that actually takes a lot of courage, because, as I said earlier, most people are terrified about talking about disability. And their terror is usually around not wanting to offend people use the wrong words, or just make a mistake. So transforming this whole experience into one up that optimizes that learning is amazing, but learning is going to keep happening.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  32:18

Yeah. What do you think are some of the common accessibility challenges that organizations face when it comes to their communications? And how have you helped them overcome them?


Fiona Murphy  32:28

Great question. I think in a lot of organizations, there’s the assumption that web designers, communication professionals, copywriters, social media managers have been trained in accessibility. But unfortunately, that is not often the case. I know you’re doing a huge amount of work around that Matisse to change that. But it’s not across the industry. So there’s a lot of assumptions that social media posts that go up, are accessible, or they meet the needs of the audience. But I often see three common issues in particularly in social media posts, or posters or collateral that goes out particularly in PR and things like that. The first one is layout of how the text actually is presented. Quite often, it’s centered, and it has two ragged edges on it, or there’s a lot of visual clutter. So there isn’t a clear pathway for the eye to track through and read a text. And that is, presents huge amounts of barriers for someone if they’ve got limitations in their reading skills, or if they have a cognitive disability or visual disability, that they cannot navigate the text on a page. The second largest area of issues and there’s so many sub-issues to this is around typography. And that might be the font type, the size, the colour, what you actually do to draw your readers attention is actually creating more barriers and creating more fractured attention than being a tool to highlight information. So if you’re using underlining, italics, all caps, all of those techniques are actually inaccessible. And the third category is around messaging. And this is particularly important if you’re an expert or an organization with a lot of knowledge that you’re trying to impasse impart on people is not pitching the information, where the audience’s that so your call to action becomes really muddled and unclear. If you’re using jargon if you’re using quiet complex sentence structure, if you’re not making it quite to clear the pathway somebody has to follow to complete an action. So you might have the call to action. But you haven’t created the multi-step pathway for them someone to click on the link, and then what happens next. And what happens next that the language might start to change from page to page.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  35:20

That is so true, that is so true. And you see it a lot also with graphics on social where they put all their content in the image. And it’s just very, very text heavy. So like a poster to being re-shared. And instead of the information being put maybe in the caption, and the image being used more to add more oomph, if you will, it’s still needing that alt text, but not having it be fully jam-packed with all the information, you still have that caption portion to put that information in. And I think that’s also a bit of a disconnect. I see a lot when it comes to organizations on social, and then promoting, let’s say, an event or something like that.


Fiona Murphy  35:59

I totally agree with that. I see that quite a lot. And I often wonder if that more is more perspective is kind of in part, people thinking, Oh, I’ve only got someone’s attention for two seconds, I better like cram it full of information. So I’ve got, I’ve got them. But that actually undermines your communications because you’re fulfilling your it’s a self fulfilling prophecy in that sense that you have created so much cognitive overload and confusion, that your audience will only want to spend two seconds on your piece of content because it is too hectic. And if that hurts everyone’s brain, it’s too much effort to read and pause, that if you actually did the opposite, and thought of like, okay, I want to create something that is so beautiful and easy on the brain beautiful in the sense that it just is a nice feeling of paring back the information, having a strong visual that links with the text, and two or three short plain English sentences will let someone linger and mellow and just feel good in that space. Less is more.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  37:15

Yeah. That’s so true. So so true. I think it was I mentioned it in another podcast episode. Coco Chanel, when she was talking about when you before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one thing, less is more. I feel like the same strategy needs to apply when creating graphics for social or your website and that sort of thing.


Fiona Murphy  37:38

Absolutely. And it makes so much sense that why people are doing that is because of this belief that your audience’s attention is just so truncated that quick, quick, quick fit it all in because they’re going to skip on to something else. But if you step back and realize, Oh, why are they skipping ahead? It’s possibly because it’s so inaccessible, the person doesn’t need to have a disability for it to be inaccessible. I want to make that really, really clear. Accessibility is not just about disability, it’s about your ability to access information to understand it, and then take action. And quite often we make information so inaccessible, because we’re so desperate to be heard through the noise and to get someone’s attention.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  38:27

Yeah, no, I agree with you. 100,000%. So you’ve talked about this a little bit already. But in your view, how does accessible communications and having a strategy that’s accessible, attract and retain customers for those organizations, whether big or small?


Fiona Murphy  38:44

I think it really does come back to that idea of understanding your audience. And a really good way to do that is to understand your own experience in digital accessibility and online. So it is that common belief that our attention spans are getting shorter. But I honestly think that that’s our natural response of fleeing inaccessible content. So if you take a moment when you’re scrolling through online, and notice your own patterns of behavior and put it through the prism of flight, fight, flight, or freeze, you’ll notice that quite often you’re fleeing from really inaccessible content that you don’t actually want to stay on something that has poor colour contrast, really tiny font, and a really kind of irritating gift that’s flashing at you. I think the internet is completely clogged with inaccessible communications, which is why we feel kind of overwhelmed, exhausted and frazzled after using it and the cognitive load is just too much. Once you start to realize communications through that lens, it becomes a lot easier to pare it back back and to start to stand out in a way that it looks like you might be framing things in a really refined, not following the trends fashion, it does take courage, I will admit that to start following trends and to start standing in your own space and being like, yep, at this organization, we’re not going to have reels with tech sets in white over moving images, because you’re not going to see that we’re going to make a little tweak, because we want people to read our stuff. The same with, we’re not going to have text over images all the time, because people can’t read that we’re going to make our call to actions really clear and centered. And when you consume information like that, just take note on how it makes you feel. Often it’s like a solder, it’s so smooth, so easy, so wonderful.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  40:55

It’s true, it’s just easy to find what you’re looking for and what the message is that they’re trying to get across. Right when it’s done with accessibility in mind. And it’s not even I, for me, it was something I’ve been fighting is it’s not even just accessibility. It’s just kind of like common sense, sort of, or what should be common sense where if you’re trying to get your message across, create the path of least resistance to get that message out there.


Fiona Murphy  41:19

I think it’s common sense. But also, I think it’s timeless, if you want to create evergreen content, make it accessible. If you want to create content, that’s redundant, follow a trend because it is going to, it’s not going to have that lasting effect. And if you look at brands that have succeeded, typically their typography is super accessible. So look at Google, for instance, they have really plain sans serif text is their logo, and their spacing, and kerning is beautiful. So they’re all like technical terms. But really, the vast majority of people can pause Google, and it’s got a really distinctive shape, because they haven’t gone all caps with their logo. It’s in they’ve done sentence case, and it looks amazing. Same was FedEx, they’ve done a beautiful job, and they haven’t had to change their logo in decades. Like, if you want longevity as a brand, choose accessibility.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  42:23

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with that. It’s talking about all this good stuff and your experience. Can you tell me about a particular project or initiative that you worked on or helped with an organization work on that you are the most proud of, and detailing a bit of its approach and impact on creating that inclusivity and accessibility within it?


Fiona Murphy  42:42

I love this question. Because it’s like picking amongst your favorites. Because every project has taught me something which I think is really important as a communications professional, that you’re constantly learning.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  42:55



Fiona Murphy  42:56

But my kind of favorite one has been the communication for safe care project. So that’s a quite a large scale project that I was a project lead for, where we partnered with the University of Sydney, and two large local health districts in New South Wales, Australia. And a local health district is a massive geographical area that encompasses a network of hospitals, community health care facilities, it’s sort of a large footprint. And in that project, we partnered with emergency departments, oral health departments, peri operative pathway pathways, so if somebody’s having surgery, and the reason why we partnered with so many different types of health care, is that we wanted to ensure that our communication access principles could be transferred, regardless of the model of care. So if it was a 24 hour health care facility like an ED, those principles would work the same in an appointment based oral health care setting. And the thing that I’m most proud of is that health care is hugely inaccessible as an organization, and it has been historically inaccessible for people and that’s for a lot of reasons. There’s things that can’t be changed in healthcare easily, such as the fluorescent lighting. The noise scape is so loud. It’s quite a fast paced environment. So from a sensory overwhelm perspective, it’s horrendous. And we recognized in that project, we couldn’t change things because of infection control reasons or workflow reasons. But we worked with each department to meet them where they’re at and start the conversation about accessibility, which hasn’t been taught at university level education. That’s something that recently we had a Royal Commission into disability in Australia. And one of the findings was that no health care professional is taught about accessibility, and how to engage with disabled people at a tertiary level, and these are health care professionals. Having gone through that education system myself, I know that for a fact, like, I had a disability when I was studying health care, and I still didn’t know how to navigate my own disability accessibility experience. So what we…


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  45:38



Fiona Murphy  45:39

They’ve really important thing in that project was recognizing that we can’t judge and shame people for what they don’t know. We need to meet them where they’re at and make access and inclusion, something that they could do immediately straightaway, that they didn’t have to leave the bedside and get a manual to navigate something. And we did a really fundamental shift of educating people how to ask the question about access. So instead of asking the question, hey, Matisse, do you have a disability? Instead asking, Hey, Matisse, is there anything I can do to make your communication easier for you? And then giving some examples of what that might look like? Do you need this information written down? Or would you like some images, some pictures, something to take home with you? Is it easier if it’s, if I explain it in a different way, I’m really normalizing that access and communication access should be a two way street.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  46:41

Now I love that. I love that. What are some key components of an effective accessible communication strategy that you have found or have seen or, you know, I have noted that organizations often overlook?


Fiona Murphy  46:56

That it’s too hard. That is that roll your sleeves up moment. And I think there’s three things that organizations can do straight away. To overcome the kind of inertia is really just recognize that accessibility should be baked into your workflows make it a non-negotiable. That could mean changing your templates so that they are accessible. So you’re not having to think about it each time, but ensuring that all your templates for content, reports, documents, presentations, have heading styles that are integrated. The option and prompt include alt text for images, the text layout is default left justified. So that’s like done and dusted. You’re not having to do the heavy lifting each time, but the process is accessible. I think the second thing is to continually ask about access.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  47:53



Fiona Murphy  47:54

Provide opportunities for feedback in various modes, including asking your colleagues as well, not assuming that it’s just for your audience. That’s a huge thing that we found out in health is that often people just assumed it was the patients with a disability, they weren’t considering their colleagues and asking their colleagues if they have any communication access needs. And the final piece is recognizing that feedback is invaluable. And that there’s this assumption that a lot of organizations say and believe, is that disabled people don’t use their products, or people like that don’t come here. And given that approximately one in five people have a disability, this is so unlikely, it’s illogical to think like that. And it really once you start to recognize like, oh, okay, that argument doesn’t make any sense, then it actually makes you look at your own business or organization or have you created a culture or environment where people feel comfortable disclosing that they have a disability? Are you actively promoting a culture of inclusion? Or are you just assuming that people like that don’t come here?


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  49:18

Oh, especially the last one in particular, like, oh, you know, nobody, nobody was sight loss is going to use my website, we sell cars, but what if they have a child and the child’s like, well, you know, it’s that time I need a car, and they want them to do the research and find out how much it costs and all that stuff. Your website needs to be accessible.


Fiona Murphy  49:36



Matisse Hamel-Nelis  49:37

Things that people just don’t even consider. Yeah. Oh, it’s such a good such good point. Such good points. With accessibility being such a broad term. What are some, you know, specific tools or methods that you’d recommend to ensure that communications are genuinely accessible to everyone whether it be in the print format in digital format, but just ensuring that from a communications perspective, the accessibility is there?


Fiona Murphy  50:07

This is going to be a bit of a spicy take. But I don’t think that we should be relying on tools. Specifically, I think philosophical shifts are really the heavy lifting. And that is a key one is recognizing that you’re not going to get it perfect. So don’t even try to get it perfect, because that’s a place of assuming that accessibility is a checklist. And there’s a destination where you’re done and dusted like you’ve done it, you’re amazing. That’s actually a really dangerous place and perspective to have. Understanding that you’re not going to be able to anticipate the needs of your audience or clients. But you’re going to have to create processes and systems to continually ask them what their needs are, in a way that is strength base and generative, that you’re inviting that feedback.  And as part of that is building it in a way that is psychologically safe, timely, and continuous. So for instance, in healthcare settings, we’ve got a tool or a strategy that healthcare professionals in Australia use called Teach Back, where you’ve just had a consultation with someone, you’ve imparted all this information such as the diagnosis, treatment, what they need to do next. That’s amazing. But does your patient understand it? And do they know what to do next, so you’re seeing methodology in that teach back, you’re getting the patient to explain back to you, in their own words, their understanding of what it is. And I think that’s really important have in that philosophical paradigm, that you’re the student, you’re always a student, you’re trying to give the information, but you need to allow your audience and clients to teach it back to you to make sure you’re on the same page.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  52:04

That was a really, really good point. I love those points. And it’s sort of the, the, the antithesis of everything that we need to do as communicators and also realizing that it’s a cultural shift. That is the biggest thing across the board. It’s not…it’s not just what we can do. But from an organizational standpoint, and from a societal standpoint, what shifts do we need to make, and you know, meeting people where they’re at and helping them bring them forward, to ensure that they are being that accessible and inclusive way, whether it be in their communications, whether it be in their built environment, whether it be in their best practices, from employment, so on and so forth. It’s a cultural shift overall, not just, you know, hey, calm, it’s all on you here, he kind of changed the world.


Fiona Murphy  52:50

And I think as a professional, it’s can feel counterintuitive to no longer present yourself as the expert, but I think it takes the pressure off of you. So whenever I’m consulting, I make it very clear that I’m not the be all end all expert, because I think that’s just setting me up to fail. I prefer to teach people my framework and methodology. And that is creating pathways of continuous feedback that feels safe and timely for other people. And I’ll give another example that’s not in healthcare, because it might be more relatable in PR is a festival that I worked with, again, there. It’s really great in the arts community, because they’re typically very progressive in wanting to change. And this particular festival had created an event that they felt was ticking all those invisible boxes of inclusion, they had a panel of disabled artists, they had a ramp onto the stage, they had someone projected onto a big screen, so they could do it. Zoom into the thing into the event. So they didn’t have to be. They didn’t have to travel. They thought it was phenomenal. But I did a focus group was some of those participants of that event, and they felt siloed disrespected, they felt it was incredibly inaccessible. And they were actually really upset about the event. And that was a really important learning piece that I was able to provide to the organization is that you can’t do it without the audience without the participants without the disabled individuals. Like you might, you might be patting yourself on the back and saying, oh my goodness, we ticked all these boxes were so great, but have you actually checked in and gone? What are your thoughts on that? How can we do things differently in the future? Creating those positive opportunities for feedback is so important.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  54:58

In the disability community, there’s that saying nothing for us without us.


Fiona Murphy  55:02



Matisse Hamel-Nelis  55:03

And I think the going back to our earlier conversation about assumptions and making those assumptions and not meeting people where they’re at and what they need, assuming they need x, when really they need y in order to enjoy or engage with what you’re trying to put on or create, can save you time can save you money. Can you know from a business perspective, but it also helps you do it the right way?


Fiona Murphy  55:26

Absolutely. Absolutely.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  55:29

I’m going to shift a little bit to the question around the latest advancements and accessibility and strategies that are cutting edge. But what comes to mind most of all, is AI. When I give talks, and I’m teaching, the question comes about, well, can I just put it into something like Chap GPT? And have it do it for me? How do you see AI playing a role in digital accessibility? And is Do you feel that it’s at a point where people can just rely on it? Or is there still a ways to go before people can say, I’m just gonna have ai do it for me?


Fiona Murphy  56:05

I love this question so much. I’m of the opinion that AI is here to stay, I think has changed a lot of workflows. And I think we can’t pretend that people aren’t using it, like we just have to as communication professionals recognize that, okay, is here people are using it. And from an accessibility perspective, there are a couple of things people can do to take the to make it more accessible. And it’s really about knowing the prompts that you’re feeding into whatever AI tool that you’re using. So if you’re using Chat GPT to write your captions, give it some parameters that it’s going to get to a more accessible place quicker, and then you can do a light edit of it. So one thing I’ve noticed is, a lot of AI tools are obsessed with emojis as soon as you input put a user in a friendly tone is just like bamboozled with 50 emojis, it’s like, very inaccessible, and just overwhelming. So what you might do is do the default friendly tone, but put in the prompt, maximum three emojis. And then put in a bit more parameters of…


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  57:23



Fiona Murphy  57:23

…Maintain sentence length at 25 words per sentence. Use short words, or plain English to describe this concept, provide a bullet point list of examples. So you’re teaching AI, and also teaching yourself about accessibility. And creating a methodology and framework that’s repeatable by just putting in accessibility prompts to it. And I don’t think it’s going to generate something that won’t need editing. But it’d be a lot closer than just assuming that AI has that capability at the moment because it doesn’t.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  58:04

That is so true. That is I’m also a big fan of AI, but also understanding its limitations still, and you still need that human component to edit and check. Right, especially if you’re trying to rely on it for alt text.


Fiona Murphy  58:17



Matisse Hamel-Nelis  58:18

You still need to do a comparison and tweak it accordingly. And to make sure that it is proper alt text or an image description when you’re putting it forward. But yes, AI is definitely something that is here to stay. I’m a big fan of it. But let’s see how it improves over time from an accessibility standpoint as well.


Fiona Murphy  58:35

That’s such a great position to be in as a communications professional if you’re feeling quite apprehensive and nervous about the what the internet and communications looks like. Now that AI is here. If you upskill in accessibility, you will stand out you will have a very specific edge over all your peers. So I really highly encourage people to start upskilling in accessibility and digital accessibility in particular, because we’re just going to see more and more content that is AI first. AI just has created it start to finish and there is no editorial or access lens there.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  59:18

And I think it’s also it’s a I could help with my next question. In terms of for organizations that are just beginning to think about accessibility in their communications, what are the first safe steps that you recommend they take? And maybe it’s that implementation of AI and the proper prompts, but also how can they build accessibility in as KPIs into what they’re doing?


Fiona Murphy  59:40

Oh, I love that. I think firstly, is this is something that I do in my own practice, and I think is so helpful is just recognizing what information I’m getting. And I have diversified all my social media feeds and that’s partly because I’m brand as with people in the disability community, I’m part of the disability community. But it’s been really, really useful because whilst I attend a lot of courses and webinars by experts and accessibility, often courses and webinars, can’t keep up with communications and the Internet and changes that are happening, and having really diverse people to follow. You learn about barriers, so quickly, barriers that you would not have even realized that there because somebody has a very different lived experience to you. So I’m, I think this is a really crucial point is recognizing that you are surrounded by people with disability, but are you listening to them? So if you’re an organization, are you aware that more than likely you are employing people with disability? Do you have an access and inclusion policy? And then how are you enacting it? How are you leading the way in creating a safe place? If it’s a large organization, I often recommend that they put it as part of their meeting protocols where in Australia, we open meetings with an acknowledgement of indigenous people and the lands that we’re moving on. And I think after that should be of does anyone have any access issues? Or does any is ever unable to hear, see and receive the information today? If not, let us know. And creating those pathways and people being able to talk about access in the workplace.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  1:01:33

I love that. And in terms of measurement, how can an organization measure their success of an accessibility strategy? And what indicators do you think that they should look for to assess their impact?


Fiona Murphy  1:01:46

I think it needs to be individualized to each organization. And that really starts to tie in the mission piece of an organization with accessibility because I truly believe accessibility needs to be embedded into the mission of an organization. So it’s actually present in all workflows. So it is that paradigm shift. And that might look like for a rightist festival, or an art gallery in ticket sales, as well as requests for certain accommodations or accessibility. That is success. I believe, if more people are asking for information, or to to have accessible seating, I think that’s really successful. In healthcare, quite often, it’s a reaction environment. So they often use clinical incident reviews, when something hasn’t gone well as a way of checking how they’re tracking. I think that needs to be flipped on its head a little bit. And just to normalize those incidental conversations about access and inclusion.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  1:02:55

Love that love that, particularly the building, get into your mission, right, because once it’s in the mission, then you relate everything that you do towards that. And if it’s not in your mission, it can be easy for it to sort of go down a path where you forget about it and or it’s an afterthought versus it being woven into everything you do. So I love that you brought that up.


Fiona Murphy  1:03:17

And what I’ve noticed is that a lot of organizations are employing a person to do the accessibility. And I think that that is creating silos and is putting a lot of pressure on that one person and it hasn’t actually created a paradigm shift of nowhere and accessible organization. This is everyone’s business.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  1:03:40

And I think that’s something that nail on the head there it when it comes to accessibility, everybody’s responsible for it, not just your web people, not just your comms people, not just HR or, you know, your tech folk is everybody, it is everybody’s responsibility in some way, shape, or form to create that accessible environment.


Fiona Murphy  1:04:01

Yes, absolutely.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  1:04:02

So looking ahead for you, how do you see the future of accessible communications evolving? And what role do you hope for the accessible communications collective to play in that?


Fiona Murphy  1:04:12

I am so excited by this initiative, because it really has become such a feel good community space, and relatively quickly as well. My email newsletter that I’ve started, has just grown and grown and grown and people from right across Europe and Canada and Australia and New Zealand have hopped on board. And it’s been a really lovely place that people from arts organizations, government organizations, not for profits are coming together and sharing information. And that’s something that I want to keep growing and perpetuating is that it’s a collective. That’s how access should be is knowledge sharing and changing together and for one another. So I’ll keep, I do a weekly newsletter that goes out every Wednesday, Australia time, and also on social media on Instagram and LinkedIn, of just providing bite sized pieces of information of better really action orientated. Because I think we can be taking those small actions regularly to improve. But it’s really about understanding that it isn’t towards a point of perfection. It’s really getting comfortable in understanding that accessibility is a space of excitement and creativity. And that really lights me up particularly having worked in the arts for a long time and also in health care of recognizing that not a lot of people feel that access and inclusion can be a creative endeavour.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  1:06:01

I absolutely love that. Oh, this has been so amazing. Thank you so much, Fiona, for being on the show today. Before I let you go, I have to ask this is PR & Lattes. So what is your favourite caffeinated go-to beverage?


Fiona Murphy  1:06:14

I am so basic and so obsessed with iced lattes in summer like I’m that person like just don’t drink in it all summer and in winter, I can’t go past a cup of Chai. I love Chai teas so much.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  1:06:30

Amazing, amazing and iced latte sounds delicious. So I totally understand where you’re coming from with that word. Again. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today, Fiona. If people want to get in touch with you or follow you on social media, where can they find you?


Fiona Murphy  1:06:43

On Instagram, I’m at @accessible.communications. And on LinkedIn, I’m Fiona Murphy accessibility consultant.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  1:06:54

Amazing. Thank you again for being on today’s show. And I hope folks are following and signing up to your newsletter. That’s that is my favorite thing that pops into my inbox on Wednesdays. Everybody needs it. I really need to sign up. Let me say that.


Fiona Murphy  1:07:09

Thank you.


Matisse Hamel-Nelis  1:07:11

You’ve been listening to a special episode of The PR & Lattes podcast. Make sure you stay up to date on all things that are happening with PR & Lattes by visiting our website prandlattes.com. You can also follow us on social media, @PRAndLattes on Instagram, and PR & Lattes on LinkedIn. Thank you so much for listening to this special series in honour of Global Accessibility Awareness Day. We’ll have a new episode for you each day this week focused on a different aspect around digital accessibility and communications. So make sure you’re following PR & Lattes, wherever you listen to your podcasts. I’ve been your host Matisse Hamel-Nelis And I can’t wait to share our next episode with you with a brand new latte. Until then, bye for now.

Fill up your cup...

Get all the latest episodes, blog posts, and insights by signing up to the PR & Lattes newsletter

Listen to PR & Lattes episodes right here, or on your favourite streaming services: