Blackboard Ally: Helping You Create Accessible Documents

We, as a University, work to be inclusive and to ensure that all our students can access the materials they need. And let’s face it: we also want to be sure that we are meeting federal guidelines. To do so we need to create accessible documents. Enter Ally for Blackboard!

But first, just what are accessible documents? They are electronic
documents that are as easily readable by a low vision or non-sighted reader as
they are by a sighted reader.  They allowindividuals to move through documents using a screen reader, by providing
features that make it possible to skim or jump from one part of a document to
another, to hear descriptions of images on a page, and to identify contact and
reference information. In other words, to have equal access to the document
overall.

How does it work? As you upload files to Blackboard, Ally will immediately begin to analyze them. In a short amount of time it will display an accessibility meter next to each document. Clicking on the meter brings you to a screen that tells you what issues could be improved, guides you through making those changes, then lets you upload the fixed file back to Blackboard.

Are accessible documents only for those who use screenreaders? Not really. Let’s consider elevators. An elevator may have been installed to provide accommodation for people who have difficulty climbing stairs, but even if you tend to climb instead of ride you may still find the elevator useful when carrying a heavy load up several flights.

So, too, with accessible documents. Ally can generate on-the-fly alternative versions of your accessible documents to accommodate different needs. For instance, students who could benefit from the alternative format files include:

  • Your time-conscious bus-riding student who would find it nauseating to read on a bus may better keep up with the reading if the article is provided as an mp3 file to which they can listen, or
  • A student who has not requested accommodation but can read more easily if the font of the document is larger, or
  • The student who is comfortable reading on a phone as long as the page can reflow to fit, or
  • A student with an ebook app that lets them take notes on an epub file.

In addition, as more and more attention is paid to how well universities are meeting their accessibility responsibilities, Ally can help UVM show that progress through its variety of reporting tools.

Must you make all your documents in all your courses 100% accessible immediately? Of course not. But we would like to “move the needle” on as many documents as possible over time.

That’s where the Ally help materials, and the folks at the CTL, can help: learn more about how Ally works and how you can get help by visiting our Ally web page. If you want to jump in right now and also help us shape our support for you and your colleagues, consider becoming an early adopter. Just contact hope.greenberg@uvm.edu. We can turn Ally on in one of your courses and help get you started. (Ally will be available automatically in all course late this semester.)

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