Blackboard Ally helps to build a more inclusive learning environment and improve the student experience by helping them take clear control of course content with usability, accessibility and quality in mind.
Ally works seamlessly in Blackboard to gauge the accessibility of your content. It provides guidance and tips for lasting improvements to your content and automatically checks for accessibility issues and generates alternative formats.
- Receive feedback on the accessibility of your content
- Improve content accessibility with Ally’s step-by-step instructions
- Instructor FAQs for Ally
Students can choose the type of file they want that best suits their needs. While you are in the process of improving files, students can still access alternative copies.
Ally creates alternative files that are easier to use by all students. Ally works within your online course so it’s available right where you need it.
Alternative files include readable text for screen readers, pictures with captions, and easy-to-navigate content. Ally creates multiple alternatives from the original documents in your course. You can download these alternative formats anywhere that files are used.
Ally provides alternative formats for these file types:
- PDF files
- Microsoft Word documents
- Microsoft Powerpoint files
- OpenOffice/LibreOffice files
- Uploaded HTML files
These alternative formats can be generated:
- OCR’d version (for scanned documents)
- Tagged PDF (currently for Word, Powerpoint and OpenOffice/LibreOffice files)
- Mobile-friendly HTML
- Electronic Braille
- BeeLine Reader
Common Accessibility Issues
Alternative description or ‘alt text’, is a textual alternative for an image. It makes it easier to connect the image to its context and allows students with visual impairments to perceive the image. Alt text in images are necessary to ensure an equivalent experience for students with visual impairments.
Tips for creating good alternative text
- Consider what the image is conveying. Some images may be decorative or “eye candy” in nature and will not need robust alt text.
- Include context for the picture. How does it relate to the page where it appears? What does it illustrate?
- Keep it brief and to the point. A good rule of thumb is to make your alt text short enough for a Tweet.
- Don’t say “picture of” or “image of.” The screen reader will do that for you.
- Right-click the image and select “Add alt text” from the drop-down menu.
- Enter your text in the Description field.
- If the image is decorative, select the “Mark as decorative” checkbox.
- Avoid using the ‘Generate a description for me” checkbox.
For more information about alternative text, visit webaim.org.
Headings within a document provide hierarchical information to the screen reader about the way the document is structured: Does the document have a title? Are there topics and subtopics?
If the document has no embedded semantics, this information is lost to the screen reader. If you use the bad number scheme, the screen reader will share the content with the user in the incorrect order from your intention. To add a heading to text, position your cursor anywhere in the line of text you want to affect. In the Styles menu, choose one of the Heading styles in the menu.
Modifying a Heading’s Color, Font, Size, etc.
Many instructors have a specific color or font or size they would like to use to differentiate the different headings. You can modify the style of each Heading by referring to Customize or create new styles (Microsoft Word).
Tips for creating headings
- Use a logical and consistent heading structure.
- Always begin with Heading Level 1.
- Headings should follow a sequential and descending order, with no level skipped. However, you can use the same level multiple times before moving to the next level.
- Good: H1, H2, H2, H3, H4, H4.
- Bad: H1, H4, H3, H3, H2.
- Do not use Bold, Italics or Underline for titles or sections. Use Headings instead.
- Check your Headings in the Headings section of the Navigation Pane.
Add the file name, date, author or other document properties to a header or footer. If you are working in a Word document, visit the Microsoft Support website.
A well-constructed table can make it easier for the user to make associations between data. By designating a header row, you give the screen reader direction about how it should interrupt your table when read aloud.
Tips for creating tables
- Keep tables as simple as possible. Avoid subdivided columns or rows, or merged cells.
- Use the table feature–don’t create tables using tabs or spaces.
- Designate a header row.
- Don’t use tables to simulate layout: for instance, to position graphic elements on the page.
- Always include a caption.
- Go to the Table Design tab and tick the Header Row box
- Add Table Captions. Captions help users to find a table and understand what it’s about and decide if they want to read it.
- Identify Row and Column Headers. A critical step toward creating an accessible data table is to designate row and/or column headers.. Table headers should never be empty.
For more information, visit the Microsoft Office website.
For users with visual impairments, adequate contrast between text and background is essential. The readability of text is dependent upon the color of the text against the color of the background. Sometimes font sizes and font styles also influence the color contrast accessibility. Fortunately, this is a very simple problem to check and correct in a text document.
Tips for effective use of color
- Don’t use color alone to indicate meaning. Screen readers don’t indicate text color, and colorblind users may not be able to see the differences either.
- Use a contrast analyzer to check your color combinations; aim for a minimum of AA compliance.
- Whenever possible, use black and white for your text.
Use a color contrast checker
Use the SiteImprove Color Contrast Checker
- Use the eyeglass button to select the foreground color and background colors
- Enter the HEX or RGB color information
- Look in the Results window to see if it passes.
- WCAG AA and AAA standards are used for evaluating accessibility standards compliance for websites. AAA is the stricter standard; AA is sufficient for most applications.
- If that color combination doesn’t pass, you can try to use the slider button to adjust the Red, Blue, Green to find an accessible color combination.
Accessible color combinations
If you want to know which color combinations are accessible, you may explore the following:
When PDFs are tagged, the content is structurally divided into various sections. This helps give some order to the document. If the PDF is logically ordered, then screen reader users can be able to read the information without difficulties. Also, people who depend on the keyboard rather than the mouse to browse the PDF will be able to navigate the document with ease.
While frequently used in academia, PDFs are notoriously the hardest document type to make accessible. This is because to do it well requires:
- specialized software (i.e. Adobe Acrobat Professional DC).
- specialized knowledge/training (i.e. how to manually tag a PDF, how to manually edit the reading order).
- time for learning curve
- time to actually remediate
In order to make your course the most accessible in the quickest manner, we strongly recommend that you reduce the amount of PDFs used in your course whenever possible.
We know that instructors often rely on PDFs that they received from a publisher, a library database or another entity.
- If you created and own the PDF:
- You are responsible to make it accessible.
- If you did not create or do not own the PDF:
- You may not have the authority to fix or edit the PDF as it may have come from a publisher or library database. Using this content puts you in a difficult position as you cannot make it accessible, yet a student could file an accessibility complaint for using inaccessible files.
- We recommend that you work with a publisher to ensure their content is fully accessible prior to purchasing or using the content.
- We recommend discussing with your departmental leadership as to the school’s stance on fixing publisher content.
- When in doubt, consider utilizing an alternative resource. Open educational resources (OER) are freely accessible, openly licensed text, media, and other digital assets that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes.
If you have Blackboard Ally enabled for your course, you can use it to improve some of your PDFs -see how by watching Beating that ScanMan from 0 to 100% in no time!
Kaltura is a desktop recorder used for recording your screen, from a webcam, audio, or all three simultaneously. Faculty and staff can all use this tool within Blackboard’s My Media Gallery. Visit the IT Knowledge base article for details on how to caption your video.
When you present Google slides, you can turn on automatic captions to display the speaker’s words in real time. This feature is available on Chrome devices in U.S. English. Visit the Google Support site for more information.
Visit YouTube for more information about adding subtitles and captions to YouTube videos.