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Digital accessibility guide

Explore how to create, design and structure your content to ensure that is is accessible to your students.

Blackboard Ally pilot

Following a successful pilot, Blackboard Ally will be available in all Moodle modules following the Moodle update on 18th July 2022 to help make learning content more accessible. Blackboard Ally merges into the existing workflow when lecturers and course officers upload, rollover or import content.

Blackboard Ally logo

What is Blackboard Ally?

Blackboard Ally is a software that will be available across all Moodle modules to make all learning content more accessible to all students. Blackboard Ally helps lecturers by merging into the existing workflow of Moodle by enabling these alternative formats automatically as well as providing accessibility feedback and assistance on individual resources and overall modules to lecturers. 

Why are we using Blackboard Ally?

Blackboard Ally provides immediate feedback on where accessibility challenges are in each resource and across modules. It will make it immediately clear where accessibility needs to be improved with step-by-step guidance on how to fix accessibility issues.

Benefits to our learning community:

  • Increases awareness of accessibility and inclusion
  • Makes digital content more accessible and discoverable
  • Provides students with a choice of formats to meet their specific needs
  • Develops staff digital and remediation skills
  • Promotes good working practices and an inclusive learning culture

How do you use Blackboard Ally?

All resources that are added to Moodle modules will automatically be assessed by Blackboard Ally and receive an accessibility score viewable only to enrolled lecturers on the module. These accessibility scores are created by checking the resource against each of the requirements of UK legislation for web accessibility relevant to higher education and then also given a weight based on how much of an accessibility challenge an issue may pose to education.

The accessibility score assesses the way content is conveyed to students, not the quality of the content itself. For example, a low accessibility score for a resource may be because it is a scanned PDF of a photocopied book, not because the book itself or content therein is of pedagogical low quality. 

These accessibility scores include:

  • Explaining which specific issues are the easiest to improve, with step-by-step guidance
  • Explaining which specific issues are the most important and impactful to improve, with step-by-step guidance
  • A weighted aggregate score for the whole module to identify successes and areas for improvement across the module

Checking the accessibility score of individual files

An accessibility score indicator icon will display next to uploaded files giving an indication of how accessible it is:

a small red metre icon with the dial pointing a quarter of the wayLow (0-33%): The file is not accessible and needs immediate attention.

a small amber metre icon with the dial pointing half wayMedium (34-66%): The file is somewhat accessible and could use improvement.

a small light green metre icon with the dial pointing almost to the topHigh (67-99%): The file is accessible but could be improved.

a small light green metre icon with the dial pointing to the topPerfect (100%): The file is accessible. No improvement is needed.

Selecting the accessibility score indicator will open the instructor feedback in the overlay window. The panel will display the current score and an overview of the issues with detailed information on why the issue matter and step by step instructions on how to fix them. Further information is available from the Instructor Feedback Panel | Blackboard Help.

Blackboard Ally currently checks the following formats:

  • Image files (JPG, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF)
  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • PDFs
  • WYSIWIG Moodle content such as Book, Lesson and Pages

Generating an accessibility report for the module

The accessibility report provides a summary and overview of the entire module. Access the Accessibility Report from the Settings > Reports menu.

Accessing the Accessibility report from Moodle Module Settings

A new window will open displaying the overall accessibility score for the module and an overview of content types on the module. To start remediating files the dashboard will arrange issues by how easy they are to fix, low scoring content or by the type of issue. Open the feedback panel to directly apply fixes or upload remediated files. Further information is available from the Course Accessibility Report | Blackboard Help.

Top tips for lecturers

While digital accessibility encompasses a number of different aspects, some key ideas to improve the accessibility of Moodle resources include:

  • Scanned PDFs are usually the least accessible resource type and will hugely impact accessibility scores. If you need to add a scanned PDF, contact the library first. They may have an e-book version, an online version or can create their own accessible scanned version. The library can also advise on the copyright considerations of using scanned resources.
  • In Word documents and PDFs, use:
    • Headings and titles
    • Font size of at least 12point
    • Ensure sufficient contrast between text and background
  • If linking to or embedding YouTube videos, check whether they have automatic closed captioning enabled.
  • Instructor access to the Blackboard Ally site includes guidance on improving the accessibility of individual resources as well as overviews about category types such as all of a module's Word documents, etc. 

Read about Professor Rachael-Anne Knight's experience beginning to use Blackboard Ally for her Moodle modules, and how she is planning to prepare for AY 2022-2023. 

FAQ

No. Even if you have an accessibility solution created, Blackboard Ally's score for the inaccessible resource will remain low.

Usually as images, requiring alt-text to be accessible.

City has consulted with copyright specialists, and we understand that making copies in an alternative format using Blackboard Ally is covered by what the law permits for educational purposes, or by what relevant licences permit. This might be desirable for ease of accessibility, for example. These copies should not be shared with anyone else; they are for personal use only.

If you have queries regarding copyright at City, University of London please contact the Copyright Librarian, Stephen Penton, stephen.penton@city.ac.uk.

Staff might be worried about meeting a certain accessibility score on their modules.

Ally helpfully guides users on how to create more accessible content and learn how to remediate their resources. However, there are certain accessibility issues that it currently does not check for yet, or some accessibility issues may need a fix on a wider scale. This could be the case if your resource is produced using a template or it belongs to a 3rd party. Therefore, while it is a powerful tool, it should not be taken as the single source of truth for the accessibility of your course content. It may not be possible to have 100% accessibility score on some resources, but anything above 90% is excellent.

You may wish to flag to your students known accessibility issues you cannot remediate yet to manage expectations while you consider alternative solutions.

Alternative formats

Blackboard Ally converts files into different formats. These alternative formats are created automatically and do not require any extra actions from lecturers. They benefit all students by offering a choice of how to engage with resources, such as:

  • The ability to adjust text, font and background
  • A preference for listening with an adjustable playback speed
  • A preference for reading, highlighting, bookmarking and notetaking
  • Mobile device adaptive/responsive

Alternative formats may take a few minutes to be ready. Students can choose from a range of alternative formats according to their preferences:

  • OCR PDFS can be created if scanned PDFs that are clear enough for Blackboard Ally to read.
  • Tagged PDFs (accessible PDFs that require no additional software/apps to read) can be created from Word documents and PowerPoint presentations.
  • Epub files can be created from Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs and HTML files (including labels) to be read on e-reading software/apps like Apple Books or Thorium which also allow notes and highlighting.
  • BeeLine is an alternative format that changes text into different colour combinations to assist with dyslexia and ADHD. BeeLine files can be created from Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs and HTML files (including labels).
  • HTML format can be created from Word documents, PowerPoint presentations and PDFs
  • Audio/mp4 files can be created from Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs and HTML files (including labels). Audio files cannot currently be created for resources over 100,000 characters/around 30 pages. 
  • Electronic Braille files can be created from Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs and HTML files (including labels). These files require specific software to then be used. 

You can read what our Student Digital Assistants thought of alternative formats in their Blackboard Ally Alternative Formats Learning at City blog.

Advice for students

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