If you have been in your Blackboard courses in June, you may have noticed that there are additional icons that appear in the instructor view and in the student view.  We’ve added a tool called “Ally” to Blackboard Learn.  This tool gives two different sorts of assistance: one for students; and one for instructors.  The instructors can also see and access the student tool.  These new tools help us to meet our legal and moral obligations to our students with learning differences.

If you create items natively in Blackboard (with the exceptions of some specialized HTML coding) all of the content is compatible with national and international standards for accessibility and universal design for learning and compliant with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.   If, however, you choose to add items like PowerPoint decks, Word documents, PDFs and videos, it is the responsibility of the instructor, in normal circumstances, to make the additional materials compliant.

We recognize that many of our courses have content that has evolved over time, and so this tool will give instructors the opportunity to review their course content with a new set of “eyes” and to review their current content by today’s accessibility standards.  It will also allow students to have a digital assistant that can attempt to correct a number of issues without instructor intervention and in so doing, keep more students on track.

Student View:
Blackboard Ally Alternative Format Image

Students do not see the instructor indicators and do not have access to an accessibility report.  They only get an indicator beside each item for which Ally can assist, that will give them access to a tool which may be able to help them move forward and have some level of access to the content.  If the instructor has also made the recommendations the tool recommends, the student’s options will be significant.  If the instructor hasn’t done anything, the tool may still be able to remediate the content to an accessible alternative.

Instructor View:
Instructor Visual Indicators

Ally gives instructors tools to audit all added content except audio and video and to see to what degree the documents, presentations, and images in your course are considered compatible by current accessibility standards.

As an instructor, you can work on your course content in two ways, by using the indicators in the course content, and by running your full accessibility report from “Course Tools.”

The indicators give you a fairly intuitive workflow with scoring that is based not on how “bad the problem is” or even how fixable the issue may be but on how a screen reader or other assistive device will encounter, and importantly, navigate, what you’ve given the students.

When you are in your course, you click the symbol and Ally will launch an assistant tool that will give you recommendations and remedies for making the file more accessible.  The CFC can help you walk through any confusion or difficulties you have with the tool or you can review our current help document on the tool, watch this short video introduction, or review this use guide.

If you are interested in seeing the status of your whole course you can go to the Course Tools and run an Instructor’s Accessibility Report.  You may even take some delight in running the report both before and after you do the work to make it more accessible for more learners.
Image of Accesibility Report in Menu

Three recommendations as a teaching colleague:  1) Don’t be too hard on yourself if you get the red gauge, in many cases it will be a case of a document that you haven’t “tagged” and the tool can assist you by doing the tagging directly from your Word or PowerPoint original;  2) Fix the easy things first; 3) Remember that this is an act of compassion and empathy in addition to helping us meet our legal requirements.

Together we can continue to work to design our Fall 2020 semester so that every learner can succeed in an environment that values equity and difference.