Blackboard Ally is a tool that automatically assesses the accessibility of content uploaded onto KEATS and advises the uploader (usually a member of teaching staff) on how to make their resources more accessibility friendly. Blackboard Ally also allows students to download alternative formats of uploaded files to support their learning needs e.g., a Microsoft Word document can be downloaded as an audio file for a student to listen to.
The availability of Blackboard Ally has both increased flexibility for students, as they can choose file formats that suit their needs and reduced the time instructors spend creating content in alternative formats and responding to requests relating to accessibility. It has also supported a growth in knowledge and understanding for staff in matters relating to accessibility; providing colleagues with the tools and know-how to improve the accessibility of their educational materials. The overall Blackboard Ally accessibility score for KEATS (Moodle) for 2021-22 is currently 81% which is an improvement of approx. 14% on the accessibility score we had on launch in 2019-20.
Facilitating alternative format downloads for students
To date, over 245,000 alternative formats have been downloaded by students, with peaks of up to 13,000 weekly downloads in September of each academic year. The most popular formats downloaded by students are Tagged PDF (58%) & HTML (28%) which provides an indication of students accessing content via mobile devices as Tagged PDFs and HTMLs are the most appropriate formats for mobile devices.
Figure 1: Percentage popularity of alternative format downloads in Blackboard Ally
Supporting staff in making accessibility improvements
For academic & professional services Staff, Blackboard Ally has provided individuals with a RAG (Red, Amber, Green) rating for the accessibility of content they upload and directs colleagues to accompanying guidance to assist with improving accessibility.
Since launch an average of 320 documents and resources on KEATS have had their accessibility improved every week. The image below provides an example of how documents are RAG rated (only visible for staff) where an alternative format can be downloaded (available for everyone).
Figure 2: Screenshot of icons provided by Blackboard Ally in KEATS
The image below shows an example of the Course Accessibility Score page which can be utilised by staff to review resources within their course that requires attention. Since launch nearly 700 individual KEATS sites have seen accessibility improved via the guidance and support Blackboard Ally provides.
Figure 3: Blackboard Ally Course Accessibility Report
Future plans and activities
Looking to the future Blackboard Ally will continue to deliver several benefits throughout this Academic Year and subsequent years. When Blackboard Ally provides the functionality faculties will be provided access to reports outlining level of achieved accessibility across King’s and the data provided will identify common issues, levels of compliance and areas requiring targeted training.
Blackboard Ally will be crucial in supporting an improved overall experience of King’s students by making digital course contents more accessible for everyone and helping ensure that contents are digitally accessible by default. Blackboard Ally will also play an important role in assisting King’s in meeting its legal obligations set out in the UK’s The Public Sector Bodies (Website and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations (2018).
Written by Sue Harrison
Sue Harrison is a Senior Learning Technologist within the Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning and has a keen interest in using technology to support open and inclusive education. Sue has worked in digital education roles for over 15 years and joined King’s in 2016.