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UC offers new Blackboard tool

The tool in Ally will make it easier for faculty to create easily accessible documents

Over the past six months, University of Cincinnati faculty, staff and student workers diligently completed an accessibility awareness course with a better than 96 percent completion rate.

To help faculty incorporate accessibility into electronic course materials, a new tool in Blackboard called Ally has been released in spring course shells. Accessibility will be an important part of purchasing software and applications as well.

High completion rate

As of April 1, 2018, the university required the online awareness course eAccessibility: An Introduction for all employees who met one or more of the following criteria:

  • Any staff or faculty member who creates or posts images, PDFs, video files or audio files to a UC-affiliated website or distributes UC-affiliated content via other systems.
  • Any staff or faculty involved in the purchasing of UC software or applications, or major purchases for the university that incorporate software or other types of technology, either centrally or within units.
  • Faculty members who use Blackboard or any online materials for teaching and learning.
  • Staff members who create or post Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets, images, PDFs, audio files, video files or multimedia to Blackboard to support faculty in course creation.

At the time of submission to the Office for Civil Rights, more than 5,240 faculty, staff and student workers have completed this required training.  

“This is a great accomplishment for the university, especially its faculty and staff, in advancing our campus towards a more accessible electronic environment and should be commended,” said Nelson Vincent, vice president for information technology and UC's chief information officer. “We were also very encouraged and impressed that leadership buy-in was so high in taking this course.”

“The overwhelmingly positive response to completing the eAccessibility awareness course exemplifies the university’s commitment to providing an inclusive electronic learning environment that supports the success of every student,” said Kristi Nelson, UC's executive vice president for academic affairs and provost.

A closeup of a person at a desk writing in a notepad with a laptop computer in the background

New Blackboard tool

Instructors looking for assistance in creating accessible electronic course materials can use the new Blackboard Ally tool, added to all spring semester course shells on Monday, Oct. 22.

“While there are multiple ways to make accessible course content – you can find tutorials and checklists on the Accessibility Network website – the Accessibility Network has chosen to invest in Blackboard Ally,” said Heidi Pettyjohn, executive director for accessibility and ADA/Section 504/EIT Coordinator in the Division of Student Affairs.

“Ally is a one-of-a-kind tool that will not only increase access to course content for students with disabilities, but will truly improve the experience of many learners.”

Ally has two primary functions:

  1. Providing instructors with feedback on the accessibility of their uploaded course documents.
  2. Providing guidance on how to make course documents more accessible.

Ally has the added benefit of being able to automatically create alternative formats of documents, including .mp3, ePub, and HTML, and more without altering the original file. NOTE: Instructors will not notice any difference in their fall semester courses.

For more information about Ally, please read the Ally Knowledge Base article or visit the Ally informational website. For any questions about Ally, please email Megan Wuebker.

Accessibility in purchasing

University employees are advised to consider and inquire about accessibility as early as possible when evaluating which software or applications to buy for educational use. Individuals involved in procurement, or purchasing, will soon see modifications to the way in which these materials are procured, adding accessibility checks into the process.

“We want people to be thinking about accessibility as they consider products, and how they can get help with that,” said Annette Ready, associate vice president in UCIT and Accessibility Network program sponsor.

One change to the process will be to request the vendor provide accessibility information via a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, or VPAT. A VPAT is a document that asserts the degree to which hardware, software or online products and services conform to various accessibility requirements, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) or Section 508 requirements.

After receiving a completed conformance report (or VPAT) from the vendor(s), submit the information through an online service request to initiate an accessibility review process. The university’s Accessibility Review Committee will then:  

  • Evaluate the degree of accessibility of the potential product(s). 
  • Provide support in incorporating accessibility requirements into product testing. 
  • And assist in eventual implementation or provide suggestions for alternatives when appropriate.

The Accessibility Network is available to assist individuals with accessibility in the procurement process at any time and answer questions about the procedures that follow. This includes, but is not limited to, questions concerning Voluntary Product Review Template (VPAT) assessment, product testing, risk assessment, and mitigation options when gaps in accessibility may be present.