A11y Allies: Building a Culture of Integrated Accessibility On Your Campus

Concurrent Session 6

Brief Abstract

This scaffolded brainstorm invites participants to examine the accessibility culture on their own campus to identify individuals that may be crucial in creating a community that can support accessibility endeavors. This will be followed by activities designed to help participants develop strategies for creating an accessibility community at their own institution.


Kate Sonka is the Executive Director of Teach Access and the Assistant Director of Inclusion & Academic Technology at the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University. She holds a Master’s degree in Bilingual/Bicultural Education and more than 10 years of experience in higher ed. She improves teaching and learning with technology through course design and support, experiential learning, and training and mentorship for faculty members and students. In exploring how accessibility exists in professional and academic spaces, she helped establish the Teach Access Study Away Silicon Valley program, implement the Teach Access Faculty Curriculum Development Grant program, and founded the Accessible Learning Conference at Michigan State University.
Stephen Thomas is a faculty member and the Associate Director for the Center for Integrative Studies in General Science at Michigan State University. He also serves as the Digital Curriculum Coordinator for the College of Natural Science at MSU. For his bachelor’s degree from Denison University, Stephen majored in Biology and minored in Art. This interest in the science/art intersection continued into graduate school as he freelanced as a biological illustrator while earning his masters and Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in Organismal and Evolutionary Biology and Entomology. Since coming to MSU his research focus has shifted from virulence of fungal pathogens of gypsy moths to visual communication of science in formal and informal settings. Stephen’s interests have broadened to include not just art and science, but also technology and teaching. He has worked on projects such as the use of comics to reduce subject anxiety in non-major science courses, the development of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to teach general science, and augmented reality and kiosk games to engage visitors in science museums. One of his more recent projects, Instruct2020, is looking at how to foster community generated visual curriculum for science instruction. His use of technology in teaching has won him multiple awards including three AT&T/MSU Awards for innovative use of technology in online classes, a James D. Hoeschele Endowed Teaching Award for excellence in teaching science to non-science majors, and funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Jeremy is Director of Learning Technologies at Broad College of Business. In that capacity he oversees accessibility, instructional design, and pedagogy initiatives for online, blended and face-to-face courses. Prior to joining the Broad College, he served at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as the Assistant Director of Academic Technologies. Prior to that he worked for 11 years as a high school English and journalism teacher in Mid-Michigan. He has also served as chair of the Big Ten Academic Alliance Teaching and Learning Liaisons committee, and as a board member and as president of the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association. He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a Master's in Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University, a Master's in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University, and a BA in English education from Michigan State University.

Extended Abstract

As the pioneer land-grant university, Michigan State University (MSU) has historically been driven by the principles of quality, inclusiveness, and connectivity (https://msu.edu/morrill-celebration/history.html). Having a robust community allows for sustainable growth and resilience for meeting the various challenges that come with a diverse set of learners. To that end, digital accessibility initiatives at MSU have always centered on faculty, staff, and students coming together to address accessibility needs through a variety of programs and communities. These have taken the forms of dedicated accessibility staff, Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs), a Central IT-supported Web Accessibility Policy Liaisons group, student interns helping with review and remediation work, casual campus-wide brown bag series, College 5-year Accessibility plans, and the Accessible Learning Conference.

Join us in a scaffolded brainstorm conversation about what this process has looked like at MSU over the years - what has worked, what has not, and what could be. Following a short introduction, we will work through two activities to brainstorm ways of building an accessibility community: 1) how to identify the campus entities needed to be effective and, 2) how to engage those entities to foster the desired environment. Questions that will help to guide this discussion include:

  • Does your campus environment support a top-down, bottom-up, or combination approach to engaging people in accessibility work?

  • What has worked well and where have you experienced roadblocks in creating a community around accessibility?

  • How can you invite students into the conversation on your campus?

  • What are realistic steps you can take now, by the end of the school year, and into the future, to advance accessibility on your campus?

Session attendees can expect to come away with:

  • Broader view of how to foster a sense of community around accessibility  

  • Solid next steps for how they might further accessibility initiatives on their own campuses

  • An expanded network of colleagues interested in collaborating on accessibility