ALLY: Accessible content is better content
The University is currently piloting Blackboard ALLY, an automated accessibility advisory and alternative formats tool that integrates with the LMS and improves the accessibility of content for students. ALLY provides automated assistance to improve accessibility in three ways:
Firstly, the service will attempt to render alternative versions of all uploaded content (depending on document formats) and content pages within your LMS subjects. These alternative versions are then available to yourself and your students approximately 30 minutes after you upload content or publish a page. A sub-menu becomes available on each content item successfully processed, listing the alternative accessible formats it was able to produce. For example, a PDF may have a structured HTML version created, along with a read aloud audio file, and a braille reader file, as shown below.
We envisage this would not only be useful for accessibility reasons, but also for flexible study options for students, especially the HTML versions which are much easier to use on mobile devices than trying to work with PDF or DOCX files natively, and the 'read-aloud' audio versions.
Secondly, the service will provide a small green, yellow or red coloured icon next to subject content indicating an automated assessment of how accessible that particular item is.
Clicking on this icon will enter into a screen that provides advice on how to improve the artefact, advising you of the most impactful change that could be made, and optionally a full list of all recommended improvements. Some changes can be made immediately, for example, providing a textual interpretation of an image.
Others will require you to open the object in the corresponding application, and provide guidance on the actions to perform in that application to implement the improvement. Importantly, it is not intrusive. The icon is there for you to take optional action on, and only staff in your subject can see the automated accessibility score. The students see neither the score nor any recommended actions.
Thirdly, reporting is provided on: summaries of the changes made; the improvements possible, and the increase in accessibility achieved. This reporting is available at the subject and organisational level. At institutional level, Learning Environments will use the report to identify systemic and common issues, and adjusting our support materials where we can to better help make accessible content at the initial point of creation.
In context of the LMS review
We are piloting this service, in alignment with the LMS review, so that if it proves worthwhile to you and your students we will seek to include it in the business case for any updates or changes to the LMS service. Bb ALLY is not restricted to Bb Learn and works with our candidate LMS's under review.
In launching the pilot, we are mindful of clarifying expectations for students that this is a pilot and testing phase of a potential new service, and that not all subjects may have alternative accessible file formats made available. Any students who require accessible formats will still be advised to communicate with the Student Equity & Disability Support (SEDS) unit.
At this point in time, the Faculty leadership of Engineering, ABP, FVAS and FBE have nominated a restricted pilot to just those subjects with identified disabled students. Subject leads in those faculties with such subjects should have already received a direct invitation to participate in the pilot.
For other faculties, if you would like to nominate to be a pilot participant, or for anyone who may have any other enquiries or concerns, please contact us.
If you wish to raise concerns or enquires within your school or faculty first rather than with Learning Environments, the Associate Deans Teaching & Learning of all Faculties have been briefed on this pilot service, and are aware they may be contacted related to it.