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Center for Teaching & Learning: Blackboard - Ally and Content Accessibility

Supporting the MCPHS faculty and staff in their commitment to excellence and innovation in teaching and learning

Introducing Ally

Blackboard Ally logo black background

As part of the continuous initiative to provide an inclusive teaching and learning environment for the University, Instructional Support is pleased to announce the availability of a new tool within Blackboard: Ally. Ally provides you guidance on how to correct accessibility issues with your digital course content, which means your learning materials will work better on mobile phones and tablets as well as with assistive technologies. Not only will content be more accessible for those with identified or self-disclosed disabilities, but your students will also be able to download “alternative formats” of your files by clicking the dropdown icon next to the file name, and choosing a version of the file most appropriate for their device and need. Opening up opportunities to engage with content in a variety of modalities can enhance their learning experience and engage them in new ways!

To learn more about Ally in your course, continue to peruse the information we've gathered for you on these pages. If you would like additional information or assistance with accessibility concerns, please reach out to us at instructionaldesign@mcphs.edu.  

 

Ally Explained

Watch a short video to learn more about the power of Blackboard Ally!

Introduction to Blackboard Ally and Accessible Course Content

Can't attend a live informational session?

 
Take a break and watch our recorded presentation to learn more about Blackboard Ally and why accessible course content is critical!

 

Introduction to Blackboard Ally and Accessible Course Content

 

 

Working with Blackboard Ally

How does Ally work?

After you upload digital content into your course, you'll see a visual indicator that provides an immediate indication of the accessibility of the file.  You can click on the indicator to learn more about identified accessibility issues and work to improve the overall file score.  These visual indicators are NOT visible for students.  Any changes you make to your file(s) to address accessibility concerns do not update the original file in any way--they create a new accessible version.

As your confidence and awareness grows, you'll begin instinctively creating your documents with accessibility in mind--ensuring that green indicator every time!

Why Implement Ally?

  • Due to the sheer volume of digital content available to students within Blackboard, using a system-based solution helps to leverage the resources we have and allows for faculty to strive for improvement over time.  Continuous improvement is the ultimate goal, with all members of the University contributing best-effort activities to ensure an accessible environment for all, and Ally helps us accomplish that!
  • Students get almost immediate access to alternative accessible file types -- without any extra steps required by faculty or staff.  Students have access to Tagged PDF, HTML, ePub, Electronic Braille, and Audio files to allow them to engage with the content in a variety of ways.
  • The federal guidelines for accessible content are ever-developing, and working with an industry-leading and award-winning product helps ensure that we are working within any updated parameters.

So, to summarize:  Ally checks the accessibility of your course content, and provides you with immediate insight and step-by-step guidance to improve existing and develop long term accessible content.  Along with addressing accessibility concerns, the real-time availability of alternative formats supports the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and allows your students to choose how they interact with your content.

Your class is full of diverse students with unique learning abilities. Providing them with more accessible original content means they can choose formats that work best for them: HTML for improved reading on mobile phones, Electronic Braille for the visually impaired, and Audio for learning on the go. Ally automatically scans your original content, and performs a series of steps to make them more accessible.

Accessible course content makes it easier for everyone to read and access your materials and can help improve overall quality and usability. There are many low-effort adjustments you can make to start creating more accessible content.


 

Ally provides you feedback on the accessibility of your course files with the colored dials that appear next to your file names (Red, Orange, Light Green, and Dark Green). These indicators are only visible to you and other instructors with access to your course. Ally checks most file formats, but there may be some files in your course that don’t have an Ally indicator next to them.

Remember, Green is the Goal! 


 

Not sure about how to identify and correct accessibility issues with your course content? Not to worry. Ally provides you detailed feedback and support to help you become an accessibility pro. Learn about accessibility issues, why they matter, and how to fix them. 


 

How do you prefer to engage with digital learning content? Do you read on your phone or tablet, use a screen reader, like to annotate and highlight, or listen to an audio version? Ally automatically generates “Alternative formats” from your original course files, and makes them available for download so that you can engage with course content in a way that works best for you.


 

There may be times when you simply cannot find a fully accessible version of your course file. As a last best effort, Ally will allow you to add some more bibliographic information to the file. Adding this info will help students work with your campus library resources to find or DSS office to create an accessible version of the file. 


 

Creating accessible digital learning content can be a challenge, and a single course file may contain multiple issues impacting its accessibility for students. Ally gives you options for fixing those issues, allowing you to craft an accessibility strategy suitable to your course needs.

Prioritize high-impact issues, or focus on quick fixes first with Ally's “All Issues.” 


 

Creating Accessible Course Content

Video: Improve accessibility with alt text

Images and objects in documents are not always easy for people who use assistive technology to see. Do this training module to learn how to add alt text to pictures and other objects, so that your documents are easier to consume by everyone.



 


 

Video: Improve accessibility with heading styles

Headings are a great way to tell people what they need to know quickly. Learn how to use styles for headings to make your documents easier to navigate. Type the text you want into a Word document. Select a sentence that you want to add a header to.


 

Video: Create accessible tables in Word

Tables organize information visually and help you show relationships between things. Learn how to set up tables so they can be read out loud to people who use a screen reader. Choose Insert > Table to insert a table.


 

Adding accessibility tags to PDF files makes it easier for screen readers and other assistive technologies to read and navigate a document, with Tables of Contents, hyperlinks, bookmarks, alt text, and so on. Accessibility tags also make it possible to read the information on different devices, such as large type displays, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and mobile phones. In Windows, Office for Mac, and Office for web, you can add tags automatically when you save a file as PDF format.

  1. Before generating your PDF, run the Accessibility Checker to make sure your document is easy for people of all abilities to access and edit. 
  2. Click File > Save As and choose where you want the file to be saved.
  3. In the Save As dialog box, choose PDF in the Save as type list.
  4. Click Options, make sure the Document structure tags for accessibility check box is selected, and then click OK.

A common method for making PDF documents is to place a paper copy of a document into a scanner and view the newly-scanned document as a PDF with Adobe Acrobat. Unfortunately, scanners only create an image of text, not the actual text itself. This means the content is not accessible to users who rely on assistive technology. Additional modifications must be made to make the document accessible.

*Best practice is to utilize alternative content that is accessible, avoiding the usage of scanned PDFs; otherwise manual remediation will need to occur.


 

The Internet is full of fun content, and adding creative media elements to your course can boost student engagement. However, GIFs and other rapid-movement or flickering media- even overly complex still images- have the potential to trigger seizures or other harmful responses in students. Ally identifies these files, and scores them as “Red, 0% accessible.” 


 

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