Learn some best practices to improve the usability of your communication
3/25/2021 4:25:18 PM
By: Office of Accessibility Staff
What makes a newsletter accessible?
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 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:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Most of our communications go through Teams. This allows for:
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.
The team stores all files related to the edition within the channel. This includes our graphics and articles.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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).
The best alt text authors are those who:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
Would you like to learn more about the accessibility work being done by Minnesota IT Services and the State of Minnesota? Once a month we will bring you more tips, articles, and ways to learn more about digital accessibility.