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UC moves forward with accessibility using college liaisons and Ally

The University of Cincinnati's Accessibility Network partners with each college using liaisons to meet each semester about accessibility while faculty can now use Ally, an inclusive learning tool in Blackboard, to create accessible course content.

Liaisons assist with accessibility at UC

As the 2018 fall semester drew to a close, each college partnered with the Accessibility Network to designate one or more “accessibility liaisons”. These new partners will assist with coordination efforts and feedback from the academic colleges.

“Members involved in this group will meet to develop accessibility goals, informing each college’s accessibility plans,” said Heidi Pettyjohn, executive director for accessibility and ADA/Section 504/EIT Coordinator in the Division of Student Affairs. “These individualized accessibility plans will provide a three-year roadmap of what the culture of electronic accessibility will look like at each college.”

The goals developed by each college will address accessibility from both an inclusion and holistic perspective. Increasing document and video accessibility, selecting more accessible textbooks and resources, improving communication and support around student accommodations, and supporting efforts that already exist in the colleges are just some of the topics they’ll tackle.

This university-wide group is already off to a running start. During their first meeting at the end of January, participants discussed the accessibility auditing process and also shared some of their success stories.

“We’ve held accessibility workshops in our college and they’ve been very well-attended,” said Julie Breen, director of learning design in UC's College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services.

“I’m looking forward to working with the accessibility liaisons and have confidence in what we can accomplish over the next several years,” said Annette Ready, program sponsor and associate vice president in Information Technology.

Start new materials with accessibility in mind, prioritize existing content

Creating course materials that are accessible before an accommodation request occurs creates a distinct advantage: it makes the process smoother to navigate. Electronic materials already encompassing basic accessibility techniques take much less time to fix after receiving a request.

“Creating materials with accessibility in mind from the start is the easiest time to make a document or content accessible,” said Kimber Andrews, assistant director in the Center for Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CET&L). “And tools like Ally and the Microsoft accessibility checker help identify and assist faculty in learning how to make accessible course content.”

For spring of 2019, the Accessibility Network recommends starting on materials created in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint as well as simple images posted directly into Blackboard. For many faculty, the syllabus is a great place to start. CET&L has even provided a syllabus template created in collaboration with UC Faculty Senate.

“The expectation of faculty is to learn how to use the features and accessibility checker found in common document software, such as the Microsoft office suite, and use those whenever possible when creating new accessible materials for courses,” Pettyjohn said.

For software-specific assistance with accessibility, Ally and the Accessibility Checker in Microsoft Word provide instant feedback and guidance. Additionally, for those who learn better in person, the Accessibility Network is currently offering workshops in Microsoft Word accessibility basics through CET&L.

What is Ally? 

After a successful pilot, the Accessibility Network released Ally in 2019 spring semester course shells as part of the December Blackboard update. This inclusive learning tool supports faculty in creating accessible electronic course content university-wide.

“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 Ally,” mentions Pettyjohn. “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.”

Dashboard screen shot from Ally depicts the Low, Medium or High ratings of accessibility.

Accessibility scores shown in Ally are determined by the severity of issues in each file. A low score indicates the file has severe or multiple accessibility issues. A high score means there are minor or no accessibility issues. Learn how to fix accessibility issues with your course content by viewing the Instructor Feedback quick start guide at

Ally has two primary functions:

  1. As an accessibility checker – provides feedback on the accessibility of course files and guidance as to how to make them more accessible
  2. As a content converter – Automatically generates alternative formats for all files uploaded to the university’s LMS, Blackboard

More information about how to use Ally can be found in the Ally Knowledge Base article or on the Ally informational website.

Or, view the Faculty Quickstart Guide to find out more about Ally instructor feedback dashboards (image, left).

Who to contact for help

The university is required by law to ensure that students with disabilities have full and equal access to course content. As such, UC’s top priority is student accommodation requests. Any faculty member needing assistance with accommodation requests should contact their respective office of Accessibility Resources in Clifton, Blue Ash, or Clermont.

For assistance with Ally, please contact the Canopy Support Team via chat or by calling (513) 556-HELP (4357) OR (866) 397-3382 (Select option 3 in the menu). For general accessibility questions, please email the Accessibility Network.

The Accessibility Network appreciates everyone’s efforts to learn more about electronic accessibility and creating more accessible course materials. Thank you for continuing to partner with us as we work to meet the university’s and individual accessibility goals.