CSSP works to transform systems and strengthen communities by developing and implementing policies and practices that promote justice, advance equity, and eliminate structural bias. We work in a number of different spaces and, consequently, use a number of different methods to communicate with our various audiences. But regardless of what we’re saying or how we’re saying it, we also work to center equity in our communications tools. One recent example is a video series developed by CSSP’s DULCE team.
DULCE is an innovative approach based in the pediatric care setting that proactively addresses social determinants of health, promotes the healthy development of infants, and provides support to their parents, all during the precious and critical first six months of life. It is a complex, multifaceted program strategy that can be difficult to narrow down to a short “elevator pitch”. As such, the DULCE team determined that developing a series of short, animated videos would both engage a broader audience AND allow our existing audience to access useful technical assistance tools. But beyond the “why” of the video series, the DULCE team considered the “how” of the video—in other words, how to create accessible, equity focused videos that center CSSP’s anti-racist, intersectional framework in this work.
DULCE is one strategy in support of CSSP’s mission to achieve a racially, economically, and socially just society in which all children and families thrive. Our mission is grounded in our anti-racist intersectional frame—an action-oriented critique of society’s structures and its treatment of people and communities that provides a guidance on working towards a more just and equitable society. The DULCE team translated this thinking into a series of animated videos which: 1) represent a diverse range of identities; 2) ensure greater overall accessibility for viewers; and 3) promote a narrative that defines larger social problems in terms of systemic oppression rather than individual fault.
When creating visual content—e.g., videos, infographics, etc.—CSSP seeks to incorporate a diverse range of identities that are accessible to everyone, regardless of ability. As such, the characters featured in each video communicate a diverse representation of races, ethnicities, gender identities, abilities, and body shapes. A part of this challenge was representing a wide range of skin colors to challenge colorism and the preference for light skin tones that often perpetuate anti-Black racism. This is clearly visible in the Family Specialist illustration which was intended to reflect a similar racial identity to families participating in DULCE. The medical provider in the animations was inspired by many of our real-life DULCE medical providers. For example, given that DULCE medical providers work in family-friendly pediatric settings, it was important the illustration had them in casual wear, avoiding a more traditional white coat. Additionally, it was important to not only represent a traditional “mother, father, child” family construct but to also consider the wide variety of identities that make up a family. To find this balance, we considered many different types of caregivers and family structures that are often excluded from popular narratives, including gender-expansive characters; visibly disabled characters; and multi-generational families.
Developing these animations with accessibility in mind also helped to ensure their availability to the broadest audience possible. The videos were uploaded with closed captions to ensure readers with hearing impairments could watch and enjoy then. We were also able to include a link on each video that includes the narrative text and alternative (alt) text describing the visuals of the videos. Alt text assists viewers with visual impairments, allowing them to have images “read” to them via their computer. Because a significant population of DULCE families speak Spanish, the main DULCE animation was translated into Spanish; we intentionally selected a native Spanish speaker to narrate all the videos. To acknowledge that DULCE is an actual word in Spanish and may be pronounced differently by native Spanish speakers, the narrator reflected this pronunciation in her speech.
A Focus on Systems Rather than Individuals
CSSP’s anti-racist intersectional frame emphasizes agency and the strengths of individuals and groups marginalized by systems, and as such, the DULCE team ensured that all video scripts reflected this value. To accomplish this, the team had several conversations with the video vendor, educating them about CSSP’s values, vision, and the frame to ensure that their thinking worked in tandem with ours. In the videos, the DULCE team ensured that person-first language was used; similarly, when relevant, the framing for each video spotlighted systemic structure rather than suggesting that individuals might experience challenges because of their own actions/lack of actions. In other words, rather than blaming individuals or using language that implies families participating in DULCE are victims, the language in each video holds systems accountable for systemic failures.
To ensure that all products created at/by CSSP are in alignment with our anti-racist intersectional frame and our organizational commitment to anti-racism, the DULCE team took several steps before and during the creation of all content, including:
- Examining all images and artwork included in the product for diversity and inclusion. Who is or is not represented? What message do images portray? Were individuals with different perspectives/experiences consulted during the design process?
- Evaluating language and descriptions for damage imagery that may further marginalize people. Do the characters, images, voices, or scenarios further perpetuate harmful stereotypes? Do background images/scenery, music, or other “set dressing” convey negative stereotypes or caricatures of people or racial groups?
- Considering when and if person-first language is being used. Does the script refer to low-income people or people experiencing low incomes? Does the voiceover reference disabled people or a person/people with a disability?
- Examining the accessibility of all content do all participants can benefit. For example, are font sizes large enough? Are there captions/subtitles on the videos? Are they available in multiple languages?
Finally, important to recognize that the creation of equitable content does not start at storyboarding and script writing but with providing organization-wide support, allocating resources to equity-oriented communications work, and bringing together a team that is wholly committed to equity. This provides the internal support, accountability, and knowledge to create equity-driven content and allows team members to come together to brainstorm ideas and grapple with challenges that will inevitably arise. Financial constraints or lack of capacity remain barriers for many organizations, but it is important to provide and seek support for this work and deliberately identify vendors who share anti-racist missions.
You can view the DULCE animation video here and access the transcript and alternative text here. As CSSP continues to expand our offerings—and produces additional videos—we will strive to hold the lessons learned in this process as an example and work to create content that centers equity. We hope that you view this video and provide us with any feedback on what you see.
The authors would like to thank Azieb Ermias, Senior Program Analyst at CSSP, and acknowledge her significant role in leading the development of these animations and providing insightful comments aligned with CSSP’s commitment to equity throughout every step of the process.