MSU Set to Host National Accessibility Conference

Michigan State University welcomes back the Accessible Learning Conference (ALC) December 1 and 2 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center. Previously known as the Making Learning Accessible Conference, this is the third year for the ALC, which is devoted to issues concerning accessibility, or the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent access to information and education.

“Accessibility is one way we can ensure that all students are able to achieve success while they’re here at MSU,” said Kate Sonka, Director of the ALC Planning Committee and Assistant Director of Academic Technology at the College of Arts & Letters.

This year’s conference will include an extra day with even more attendees, students, and industry professionals. Sonka says she hopes the conference will help people think in a way that maybe they haven’t before.

“There are aspects of accessibility that help everybody, not just people we might traditionally think need accommodations because of a disability, that is why this conference is so important,” Sonka said. “Life can be challenging for everybody in different ways at different moments in time. Accessibility is something we can do to help people meet those challenges. Why would we not want to do that?”

Life can be challenging for everybody in different ways at different moments in time. Accessibility is something we can do to help people meet those challenges. Why would we not want to do that?

Kate Sonka

Each year, the conference places a strong emphasis on student involvement as a way to provide professional experience and exposure in their own research and work.

“While we’re not the first university to host an accessibility conference, we put a strong focus on the student experience and learning aspect,” Sonka said. “What’s unique about this conference is that we absolutely make a space for students to be at the table, to be presenting, and to be a part of it. Experiential learning is a really important aspect of education. Providing students the opportunity to go out and interact with their world, or their future world, is important.”

Not only does the conference help prepare students for their careers, it also gives them an opportunity to network and interact with professionals in their field.

MSU College of Arts & Letters Academic Technology interns will play a large part in the conference, among other groups of students from the Digital Content & Accessibility Team and MSU Libraries.

This year, attendees will have the option to have one-on-one consultations with students and accessibility professions on the accessibility status of their websites and the ability to set a plan to make it more accessible.

The second day will allow for more presentations, hands-on demonstrations, sessions, and a variety of interactive networking opportunities to explore and celebrate accessible content, web design, and educational experiences.

“This conference brings together people from across MSU, but also from outside MSU,” Sonka said. “So far, we have attendees from Wayne State University, Grand Valley State University, Macomb Community College, University of Michigan, University of Colorado, and a variety of companies, government offices, and nonprofits.”

The keynote speaker, Emily Shea Tanis, comes from the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities at the University of Colorado. Tanis’ research focuses on cognitive accessibility of products and services to improve quality of life for people with cognitive disabilities and their families. She also serves as the research coordinator for the State of the States in Developmental Disabilities Project of National Significance funded by the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, which investigates the determinants of public spending for Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services in the United States.

The plenary speaker, David Chesney, is a professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of Michigan where he teaches project-based courses at the freshman-level (Gaming for the Greater Good) and also senior-level (Accessible Software Systems Design). His classes typically focus on a ‘client’ with a specific cognitive or physical disability. Chesney will be joined by a few of his students to discuss the work they’ve done that focuses on accessibility.

A series of eight afternoon breakout sessions on December 1 are being offered in collaboration with the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives (I3) and the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE). These sessions will be offered by a variety of faculty and staff affiliated with I3 and OIE to provide training and information on creating accessible learning environments.

For more information on the conference including a schedule, see the Accessible Learning Conference website.