Caring, Connection, and Community: How to Design Accessible Learning Professional Development

Concurrent Session 4
Streamed Session Equity and Inclusion

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Sure you think about accessibility in classroom spaces, but how do you handle it in professional development situations? Join us for a lively conversation about how Michigan State University implements accessible practices in the Accessible Learning Conference and beyond. Expect to come away with action items for your own institution.

Sponsored By


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.
Dr. Jessica Knott is Assistant Vice President of Community Strategy, Experience, and Management. In this role, Jessica manages outreach activities and strategies, including environmental scanning, experience design, communications and planning, based on a deep understanding of our community and member interests. Prior to the OLC, Jessica led a team that supported faculty and academic staff in creating quality, caring and exemplary digital experiences at Michigan State University.

Extended Abstract

Many institutions have policies in place for how faculty can meet digital accessibility standards in the classroom. But what about other learning spaces like conferences or professional development workshops? What can be done to make those events more inclusive and more accessible to people with disabilities?

As the Accessible Learning Conference has evolved from a small, departmentally-focused even to a regional attraction, the conference designers have incorporated intentional design and assessment sprints each year, assessing how well needs were met for presenters, attendees, and exhibitors alike. As an example, after the 2017 conference, a need was identified to offer more options for neurodivergent presenters and attendees. So, starting in 2018, we implemented varying levels of presentation engagement: light, medium, and heavy. The idea being that presenters could indicate how interactive they wanted to be and also signal to audience members what to expect and think about what they were comfortable with. Additionally, presenters could choose to match those levels of engagement to a time length that worked for them: 15, 30, or 45 minutes. These small changes resulted in big gains for reported feelings of inclusion and comfort in a conference environment - a professional development scenario that many already find to be outside of their comfort zone.

This session will begin with a 30 minute description of how Michigan State University continues to create accessible learning experiences through the Accessible Learning Conference and other general workshops. We will then pose a series of questions for attendees to consider and reflect on how they can adopt these practices in their own learning spaces. These questions include:

  • Are there any strategies we’ve discussed that you could easily implement into current PD workshops you offer at your institution? How? What about ones you could not implement? What stands in the way? Let’s troubleshoot together

  • Let’s apply what we’ve talked about together. Consider your experience at the OLC Innovate conference this week - how could this event be made more accessible and inclusive?

This session will conclude with 10 minutes of Q&A and sharing, as well as group discussion with guidance on creating action items that you can apply at your home institution and initiatives.