Accessibility in education means that all students and faculty, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, have equal access to course materials; this not only meets legal requirements but also fosters an inclusive environment that offers equal educational opportunities for everyone. Accessible course materials can benefit all students, not just those with disabilities. As we prepare for the transition to D2L Brightspace, it is an excellent time to review the accessibility of our course materials.
In this unit, we will explore how to design accessible content compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers or text-to-speech software. We will also cover Anthology Ally, a tool designed to help improve the accessibility of course content.
Designing for Accessibility
Accessibility standards issued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensure that educational content is accessible to all, fostering inclusivity, reducing legal risks, and enhancing the overall quality of education. Designing accessible learning material ensures that content is compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers or text-to-speech software. This includes considerations like the use of clear fonts, sufficient color contrast, appropriate text size, headers, captions for videos, alt text for images, transcripts for audio content, etc. The goal is to ensure every student can engage with the course content and participate fully in the learning experience. Implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles takes this a step further by providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and action & expression. UDL benefits all students, not just those with disabilities, by accommodating diverse learning styles and needs, thereby enriching the educational experience for everyone.
Use the guidelines below to make accessibility a standard practice in your workflow, not just for the transition to the new LMS, but in all educational materials, from course syllabi to lecture slides.
Check Automatically your Course for Accessibility using Blackboard Ally
Blackboard Ally is an integrated tool in your Blackboard course that helps enhance the accessibility of your course content. The tool has a dual purpose:
- It provides an accessibility score for each file, identifies potential issues, and offers guidance on how to fix them. The accessibility score provided by Ally is a measure of how accessible your content is. A high score indicates that your content is easily accessible to all students, including those with disabilities. This score is important because it directly impacts the inclusivity and accessibility of your course.
- Ally automatically generates alternative formats for students based on your course materials to cater to diverse learning needs. These formats include audio versions, electronic braille, and versions suitable for reading on mobile devices. This means that students can choose the format that best suits their learning preferences and needs, promoting a more inclusive and personalized learning experience.
Improving your Ally score not only ensures you are meeting legal accessibility requirements but also means you are providing an inclusive learning environment where all students can access and engage with your content effectively. This is a key part of CUNY’s commitment to providing equal educational opportunities for all students.
Let’s explore how to use Ally to improve the accessibility of your course and create a more inclusive learning environment.
Activate Blackboard Ally
To have Ally scan and analyze course content for accessibility issues, it needs to be manually activated for each course. See instructions below on how to activate it in your course.
Check Accessibility Scores
From Control Panel, go to Course Tools and click on Accessibility Report. Ally assigns an accessibility score to each of your course files, represented by a small gauge icon next to the file. The score ranges from Low (red) to Perfect (green), indicating how accessible the file is.
View File Accessibility Issues
Click on the gauge icon next to a file to see the accessibility issues with that file. Ally will provide a detailed explanation of each issue and its impact on the student experience.
Improve Content Accessibility
Ally provides step-by-step guidance on how to fix each accessibility issue. This might involve adding alt text to images, providing a transcript for audio files, or improving the structure of your document. Ally is there to help you make your course as accessible as possible. It is a tool to guide and assist you, not to judge. Even small improvements can make a big difference to the accessibility of your course.