A co-designed digital toolkit to amplify the voices of Deaf and Disabled people
I was massively impressed with the accessibility tools. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done better.
Feedback from one DDPO of improvements made after our user-testing sprint
The Disabled community has long led the call for ‘nothing about us, without us’, and yet projects, campaigns, and services are still being designed without the leadership and insight of Disabled people. Deaf and Disabled People-led Organisations (DDPOs), particularly small ones, can struggle to access appropriate technology for community engagement, and gathering key insight to improve services and accountability. Many teams find they are stuck between old, unfit technology, and new tools that require technical know-how to deploy and adapt. Few are designed with universal access in mind.
The pandemic and the lockdowns plunged many teams into home working without preparation and led to the suspension or reduction of services. Those pressures have taken their toll on the capacity and mental health of both Disabled staff and service users and left the wider disability network with a communications and engagement gap.
In partnership with Inclusion London, CAST, and Catalyst, we made it a priority to bridge this gap and build the capacity of DDPOs to listen and amplify voices within their own networks. By working with user groups and responding to their needs and ideas, we co-created Talk-Kit, the first accessible online portal for community storytelling, collaborative research and citizen journalism – hosting learning and insight gathering tools for those leading Deaf and Disabled communities.
The design of Talk-Kit.org was driven by 12 British DDPOs who signed up to be part of the pilot. Rather than start with a theoretical barriers analysis, we worked alongside the DDPOs to hold a day of conversation with their communities. As well as producing some important insight into the impact of the pandemic, it gave our team a chance to listen to and observe occurring challenges and reflected on these with the DDPOs. They brought up issues related to confidence, connectivity, capacity and craft that were preventing their teams and their communities from sharing their lived experiences and stories.
So, what would a truly accessible suite of online tools for boosting community voice look like? DDPOs told us they wanted guides and training to incorporate both tools and techniques for meaningfully using community stories and experiences in their reporting and research, advocacy and communications, service design and delivery.
This mandate drove forward a series of swift iterative development sprints, interspersed with diverse user testing, which helped us suss out the limits of and barriers to market communication technologies and gaps in user-friendly methodologies for amplifying community voices. With Ability Net accessibility consultants, a rapid review was completed to establish key accessibility features, making the Talk Kit more usable for users of assistive technologies. Alongside an accessibility toolbar to make adjustments, all the videos were processed to include Closed Captions, British Sign Language, and full written transcriptions.
Out of this came Talk Kit – an accessible digital communications toolkit to help DDPOs harness the voices and experience of their communities so they can contribute to public dialogue and social change. The Talk kit hosts short-form learning on how to set up and manage community voice networks (from community-led research groups, to setting up mobile phone reporting hotlines and citizen journalism networks), with video training modules, step-by-step guides and inspirational case studies, all shared in a range of accessible formats. We have also developed an accessible training package on citizen journalism and research that DDPOs can use to skill up their own communities and ensure they can share issues and stories when it matters most to them.
The voices of Disabled people remain routinely absent in societal and service decision-making processes and never has that been more of an issue than during this pandemic. Talk Kit aims to fill a capacity gap by ensuring that communication tools are accessible to Deaf and Disabled person-led organisations so they can have acted as both gateways and multipliers – gathering a huge diversity of national insight from Deaf and Disabled people and cascade much-needed communication skills into those networks.
This digital toolkit is one of, if not the only, instances of community journalism and civic voice leadership training developed with accessibility as the priority driver.
Current users have said that Talk-Kit.org offers them accessible, practical and low-cost tools to stimulate discussion with their communities, increasing community engagement, information-sharing and data collection. Since it was published in April 2021, we’ve been trialling it with DDPOs who have been using the guidance to run their own community voice campaigns and they have gone on to produce some fantastic community-led stories around the pandemic. These successes are the best reassurance that the Talk Kit is usable, relevant and can build both communications capacity and leadership among groups who may otherwise remain unheard.
(Animation co-created and commissioned by Bromley XbyX and Disabled Bromley residents following their engagement with Talk Kit and day of conversation)
With Inclusion London, we were recently awarded momentum funding to progress the new iteration of the Talk Kit and get the word out to a wider range of UK DDPOs. Work has started on adding a final tool to complete the suite of engagement resources – an exciting new accessible interactive online training platform that will combine and host the BSL-interpreted videos and engagement videos in a playful, interactive form.
We will also be developing and user-testing an accessible website template for DDPOs to host community stories and promote their community voices. This will all run alongside the co-development of up to 5 new downloadable guides/training videos that offer step-by-step instructions on how to use and adapt key engagement tools and methods.
We were delighted to see Talk Kit shortlisted for a Community Impact award in the Ability Net’s Tech4Good Awards this year.
Visit Talk Kit
Inclusion London, Catalyst and CAST