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Digital Content Guidelines

Email message...

TO: Deans, Directors, and Chairs List
FROM: June Pierce Youatt, Provost
DATE: February 20, 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), specifically on the expectations for the use of what we then called eTexts here at Michigan State University. The purpose of this message is to update the expectations that were shared in the 2013 memo and provide further guidance on the use of digital content.

Technology has changed considerably in the past six years, and continues to change; this can create an environment where it is difficult to make digital content decisions for teaching. Digital content may serve as an alternative to a physical textbook. Accessible digital content can provide MSU students with course contents that is searchable, convenient, and cost-effective. Providing accessible digital content to our students helps us uphold our values of quality, inclusion, and connectivity. Please consider the below items when making decisions about the use of digital content in support of instruction.

  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 by the Digital Content and Accessibility Team within to provide a checklist of accessibility questions you should ask before adopting digital content. It provides examples of digital content that has been reviewed for accessibility.
  5. For accessibility support, contact your local Digital Accessibility Liaison and, for 3rd party material copyright support, contact the Library Office of Copyright.
  6. On the use of PDFs: If you can't make a PDF accessible, 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. Please 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. Access the IT Help Portal 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.
  • Security: Spartan 365 versions your documents, allowing you to mark your documents as final, and see when changes have been made without your permission.

Thank you for your attention to, and support of, using accessible digital content for instruction here at MSU. Please share this message broadly within your units as you see fit.

June Pierce Youatt
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs