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Digital Content Guidelines Update 2019

TO: Deans, Directors, and Chairs
FROM: June Pierce Youatt, Provost
DATE: January 16, 2019
SUBJECT: Reminder and updates: Accessibility Guidance on the use of digital content for instruction.

In March 2013, I provided Updated Guidance on Accessibility Consideration (PDF) ( pdfs/etextspdf/eTextsDDCmemo3_12_13.pdf), specifically on the expectations for the use of what we then called eTexts here at Michigan State University.

Digital content may serve as an alternative to a physical textbook. Accessible digital content can provide access to MSU students that is searchable, convenient, and cost-effective.

Providing accessible digital content to our students helps us uphold our values of quality, inclusion, and connectivity. Technology has changed considerably in the past five years, continues to change, and this can create an environment where it is difficult to make digital content decisions for your teaching.

The purpose of this note is to further clarify the expectations that were stated in the 2013 memo and provide further guidance on the use of digital content:

  1. Student selection of digital content as their personal option of a textbook is acceptable.
  2. Faculty selection of digital content as a required resource is acceptable if the resource is accessible. Faculty selection of digital content as a required resource is acceptable as long as the accessible version does not cost more than the printed textbook. This ensures that accessible content does not constitute a barrier to learning for students who need accommodation.
  3. Availability of digital content in D2L or otherwise does not constitute an endorsement for the accessibility of a publisher's materials. It is important that you understand the accessibility of the digital content that you provide.
  4. A new resource called, Faculty Accessibility Questions about Digital Content ( has been created to provide you a checklist of accessibility questions that you should ask before adopting digital content. It provides examples of digital content that have been reviewed for accessibility.
  5. For support, contact your local Web Accessibility Policy Liaison ( /liaisons.html) or, for 3rd party materials, librarian (
  6. On PDF's: If you can't make a PDF accessible, please don't make one.

The MSU Accessibility Review Committee (ARC) would like to encourage instructors to post digital content, including syllabi, in native creation formats like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint when possible because these native files are more accessible. Consider these heuristics when making digital content decisions for your courses:

  • Cost: Microsoft Office Suite is free to all MSU faculty, staff, and students through Spartan 365 (
  • Value: Spartan 365 products are centrally supported for you and your students 24/7 by the MSU IT Help desk. Email or call (517) 432.6200.
  • Accessibility: Converting Word to PDF can cause several accessibility issues for students, even if your original document is accessible. Native documents from Microsoft are preferred for accessibility and are easier to make changes to later.
    • MathType ( and MathPlayer ( can be used to make accessible math equations in Microsoft Word.
  • Security: Spartan 365 versions your documents, allowing you to mark your documents as final, and see when changes have been made without your permission.

Microsoft Word (.docx) version