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June 29, 2023

Accessibility Mindset

by Liz Fuller, communications manager, Office of the Provost

As a communicator it’s not uncommon for each workday to look a little different. Some days you find yourself writing an article; some days you are making an infographic or a logo; other days you may be editing webpages or building entire new websites. The scope of the work can range from impacting a small, very specific audience, to touching tens of thousands of unnamed strangers. Regardless of the work you are completing, as a communicator, you do your best to fulfil the brief, finish the task and send it off into the world. For me, an essential part of this process is also ensuring that the content I create is accessible.

When content is “accessible,” it means that all users can access, interact with and share that content – be it a document, video, presentation or lecture. Making it accessible may mean including alternative text on an image, building a document with heading styles applied, checking the reading order on a PowerPoint slide, or a number of other remediation tasks. Ensuring accessibility will depend on the type of content and the program being used to create it, and the importance of this work lies in the simple fact that we don’t always know exactly who will be interacting with our work once we send it off. And it should not fall to the individual consuming our content to disclose if they cannot access what we’ve made.

In my own work I have cultivated what I will call an “accessibility mindset,” meaning that no matter what I am creating, I keep in mind that one of my ultimate goals is for it to be accessible. Whenever possible, I will build accessibility in as I go rather than adding it all at the end. This necessitates a slight shift in process but mostly just a shift in thinking, and over time it has become second nature. This is a mindset I work to cultivate in others. Developing accessible content may seem daunting at first, but having an accessibility mindset is a valuable first step because it means that you open to learning more about it.

Having an accessibility mindset results in a more equitable experience for all Spartans, be they students and their families or faculty and staff. When you think accessibility-forward, it becomes less about what you are doing, and more about the culture of accessibility you are creating for all Spartans. Building accessibility into your work can become a standard practice, a baseline that allows everyone the same access to information without significant barriers.

For anyone wanting to learn more about this, our campus partners have provided fantastic resources to assist with creating accessible content for many commonly used programs. With so many offices and staff dedicated to accessibility at MSU, there are many ways to find assistance addressing these needs. My parting thought is to ask you to take a moment and consider all the ways your work engages with campus community members – have you ensured they can all have an equitable experience while they are engaging with you?