February 28, 2014
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Sarah Barnhardt & Chester Gates, Newsletter Editors, Maryland TESOL

Our Audience

Sarah Barnhardt

Chester Gates

As newsletter editors, it is our responsibility to ensure that our newsletters are accessible to all people. By its very nature, professionals in the field of TESOL are diverse. Therefore, as we create and publish online newsletters, we must remain aware that our audience comprises people of different ages, abilities, and English proficiency levels.

Universal Design

Universal design is an approach to create materials and instruction that are accessible to all people (Barnhardt & Turner, 2014; Eberle & Childress, 2007). Its principles translate well to the publication of an online newsletter. The three components of universal design conducive to a newsletter are as follows:

  • a variety of ways to represent information
  • different ways to express information
  • the use of “global English” or simple language

Representing information using different modalities such as pictorial, graphic, text, and even audio can make the newsletter more accessible for people with visual differences and even mental processing differences. Another advantage is that it creates a more appealing newsletter for everyone. Graphs may be easier to understand than a long textual passage.

Because there is no one English in the world, the use of simple language bridges the gap between world Englishes. In other words, avoid colloquialisms and idiomatic terms that may not be universally understandable. Remember, an online newsletter makes the product accessible to people around the world. Print versions may be limited to a specific geographic area, but the Internet has made this option obsolete.

In addition to thinking about how to make content accessible, we also have to address the functionalities of an online newsletter.


The newsletter should be easy to navigate, making it easy to find articles, so that the newsletter is user-friendly. For example, hypertext links make navigation simple and easy.


Be sure that information is sequenced logically and intuitively. One way to do this is to chunk information in small parts for easier reading.

Graphic Design

Although most of us are not professional graphic designers, we can follow a few guidelines to make a pleasing and accessible design.

  • Background color is light and foreground and text is dark to provide high contrast for easier reading.
  • Use a simple, consistent layout that is uncluttered. Blank space is okay because it allows readers to easily locate information.
  • Use easily readable fonts such as those that are sans serif. Avoid unusual fonts. Use an appropriate size font.
  • Use multiple ways to represent information. For example, use visual and written formats. Have formats accessible for people with different physical abilities.
  • Avoid flickering and flashing elements.
  • Provide captions and alternative text.
  • Use link text with key words (e.g., young language learners vs. language learners at a young age).
  • Provide text descriptors for images and pictures.
  • Provide captions for video.

In sum, just as we try to make our lessons and instructional materials accessible for students, we should try to ensure that our professional materials such as newsletters are accessible for all of our colleagues.


Barnhardt, S., & Turner, E. . (2013). Creating sustainable, culturally accessible e-learning programmes on a global scale. Progressio, 35(2), 1–18.

Eberle, J., & Childress, M. (2007). Universal design for culturally-diverse online learning. In A. Edmunson(Eds.), Globalized e-learning cultural challenges (pp. 239–254). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

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