Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash
November 22, 2023

How can you bring accessibility and inclusion into your communications?

Kerry Thompson

Farra Trompeter is joined by Kerry Thompson, senior advisor for inclusion and accessibility at the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund, to discuss the significance of incorporating accessibility and inclusion in your nonprofit communications and sheds light on how she is designing DRF’s internal processes, policies, and practices to serve as an example for other organizations.


Farra Trompeter: Welcome to the Smart Communications Podcast. This is Farra Trompeter, co-director and worker-owner at Big Duck. Today we’re going to ask the question, how can you bring accessibility and inclusion into your communications? And I am delighted to have Kerry Thompson join us as a guest. Kerry Thompson, she/her, is the senior advisor, inclusion and accessibility at the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. She was the first hire after the founding executive director back in 2008 and is the longest-term member of the team. She has served in various roles including communications, analytics, programs, operations, grant-making, technology, and inclusion and accessibility. She’s also the executive director for Silent Rhythms where she teaches Latin dance as a tool for promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities in society. Kerry holds a master’s in human development and psychology from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education with an academic focus on disability rights in the broader context of the International Human Rights Movement. She herself is a woman with DeafBlindness. I’m so excited to have her here today. So, Kerry, I’d love to start off by learning more about you. Can you explain what your organization does and a little bit about your current role as senior advisor of inclusion and accessibility at the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund? How are you crafting the organization’s internal processes, policies, and practices to be a model for others?

Kerry Thompson: Thank you so much, Farra. I’m so honored to be a part of this podcast. I’ve been with DRF and that’s just called Disability Rights Fund, just DRF to keep it sweet and short. I’ve been with DRF since the beginning in 2008. And what is DRF? DRF is a nonprofit organization based in Boston. We provide grants, technical assistance, and advocacy support for people with disabilities and organizations led by people with disabilities in the global south, to take action to take the lead on achieving and implementing their human rights. What we do is to make sure that people with disabilities are the ones front and center, that they have a seat at the table. These grants that are given are to help support advocacy efforts to get disability legislation in place, practice, and policies in place to make sure that people with disability are at the table on conversations about climate change, social justice, women’s rights, LGBTQI, it’s not just disability rights, it’s all rights that we are trying to work on at Disability Rights Fund.

Kerry Thompson: DRF has done, we have given more than 45 million US dollars in funding across 39 different countries in the global south. We started off as a very, very small organization, our first year with three people on the team. In the first 10 years, we had up to 10 people on the staff. We currently have 30 people on staff, but we’re spread around the world to 15 different countries. We understand the pain of nonprofit, of having a large mission while also having a very small budget and a very small team. But really great passion and dedication for the work we are doing, for this cause that we are all in together to help move forward human rights for all people with disability. What do I do? I just heard from my bio description, everything! So being with DRF since the very beginning, I’ve had a first-row seat to a pioneering organization that was working to implement two pioneering concepts.

Kerry Thompson: One, a participatory approach, making sure that we have people with disabilities on the staff, on the board, part of our grantee, part of our audience. We were also trying to use a vice-based approach. We’re not looking at trying to fund charity or using a charity model. We’re trying to use a social model perspective. So those were very pioneering concepts. Having the privilege of sitting at the front row, this new organization and evolving over the years has also meant that my role at DRF has evolved over the last 15 years. I started off as a program associate and then as you heard, I’m currently the senior advisor. In the first 15 years, a lot of what I was doing was focusing on the general aspect of being a nonprofit, a general operation setup, a general communications setup, generally working on having meetings, but all of that I had to do within a link to accessibility.

Kerry Thompson: I also had to think about this from a global perspective to make sure that it’s not just accessible in the U.S., it has to be accessible and inclusive for our audience that the majority of are based outside the U.S. So what I do now as a senior advisor is to eye important accessibility and inclusion at the center of everything our organization does, and I am making sure that our communication is inclusive and accessible. I am making sure that our staff knows how to communicate with each other around the world, considering our different regional needs, our different accessibility needs. I am also trying to make sure that we are going through what we call a transition year, and which we have a new executive director. We are also transitioning through the period of post-COVID era. A lot of that means new things, new practices. Accessibility is not static. Accessibility is very dynamic. It is always evolving, especially as technology and practice evolve.

Farra Trompeter:Thank you. I really appreciate that, and especially your last comment, accessibility is not static. And as we were preparing for this conversation, you shared that DeafBlindness is often overlooked as organizations work to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. I also read a post that you wrote in 2016, which we will be sure to link to in the show notes at, where you stated, quote-unquote, “Persons with disabilities as a group are one of the most marginalized populations in the world, and persons with DeafBlindness are among the most marginalized within this population.” Could you share a little bit more about this?

Kerry Thompson: I’m happy to do so. As you already heard, that persons with disabilities is one of the most marginalized populations in the world. The majority of people who have a disability fall within three categories, physical disability, visual disability, or deaf, hard of hearing. There are other categories of disability that have a smaller number and therefore they have a harder time advocating in numbers. Those populations, we at Disability Rights Fund, DRF, we define a definition of what we mean by “marginalized group”. We already knew that people with disabilities were marginalized. The other group that were especially marginalized even within the disability rights movement are women with disabilities, youth with disabilities, indigenous people with disabilities, little persons, persons with intellectual disabilities, persons with psychosocial disability, and my own disability of DeafBlindness.

Kerry Thompson: Why are they more marginalized than others? There are various reasons for that. For some, there’s a stigma, especially for persons with psychosocial disability. They’re marginalized by the belief and the stigma attached for people who have psychosocial disabilities, that they believe that they are possessed by the devil. Now, there is a cultural stigma that is very strongly attached to that disability. For person with intellectual disability, they struggle with legal capacity and being recognized as an individual who has the right to have an access to a bank account to make decisions for themselves. Their legal capacities are taken away from them, which contributes to their marginalization, especially if they’re not usually able to legally register at an organization. Persons with DeafBlindness have a multitude of communication barriers. Deaf organizations are not always inclusive of people with DeafBlindness, blind organizations are not inclusive of people with DeafBlindness. We tend to fall in between the gap for a good number of reasons. People don’t know how to communicate with us, and that’s not because people with DeafBlindness don’t know how to communicate.

Kerry Thompson: We probably have some of the most richest ways of communicating that really inspires you to think outside of the box. One example is like in sign language. I also use Tactile American Sign Language in which I signed into a person’s hand. I also use something called Protactile, and Protactile is not sign language, but it is drawing a map on my back, on my shoulder of what people are doing. Are they laughing? Are they smiling? Did someone into the room? Does someone have a question? Is someone on their phone? I have eyes, they’re just not through visual eyes, they are through people’s fingers. I also use braille, I use braille display. So there are so many ways that I communicate, but it is a challenge when others do not know how to communicate with me. COVID was an especially challenging period because just when I need to touch to communicate the world was saying “don’t touch” and you shut off my communication.

Farra Trompeter: Wow, that must have been very hard. Thank you for sharing all of that. I know I’m learning so much by talking with you. I want to think a little bit now about organizations. What do you think nonprofit organizations can do to be more inclusive and accessible, both internally and externally? I’d love to hear any ideas you have, particularly as it relates to communications and marketing and being more accessible and inclusive of people with disabilities.

Kerry Thompson: I like to think that you need to act, “A.C.T.” Both, you need to think about “attitude”. You need to change your attitude to stop thinking about people with disability as not part of your community, not part of your work, not part of being capable of being in the workforce. Not interested. You need to change those attitudes. That’s the first thing. Second, “commitment.” You need to make sure, yes, you want to make change. Once you learn how to make changes for people with disabilities to be more inclusive and accessible, you need to commit yourself to continuing this practice, not when you just first learned how to do it. Continuously. You need to make sure that your team is also committed to doing this because we know nonprofits have high turnover. Accessibility, knowledge should not be limited to just one or two people on your team, everyone needs to know. The third part of this is “time.” Many of us may have this commitment to wanting to be more accessible and inclusive. We don’t budget time for it. Make yourself a calendar invitation that says Friday at 2:00 PM Eastern Time, you are going to take the time to learn how to do something in an accessible way. You are going to learn how to make social media accessible, or you are going to figure out how to turn on that darn automatic captioning. Making the time for this is one of the best ways to go forward. Instead of making it in theory, you are trying to act, you are going to act. A.C.T. Attitude, commitment, and time.

Kerry Thompson: But I know that sounds a little vague. You would like a little bit more concrete example for communication folk. Now, here is some concrete action. One, use alternative text and image description for your website, for your email newsletters, for social media. All of the social media platforms have built-in features to allow alt text. The second way is to also turn on automatic caption for all of your meetings. At the very least, you should always have the practice of turning on automatic caption. It’s free as part of all your platforms. Your video should also be captioned that you’re posting on social media. The social media platform have the ability to add caption. The next part is you need to think about accessibility as more than a job between nine to five. You need to think about it from five to nine. It needs to happen outside of your normal work hours. Real change will only happen if it’s all the way. The communication team shouldn’t just be posting on social media in an accessible way for the organization. Their personal profile, their personal pages should also be trying to incorporate accessibility. That’s when you’re going to start to see real change.

Farra Trompeter: Thank you for those tips and at Big Duck, we have written some blog posts including one, “Can your brand be more accessible” by Sandy Zimmerman and Wing-Sze Ho. We also have a blog post by Josh Kelly, “Want to be accessible? Don’t leave virtual meetings behind.” We’ll link to those articles for folks looking for some more of these tips, again in the show notes at Now, I know some folks who work at nonprofits struggle to get buy-in for inclusion. Do you have any recommendations for what staff can do to convince leadership or other colleagues in general as well as just ways to push to incorporate accessibility in their diversity, equity, and inclusion plans, commitments, and other DEI activities?

Kerry Thompson: That’s always going to be a challenge of convincing the higher-ups to work for all people. The first thing, I think what you need to do is to convince leadership that people with disabilities are a big potential. A big potential, in many ways. They could potentially be on your staff currently or in the future. They could be potential donors. You don’t realize that, but people with disabilities are often potential donors, can fund and give donation. People with disabilities can potentially be on your board and potentially be part of your stakeholders and your audience. Just because you don’t know they’re there doesn’t mean they’re not there. Another way of trying to convince leadership is to understand that a lot of times leadership might feel that they don’t even have a problem, that their team sure is going to be accessible and inclusive. But if you do a survey among your staff and you start to realize that’s not really true. My staff does not feel confident to do this on an individual level. That’s important to really understand you correctly read your staff and your team’s ability to be accessible and inclusive.

Kerry Thompson: Another big concern for leadership is often about budget. Accessibility costs money. We don’t have any money in our budget for accessibility. All of those examples I just gave you after you “A.C.T.”, all of those are free. You don’t have to pay extra for social media adding alt text and captioning. You don’t have to pay extra to add automatic captioning to all of your meetings and virtual events. That’s already included in your package that yes, you probably already do pay money for, but the accessibility component is not extra. You need to remind leadership, it does not cost more to be accessible. And then sometimes when there is a cost for accessibility, like to have a sign language interpreter or a professional captioner, it’s really just a few hundred dollars. You probably spend more on coffee for that for your team and your organization. So make a little room in your budget for accessibility. Sometimes, we know if the year is coming to a close that we’re all starting to think about our annual budget for the next year. Start now, put in accessibility.

Farra Trompeter: Thank you, Kerry. So many great ideas and I know that to really make sure that folks are accountable to this work, it helps to have outcomes, and even lots of things they can do. So before we go, are there any other suggestions of actions people can take within their organization or even just in their communities to be more inclusive and accessible?

Kerry Thompson: Oh, I have so many ideas, but I’ll try to limit it to just a few. Again, knowing that y’all are communications folk, what can you do to be more accessible and inclusive in communications? You could personally learn how to use a screen reader, that feels like a possible task. All Apple devices have a screen reader built-in called voiceover, and you can generally listen to voiceover over your LinkedIn app, your Facebook app, Instagram app, turn on voiceover when you’re in your social media app and you’ll understand what social media sounds like through a screen reader. It would be pretty eye-opening, pun intended. Another one that I really like is called A speech-to-text app that I use all the time. I use it to help me when captions have not been provided for a meeting. I use it as a recording tool when I need to take meeting notes.

Kerry Thompson: Accessibility can benefit more than just people with disability. It has a universal design component to it. And then one last thing that I like to ask people to do in their community is sign up to be a volunteer on the Be My Eyes app. It’s a really great, amazing app that people sign up, you might never be called, but those who have been called that once or twice a year for a few minutes, a blind person is connected to them and they ask the question, what is the oven temperature on my oven? They may say, I’m having a hard time reading this document, and they show you the document on the phone. These are really amazing things that only take a few minutes of your time. You don’t have to train. All you have to do is look at the video shown to you, describe it, and then you have made a world of a difference to someone. Simple.

Farra Trompeter: That’s great. Incredible. We will again link to all of that at with the transcript of this episode. If you’re out there and you want to learn more about Kerry’s organizations, be sure to visit and You can also learn about her other organization Both of these are also on social media, so for Instagram, you can follow DRF @DisabilityRightsFund and Silent Rhythms @SilentRhythmsInclusion. You can also connect with Kerry Thompson on LinkedIn and we will link to her bio so that you can do so. Kerry, anything else you’d like to share with our listeners before we go?

Kerry Thompson: Thank you, Farra. I want to say thank you for giving me this opportunity to be with all of you today. I also want to thank all the nonprofits for the work they are doing. We all have the same mission to make the world a better place. The World Health Organization estimates that 15% of the world’s population have a disability. To make sure that we are making the world a better place, we need to include that 15% of the population. Thank you.

Farra Trompeter: Thank you, Kerry, and thank you everyone out there for doing your work. All right, have a great day.