Professor receives prestigious PR award

Durham College (DC) professor Matisse Hamel-Nelis has been recognized for her tireless commitment to accessibility in communications.

PR News has named her one of their People of the Year in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Champion category.  

A professor in the PR and Strategic Communications program, she emphasizes the importance of making communication materials accessible to all.  

“I love teaching and bringing the concept of accessibility into what I do. In every class I teach, my students have to make sure their content is accessible when they submit it to me, and I teach them how to do it,” she said.

There are a number of ways to make a document more accessible, like using a larger font size, prioritizing concise language that is easily digested by a screen reading program, and providing descriptive text with photos.

Students who enter the workforce with these skills will be in demand with employers.

“If you’re creating a document accessibly, it’s going to save you money down the line and it’s going to save you time when you’re doing it. Once it’s done, you’ll have a truly accessible piece of communication that you can use anywhere, and you’ll have a skillset that not many other students will have.”

As a 2015 graduate of the program in which she now teaches, Hamel-Nelis knows firsthand how fast things can change. Accessibility wasn’t a big part of the curriculum at the time, and she didn’t realize the scope of its importance until she got a job at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

“That’s where I found my love and passion for accessibility and communications and all things diversity, equity and inclusion,” she said, noting that although 15 per cent of the world’s population identifies with a disability, the real number is likely even higher.

In addition to her work at DC, she serves as vice president, Communications for AbleDocs, where she helps organizations ensure their messages are accessible to all.

That commitment is what caught the attention of PR News, and she’ll be traveling to New York next month to accept her award alongside the other honourees.

“Accessibility is really coming to the forefront of what we need to learn and do as communicators. To be recognized for that is a huge, huge honor. It means the world to me.”

With the PR and Strategic Communications program winding down, she is guiding the development of a new graduate certificate that will take its place.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity for our prospective students. We’ve put some really good stuff into it. They’re going to love it.”

With Hamel-Nelis leading the way, DC will continue to produce graduates who excel in the field of communications.

More information on the new Public Relations graduate certificate program is available here.