Accessible Art Language: How to talk about your work in more inclusive ways

We attended a workshop led by Sara Dziadik this week in Croydon.

Sara is a co-ordinator and curator at Shape Arts. Shape Arts is a disability-led arts organisation which runs the ‘Unlimited’ commissioning programme for disabled artists.

The workshop was all about ‘Accessible Art Language’ and ways that designers can talk about their work in more inclusive ways.

Sara’s workshop was really eye opening, easy to follow and informative. We were inspired to share our main take aways with you, too.

Ableist Language

Ableist language is any word or phrase which devalues disabled people. Examples include:

  • Using the term ‘spaz’ or ‘retard’ when talking about a disabled person.

  • Using disability terms as adjectives, for example saying ‘crippling debt’ or ‘I look so anorexic’.

The most important thing to remember is that mental disorders, disabilities and illnesses are NOT adjectives.

People first language

There was a tendency to talk about disabled people in terms of their condition rather than as people. Terms like ‘the elderly’ ‘the disabled’ and ‘downs’. Instead, Sara recommends putting the person first: ‘older person’, ‘she’s disabled’ and ‘he has downs syndrome’.

Do not use abbreviations

The art world is full of abbreviations, but this can discriminate against people with learning disabilities. Write out the phrase in full, for example saying ‘The National Health Service’ instead of ‘The NHS’. Taking the time to write these phrases out in full means that more people can access your writing.

Alt Text

Alt Text describes images for visually impaired people. It’s very useful to incorporate Alt Text onto your website and social media profiles so that you have control over how to describe the image.

Good Alt Text is in clear sentances, under 125 characters and explains the image in precise detail.

If you’re using squarespace, you can follow a video about how to add Alt Text to your site.

Easy Read

Easy read is a form of writing developed for people with learning disabilities. It uses a miniumum of size 16 font, has easy to read sentances and lots of pictures so that the information is easy to process. It is also used by people who don’t like to do a lot of heavy reading.

You can find out more about Easy Read and other text guidelines.

Document Types

When sharing information about your work, it is important to remember the file set up and how the user will be able to access the information.

Things to avoid:

  • Text in JPEG or PDF formats, as these can’t be picked up by automatic reading software

  • Complicated fonts

  • Customising the fonts on your twitter or instagram pages. These are just seen as numbered code and can’t be read by software

  • Jargon

Make sure you have a plain word text of all documents so that they can be read by a variety of software.

Important things to note

Sara identifies as disabled and so was the perfect person to lead the workshop. It is important to remember that her opinions and the opinions of those at Shape Arts represent a proportion of people with disabilities. This is a good guide, but is not true for all people.

Thank you to the team at Turf Projects in Croydon for hosting this event.

Sophia Luu