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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 strategic priority to provide an inclusive teaching and learning environment for the University, faculty should be aware of a powerful 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 ALL of 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.

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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