Improving Content Accessibility with Blackboard Ally

Questions with their answers

Getting Started

What is Blackboard Ally?

Blackboard Ally reviews the files uploaded to a Blackboard course, scores how well the content meets accessibility requirements and then provides guidance and tips on improving accessibility. Ally also creates alternative formats of your course files allowing students to download the file type that best suits their needs.

Ally’s accessibility checklist is based on WCAG 2.1 AA (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), an international accessibility standard.

Back to top

Why should I use Ally?

In many cases, improving the accessibility of course content benefits all students, including those without a disability. Accessible course content makes it easier for everyone to read and access your materials and can help improve overall quality and usability.

Example: Having a video with captioning or a transcript is important if you have a student with a disability. However, it will also make the video more usable for all students, allowing them to search through the video, re-watch specific segments, or view it in a high-noise environment like commuting.

Example: Ally’s Alternative Formats provide greater opportunity for everyone to access the information they need in the way they need or want it:

  • The Semantic HTML alternative format is fully responsive and mobile-friendly, which makes it easier for students to review content on their mobile devices. 
  • The audio alternative format can be used during a commute or on a run.
  • The translated version alternative format can help second language students.

Back to top

How is accessibility determined?

Blackboard provides every document with an accessibility score; a percentage score meant to reflect how accessible an item is, how many students it can affect, how severely it affects them, etc. To calculate the accessibility score, Blackboard takes a weighted average of the different accessibility rules/checks, as some rules are more important/impactful than others.

Blackboard Ally uses the following thresholds for determining accessibility:

  • Low (0-33%)Blackboard Ally Accessibility low score indicator: Needs help! There are severe accessibility issues.
  • Medium (34-66%)Blackboard Ally Accessibility medium score indicator: A little better. The file is somewhat accessible and needs improvement.
  • High (67-99%)Blackboard Ally Accessibility high score indicator: Almost there. The file is accessible, but more improvements are possible.
  • Perfect (100%)Blackboard Ally Accessibility perfect score indicator: Perfect! Ally didn't identify any accessibility issues, but further improvements may still be possible.

Back to top

Can I view the overall accessibility of my course?

Ally’s course accessibility report includes an accessibility score for the entire course as well as Overview and Content tabs so that you can get specific details about the accessibility of your course content.

More on the Course accessibility report.

Back to top

How do I enable Ally in my Blackboard courses?

Email bbadmin@gwu.edu with a list of the courses for which you want Ally enabled. Please include the CRN of each course with your request.

Back to top

Will Ally change my course’s appearance?

Ally provides visual feedback on the accessibility of your course files with colored gauges next to your file names (Red, Orange, Light Green, and Dark Green). These indicators are only visible to instructors and TAs with access to your course. Students do not see the accessibility indicator icons.

Additionally, you and the students will see an Alternative Formats download icon beside each file in your course. Ally automatically generates “Alternative formats” from your original course files, and makes them available for download so students can engage with course content in a way that works best for them.

More on Ally for students.

Back to top

Where can I get support?

Contact the Instructional Technology Lab team for assistance with using Ally.

Additional Resources:

Back to top

Improving Content Accessibility

What types of content does Ally check?

Currently, Ally checks files in the formats listed below. There is no file size limit.

  • PDF files
  • Microsoft® Word files
  • Microsoft® PowerPoint® files
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice files
  • Uploaded HTML files
  • Image files (JPG, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BPM, TIFF)
  • WYSIWYG/VTBE content
  • YouTube videos embedded in WYSIWYG/VTBE content

Back to top

How do I improve my content accessibility scores?

To learn more about identified accessibility issues, and begin to improve the overall score, click on the file’s accessibility indicator to open the Instructor Feedback Panel. 

The Instructor Feedback Panel shows you an in-browser preview of a file and detailed feedback and support to help you fix the accessibility issues. The document preview feature is currently available for images, PDFs, Word, and PowerPoint files.

Click All issues to see a list of issues and how much the accessibility score can improve after fixing each. This can help you prioritize high-impact issues, or focus on quick fixes first.

More on the Instructor Feedback Panel.

Back to top

Is there a good place to start?

There are many low-effort adjustments you can make to your course materials to start creating more accessible content.

  • Use a font size of at least 12pt.
  • Have sufficient contrast between text and background.
  • Ensure that all PDFs are tagged; avoid scanned PDFs if possible.
  • Use proper heading styles and a logical heading structure.
  • Add alternative descriptions to images that convey the full meaning of the image.
  • Ensure that all links have text that describes the target.
  • Use tables for tabular data only.
  • Ensure that all tables have column headers.
  • Use built-in list functionality for all lists.
  • Use built-in PowerPoint slide templates.

Back to top

How do I know when my content is accessible?

Accessibility is very much a spectrum where further improvements are always possible, so it’s hard to provide a point at which the item becomes “accessible.” However, as a rule of thumb, once an item is in the green zone (67%-100%), it should be doing reasonably well.

Back to top

Does Ally check YouTube videos?

Ally checks for captions in both embedded YouTube videos and links to YouTube videos and presents this information to you in the Course Report.

Back to top

Alternative formats

What are alternative formats?

After files are attached to a course, Ally creates alternative formats of the file based on the original. For example, if the original file is a PDF, Ally creates audio, electronic braille, and ePub formats of the same content. These formats are made available with the original file, so everything is in one convenient location. 

Alternative formats provide more opportunities for everyone to access the information they need in the way they need or want it. Although they can download alternative formats of your files, it is best to improve the documents through the instructor feedback panel.

At this time, Alternative Formats are not available for videos. Ally provides alternative formats for these file types:

  • PDF files
  • Microsoft® Word files
  • Microsoft® Powerpoint® files
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice files
  • Uploaded HTML files

These alternative formats can be generated:

  • OCR’d version (for scanned documents)
  • Tagged PDF (currently for Word, Powerpoint and OpenOffice/LibreOffice files)
  • Mobile-friendly HTML
  • Audio
  • ePub
  • Electronic Braille

More on alternative formats.

Back to top

Does Ally generate alternative formats for content submitted by students?

Ally currently does not process student content or student submissions.

Back to top

How do I enable alternative formats for students?

You do not need to enable alternative formats. Ally automatically generates alternative formats.

When the alternative format for a particular content item is requested for the first time, Ally generates this on-demand. In most cases, the process completes within 1-2 minutes. Ally then also caches the result, so any additional requests for the same alternative format can be served and downloaded from the cache immediately.

Back to top

Can I disable alternative formats?

Yes. You can turn off alternative formats for individual content items if you want. If you change your mind, you can enable it again later.

Back to top

More FAQs