Making Georgetown Communication More Accessible, Inclusive for All

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As Georgetown shifted to an online learning environment last spring, there was an increase in virtual communication through websites, email and social media. Libbie Rifkin, teaching professor in the Department of English and associate director of the Disability Studies Program, collaborated with a group of administrators across campus to promote accessible ways to communicate at all university levels through digital means. 

“Accessibility.georgetown.edu is a remarkable resource created by University Information Services (UIS) that forms the basis for our efforts to create lasting change in our accessibility practices,” says Rifkin. “It includes not just our policy on electronic accessibility, but tons of guidelines, fact sheets and webinars that provide information about how to build an accessible website, course materials and social media presence, among other things.”

She currently serves as the first Special Advisor for Disability to the Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Rosemary Kilkenny, a role that expands Georgetown’s commitment to valuing disability as an identity and dimension of diversity.

Accessibility for All

This work is a continuation of Georgetown’s past efforts to improve electronic and information technology accessibility. Rifkin and her collaborators wanted to find a way to disseminate best accessibility practices to those responsible for creating communications materials such as electronic documents or social media graphics, many of whom are student workers. 

Kevin Andrews, the electronic information technology accessibility coordinator for UIS, says that “assessing and ensuring the accessibility of public and student-facing websites, systems, and applications is a priority.” 

“The policy seeks to promote and achieve digital equity through the university’s websites, documents, multimedia, software/hardware and procurement processes,” Andrews explains. “We are extremely grateful for the work Professor Rifkin has done to advance digital inclusion through her engagement with various stakeholders around the university, and we look forward to continued collaboration.”

Rifkin says that this is important, as good communication, at its core, is about reaching the widest audience.  

“It is crucial that we include people who use screen readers, or need captions for videos, or those who may benefit from plain language, like people with intellectual disabilities, ” says Rifkin. “It’s about putting our audience’s diverse ways of receiving and processing information at the center of our communication process and doing this not just because we want to comply with the law, but because we want to make everyone feel welcome, like they belong.“

When learning these best practices, the professor says that she went through a learning curve herself, but she was grateful to university colleagues who held her accountable. 

“In the beginning, with the Disability Studies Program, I repeatedly approved flyers and event emails that were not accessible to people with visual impairments,” says Rifkin. “But colleagues like Lynn Delles, director of communications for Georgetown College, taught me the basics of accessible design and we have worked together with other partners to make this platform available to everyone. I believe we need to take a proactive approach to promoting accessible communications as part of a truly inclusive culture.”

More information about communications accessibility at Georgetown can be found here. Work will be done over the summer with departments and units to help educate communicators on best practices.