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An Accessible Newsletter

Learn some best practices to improve the usability of your communication

3/25/2021 4:25:18 PM

Paper airplane flying next to screenshot of Office of Accessibility newsletter with photo of diverse group of people.

By: Office of Accessibility Staff

What makes a newsletter accessible?

  • Is it just the newsletter itself?
  • What about the process used to plan, write, edit, and publish?
  • How do people with a variety of talents and abilities actively contribute?

The Office of Accessibility is part of Minnesota IT Services (MNIT), the IT agency for the state of Minnesota. We publish a monthly newsletter about accessibility topics. Individuals with disabilities are active participants in the workflow. The state of Minnesota’s accessibility policies and standard ensure that digital tools enable all employees, including people with disabilities, to complete work tasks. This applies to:

  • The process of creating a newsletter, and
  • The final product.

The final products (newsletter, blog posts) are also available to the public. Our standard requires that information available to the public is accessible.

A behind-the-scenes look at the Office of Accessibility’s newsletter may help you learn some best practices to improve the usability of your communication. 


Accessibility is part of both the planning and operation of the newsletter. This reduces the amount of work and rework done at each stage. As tools change and new options become available, we revisit the process. 

Our newsletter team includes:

  • Authors from various state agencies
  • The Office of Accessibility staff
  • The Minnesota IT Services Communications team
  • A web content manager, or webmaster, if they aren’t part of the communications team

We have a dedicated Team in Microsoft Teams to plan the schedule and assign tasks for each edition. Key aspects of this planning process improve usability and accessibility. Blog posts are typically drafted by authors outside of this planning team, who don’t have access to the Microsoft Team for the newsletter. We communicate with them through email.

Unique channel per topic

The team uses one channel per edition. The general channel is for topics that apply to multiple editions. This makes the structure of content clear and easy to find. Channel names are consistent to make it simpler to visually scan for the edition you need. We use this format: month followed by year.

 Screenshot of Microsoft Teams, team channels: General, April 2021, February 2021, March 2021 (has focus), 15 hidden channels.

Subject lines for posts

Posts begin with a subject line announcing the topic. This structures the information to make it easier to find. Example: forgot when the publication date is going to be? Check the post thread “Proposed Publishing Schedule for March.”

 Screenshot of a Teams post from March 2 by Jennie Delisi. Subject line is bold and larger text: Proposed Publishing Schedule for March Newsletter.


For tasks that repeat, the process is the same. Example: each month we use the same post subject lines for each section of the process. This helps new staff onboard and helps us work more efficiently.

Reduction of emails

Most of our communications go through Teams. This allows for:

  • Less searching through emails.
  • Using thumbs up for agreement. Example: “Here’s the schedule for the March edition. Please use thumbs up to show you agree. Any proposed changes: please reply to this thread.”
  • The entire team has access to the information.
  • Those with memory issues can find everything in one place.
  • Using @ mention helps a person find content for them, triggers a notification using their preferred method.
  • When someone else needs to take over a task they have the complete history.

Hide older channels

Channels for older editions can be helpful when researching previously used content. These channels do not need to be visible all the time. Hiding older channels keeps the team organized, improves findability.

Files organized by topic/channel

The team stores all files related to the edition within the channel. This includes our graphics and articles.

Screenshot of February 2021 channel’s files. Includes Word documents “Accessibility Mailbag” and “High Contrast Article” and image files “EmailAltText” and “mail-blog.”  

Use meaningful text (like the title of the file) for links in posts about a file. This helps team members go directly to the file you are discussing.

Authors receive information before submitting

We now provide authors with instructions before they begin the writing process. The goal is to improve readability and cognitive accessibility. This will also ensure we have a consistent style and reduce the amount of editing the team needs to do. 

Some examples of information we share:

  • If you are using screen shots or other images, please send them as good quality files, separate from the body content.
    • This ensures that when readers magnify content to 200%, they are as clear as possible.
  • Present information in ways that improve cognitive accessibility of the content. This includes:
    • Use headings to help readers understand the content sections.
    • Use passive voice as few times as possible (preferably no use of passive voice).
    • Reduce the use of technical terms and jargon without explanation of terms.
    • Use the full text of a name or organization followed by its acronym for its first use.
  • Check your reading level. While we do not have an official reading level requirement, we recommend using the lowest reading level appropriate for your content. Tools to check reading level include those in Microsoft Word's readability and level statistics and Hemingway App.

Newsletter template

Accessibility was a priority for the development of the newsletter template. This makes adding content using accessibility best practices something which requires less thinking. 

Content blocks already have or prompt you to include some key components:

  • Option to open the bulletin in a web page. Some readers prefer the HTML version of the newsletter.
  • Headings. The heading colors, sizes, and font communicate structure, pass color contrast, and increase readability.
  • Contact information. Ensures readers can reach out with questions and concerns.

Other reminders about digital accessibility are built into the creation tool. We use GovDelivery to publish our newsletter. When we load images into the newsletter there is a reminder that the file name also serves as the alt text.

 Screenshot of Select an image dialog. Label for text field “Name (used for alt text)” is circled.

Webpage template

Blog posts may be hosted on a website, separate from the newsletter. Don't forget to consider the template for the webpage of each blog post. Follow the digital accessibility standard to ensure the blog post template meets all requirements.


The team completes edits for blog posts using files stored in the channel. This eliminates multiple versions that can occur when sharing documents by email.

Posts indicating “needs review”

As we edit, we post on the Teams channel as we complete tasks. We tag individuals in the posts to alert that the document is ready for the next step by adding @ and the person’s name.

We track changes in the Microsoft Word document stored in Teams. Reviewers can read the previous version and the current version. They can also choose a variety of markup options (All Markup, Simple Markup, No Markup, Original).

Alt text in blog drafts

The best alt text authors are those who:

  • Chose the graphic to reinforce the text information.
  • Clearly state the information shared in the graphic.
  • Create alt text that is concise but provides equivalent information.
  • Identify when readers needing text will require more details and can provide this in another way.

We recently started asking blog post authors to add the alt text into the blog draft. We find this to be more efficient than when editors create the alt text. Authors who need help writing alt text work with the editors.

During the editing phase we review the proposed alt text. Review may result in edits to the graphic to ensure the intended graphic conveys the idea efficiently.

Screenshot of text and image in article. Comment includes file location, alt text to be used for image in article.  


We verify in the editing process that written content considers digital accessibility. We review to ensure the author included the practices we sent them. We also review content to ensure:

  • Meaningful text for links works well in a list of links, and help the reader know where the link will take them. Consider how all your links will appear in an alphabetized list of links. 
  • Link text tells the reader if they are going to documents or multimedia content. 
  • Structures support the content. Lists help organize content and communicate structure. They also improve readability. We review headings to ensure they provide an outline of the content.


Staging site for blog

When the content is in staging, we do a final digital accessibility and content review before we publish the blog. Accessible templates reduce the amount of checking needed at this stage. They also reduce the time it takes to fix issues. The staging review includes:

  • Check for the presence of alt text and that the file name is not there accidentally.
  • Confirm heading structure. Ensure that headings look correct and appear in the HTML code with the appropriate hierarchy (example: H3s follow H2s, not H1s).
  • Meaningful text describes links. Link text is correct and opens the right website, file, or multi-media content.

Newsletter email test

Our newsletter development tool lets us send tests before publishing. This is so helpful! 

We run the same tests as for the staging site. We also check for:

  • Errors in the subject line. Spelling errors do not always get caught until we run this test.
  • Preheader text that makes sense when heard out of context. Preheaders are available in the GovDelivery bulletin tool that we use. You can customize text that is visually seen by those using tools like Outlook when looking at their list of emails. It is also heard by those using a screen reader when they open the email. If you do not use this section, sometimes this will become a URL for the newsletter or the first image if it is linked. 

Screenshot of Outlook email in list with TEST at end of subject line. Preheader is beneath the subject line, “Did you make a New Year’s Resolution to learn more about accessibility? Opening this email counts!”  

The team’s commitment

Our team is committed to full inclusion. As Minnesota works toward achieving the goal of 10% employment of people with disabilities in the executive branch as outlined in Executive Order 19-15 (PDF), we strive to ensure that all employees have access to our newsletter’s content. Accessibility is part of both the planning and operation of the newsletter. This reduces the amount of work and rework done at each stage. As tools change and new options become available, we revisit the process. 

Our inclusive process ensures that we are always looking for ways to improve our efficiencies, and our digital accessibility. We are not perfect, but trying new processes, communication strategies, and tools over time helps us all improve.  

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