BlackBoard Learn Accessibility


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A discussion of BlackBoard Learn accessibility features and how you can ensure that your BlackBoard courses are more accessible to all students, including those with disabilities.

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  • Welcome to the Accessibility in BlackBoard Learn Workshop!
  • We throw the word Accessibility around an awful lot, but what does it mean? In short, it refers to making sure that your electronic documents are usable and/or readable by all who might need it, including those with disabilities. It sounds like extra work to consider the needs of persons with disabilities when you’re working online, but in reality, it really isn’t if you keep some basic things in mind while you are creating and posting. This presentation will give you some insights and tools that you will need to make your online courses more accessible to all students.
  • Not everyone uses computers the same way, but with assistive technologies like screen readers, everyone can use them. The problem is that there are many things that many of us take for granted every day that can be serious barriers to persons with disabilities. For example, many times we communicate something in pictures, letting a picture, graph, or diagram tell a story. That is a wonderful thing, but what about the student who is visually impaired? Without being able to see the image, the meaning will be lost unless it is explained in words as well. The videos linked on this slide show some examples of persons with disabilities and the issues they encounter in daily life with computers and in school. There are disabilities and limitations that we may not always be able to see, and may not always be documented. It is important to recognize that by using accessible strategies, you are helping not just the small number of students with documented disabilities through the Disabilities Services Office, but also those with less obvious limitations, as well as even those students who may not even have a “disability” at all, but who just simply have a different preferred learning style.
  • The 10-second Web Accessibility Test is a great eye-opener to see whether any Web page you’re working with has any accessibility barriers. This uses the WAVE Toolbar, a fantastic tool for Firefox that allows you to see at a glance all errors with graphics, headings, and other issues. You can use this within BlackBoard or on pages outside of BlackBoard – you can even use it on publisher-created pages to test their accessibility! If your page has video, is it captioned? This is another important item, as videos that must be reviewed should have either captions or a text transcript available for students to read if they cannot for any reason hear the video. This is the subject for next month’s workshop series as well. Follow the links on this slide for some great resources and demonstrations of accessible and inaccessible Web page design.
  • BlackBoard has a number of good features for accessibility, and it works reasonably well with most screen readers and other assistive technologies. In most cases, users can use the Tab key to get around any BlackBoard course, rather than a mouse, which can be a great feature for those with visual or mobility disabilities. The link on this slide takes you to a comprehensive overview of accessibility features built into BlackBoard. But, note that there are some features that are dependent upon you setting them up a little in order to make them work best for your students.
  • First of all, be sure to describe and title your pictures when you enter them into any Item in your course. You are always prompted to provide this information when inserting an image, and you don’t have to write much – maybe a phrase or a short sentence is all that is needed. For example, an image showing a person studying might say exactly that – “Student studying a book.”If you are working with a more complex graphic, such as a table or chart, it may be necessary to provide more detail. Depending on the nature of your graphic, you may wish to provide a paragraph or more that describes what is in the figure in detail, or you may even wish to ask Disability Services for help in providing the student with an appropriate description. Every graphic and every student is different, so don’t hesitate to ask if you need some guidance.
  • PDFs can be a big problem for users with disabilities. In some cases, scanned images may look like text to you and me, but to the viewer with a screen reader, it may actually be a picture and thus, the words are invisible to them. It is important to make sure that your PDF files contain actual text – you’ll know the difference if you can drag your mouse over the words and highlight them while you are viewing the PDF. If you can do that, then you’re in good shape. If possible, you should also consider tagging your PDF documents, or having someone assist you with this process. Our office and the Disability Services office can assist with PDF tagging. In some cases, this can be a laborious process, so if you have many PDFs with complex figures, charts, and tables, be prepared for a long road ahead. In some cases, it may behoove you to find an alternate reading or resource for students. If you use Word to convert documents you write or edit into PDFs, that’s great, but be sure you’re actually using Word Styles like Heading 1, Paragraph, and so forth. This is not often a default action for many of us, but if you look at the Home ribbon you will see an item called Styles, and easily selectable options there that correspond to heading levels and paragraph types. Use these when you are constructing a document to avoid trouble and extra tagging needs later on.
  • Captions are a great thing for many people, not just the hearing-disabled. They can enhance meaning in a video, and can help even those who can hear it just fine understand what is going on. They can also help students for whom English is not their first language understand the video that much more clearly, as well as practice their English comprehension skills. Automatic captioning is a technology that has come a long way in recent years, but it definitely should not be relied upon just yet! Try a random YouTube video and turn the automatic captioning on, and you’ll see exactly what we mean! Sometimes the results are downright silly (and sometimes even offensive!) so avoid relying on them. Instead, you can actually edit your own YouTube captions for any video you upload, making sure that they are correct if someone turns captioning on. Camtasia also has built-in captioning assistance to help you write or import your captions in and align them easily to each scene of your video. Another alternative to captioning is to provide lecture notes or transcripts. Similar to this presentation you’re viewing right now, you can use the Notes feature of PowerPoint to provide more detailed notes on any slide, providing a rough transcript of what would be said should the presentation be given before an audience. Sometimes PowerPoint slides can even stand on their own as a transcript or lecture notes depending on how detailed your video or presentation is.
  • Publisher-created content is used frequently in our courses, and well it should – it is often of high quality and goes along with what we are teaching. But sometimes, publishers do not provide appropriately accessible materials. In this case, be sure to contact the publisher directly on the student’s behalf about your concern. Sometimes publishers will also have help or alternative versions available under a Support link on their website, but it is often best to guide students through this process, rather than expect them to seek out help on their own. When you’re not sure of what to do or who to call for help, contact Disability Services as soon as you can for advice.
  • Ultimately, be willing to be flexible with students with disabilities. When there are issues, maintain patience and be willing to change things around to adequately accommodate that student. This does not mean that you have to make the course different or “easier” for the student; instead, we need to provide them with reasonable accommodations so that they have the same chance at an education that all of the other students do. Keep this in mind, as it is also possible to be “too flexible” in an effort to help the student as best you can. Instructors frequently find themselves in binds when dealing with such issues without support. Luckily, Disability Services and the OLT are here to help, so be sure to ask anytime you need it!
  • One of the most common needs of students with disabilities is more time on an assessment. In BlackBoard, there is no current way to do this easily, but you can make a copy of the exam and set it up through Adaptive Release to release that version to only that student. This does create extra columns in your gradebook, unfortunately, but luckily, after this semester this will no longer be an issue. In the summer, you will have access to an updated version of BlackBoard that should have functions for allowing extra time for individual students right within a single assessment. For more information on this process, consult the links on this slide.
  • RespondusLockDown Browser does have some new features that allows students to take exams using a Lockdown Browser App, as well as makes the test accessible to screen reader users. It is a good idea to turn these two settings on, even if you are not sure whether students will be using a screen reader or a mobile device. It does not impact any other students to have these settings on, and can increase accessibility. However, the first option to Lock students into the browser until the test is completed is not a good option to select for online test-takers. This is intended for lab environments only and can be problematic for students not taking the test right in front of you in a classroom or lab. It does not override any settings related to automatic submission or forced completion of a test, which are settings set up in the test options of BlackBoard for an individual test.
  • There is also a mobile BlackBoard Learn app that you may not be aware of, but students may be using. You may also want to tell your students about this app in case they do not know, as it can be a great tool for busy students on the go. I recently had a student in class who was told about the app, downloaded it while we were talking, and giggled out loud at how excited she was to have such a thing! It helps her stay more on top of you her work, and more engaged with the class, since she finds herself frequently with her phone in hand and less frequently able to sit down at a computer. So, you may have many students as well that might benefit. The cost is minimal at $1.99 for a year or $5.99 for unlimited access. It does not allow for submitting assignments, but students can participate in discussions, view announcements, review things you have posted, and take Mobile Compatible tests. This is a special type of test that does have some limitations, but if you wish to experiment with it as an alternative to the traditional form of BlackBoard tests, you may wish to do so. Note that LockDown Browser is not an option for Mobile Compatible tests.
  • Please consult these resources to learn more about different types of accessibility online
  • Please consult these resources for more advice and insight into accessibility for students at the college level
  • Please consult these resources for help with BlackBoard accessibility
  • Please contact us and visit for all workshop notes, links, and training needs. Thank you!
  • BlackBoard Learn Accessibility

    1. 1. + Accessibility in BlackBoard Learn Anastasia Trekles, Ph.D.
    2. 2. +
    3. 3. + The Importance of Accessibility  Not everyone uses computers and the Internet in the same way, but everyone CAN use these tools successfully  Assistive technology can help people with visual, mobility, and other sensory, cognitive, or physical disabilities use technology effectively  Strategies that we employ in our online development can also make a user’s experience that much better  Consider that there are many disabilities we cannot even see!
    4. 4. + The 10-second Accessibility Test  Terrill Thompson’s 10 Second Web Accessibility Test 1. Use the Outline button on the WAVE toolbar to see if the web page has logical heading structure. 2. Again using the WAVE toolbar, check for Errors, Features, and Alerts. 3. Try tabbing through the page. 4. If the page includes video content, try playing a video to see if it's captioned.  W3C-WAI Demo site  Accessible University 2.0
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    6. 6. + Name your Pictures  When uploading and inserting a picture, be sure that is has a Description and Title  This should be a simple title of no more that one or two sentences, or a summary phrase  Complex images like graphs should be described in more detail as a download or Item with text
    7. 7. + Use PDFs with “real” text  Some PDFs that are scanned from another source are actually images and cannot be read in a screen reader  Make sure your PDF files are actual text and tagged as well as possible  Use Styles (Headings, Paragraph, etc.) in Word if converting Word to PDF  See robat/  See robat/converting for converting from Word
    8. 8. + Use Captioned Videos or Transcripts  Captions can do wonders for many students in understanding a video, not just the deaf  Automatic YouTube captions are not ideal – use your own or a transcript wherever possible  Lecture notes and transcripts should be able to take the place of the video if you use them  Making your own videos? See utorial-camtasia-8.html  Useful tips on caption and transcript development: ptions/
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    11. 11. + Making Accommodations for Students with Disabilities  Testing and giving extra time  Currently must make a copy of the exam and set Adaptive Release  Next fall there will be a special exemptions option so no more test copies!  Learn more:  
    12. 12. + LockDown Browser  LockDown Browser is great for proctored environments but consider whether you really need LDB for online test-takers  NEW: You can add some features to make LDB more accessible – see the Advanced Settings in LDB Course Tool  Tip: do NOT Lock Browser on completion with new settings for online test-takers
    13. 13. + Mobile BlackBoard Accessibility  An app for accessibility to BlackBoard through iPhone/iPad or Android- based devices is available  Cost: $5.99 for unlimited use, or $1.99 for one year  Allows for:  Checking (but not giving) grades  Posting Announcements  Reviewing and replying to discussion posts, blogs, and journals  Viewing and posting course content and learning materials (can accept attachments via DropBox)  Taking mobile-friendly tests (requires the use of Mobile-Compatible Test assessment type)
    14. 14. + Accessibility Resources  W3C Web Accessibility Initiative:  Helpful video accessibility checklist: media/video/508-compliant-video-guide/video-accessibility-checklist  PDF accessibility:  Many other excellent articles on making various materials accessible:  WAVE accessibility checker for websites and HTML:
    15. 15. + More Accessibility Resources  PNC:  Purdue Calumet (thanks to Pam Riesmeyer):  University of Washington DO-IT  Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology  AccessIT  University of Wisconsin – Madison DoIT: Division of Information Technology  Penn State University: AccessAbility
    16. 16. + BlackBoard Resources  Using Blackboard with JAWS Screen Reader:  Creating accessible course content: pdf  Complete screen reader tutorial for use with BlackBoard:  Study on comparing the top LMS systems (2013):
    17. 17. + Thanks! Reach us at:  Twitter and Facebook: @PNCOLT  for all workshop notes, links, and training needs