Online Courses - Blackboard and Ally

​​Universal Design (UD) refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to older people, people without disabilities, and people with disabilities. See the 7 Principles of UD.

  • Include a welcoming access statement.
  • Be flexible and provide alternatives.
  • Provide simple, consistent navigation.
  • Choose communication and testing tools carefully.
  • Use color with care.
  • Make sure text is readable and high contrast.
  • Provide accessible document formats.
  • Describe graphics and visual elements with text.
  • Caption videos and transcribe audio clips.
  • Rethink and redesign PowerPoint presentations.
  • Use descriptive links rather than “Click Here.”

Blackboard Menu

  • Use the default menu provided for you in Blackboard.
  • Do not alter the menu color, font, or style.
  • Do not add or remove items from the menu.
  • Consistent, simple navigation is a key part of ADA compliance.


ReadSpeaker allows the text on a Blackboard page to be read out loud.

  1. The ReadSpeaker icon appears in the lower-left corner of your window when logged in to a course in Blackboard.
  2. ​Click on the ReadSpeaker icon and select the Play or Listen button to get started.​
  3. For more information about the ReadSpeaker player, see the ReadSpeaker Player Features Guide.
Screenshot showing a red arrow indicating the location of the ReadSpeaker icon.  

Ally (Blackboard’s ADA Compliance Tool)

Ally is a tool within Blackboard that provides instructors with feedback about the accessibility of their course content and guidance on how to fix accessibility issues.

Alternative Formats

Blackboard Ally automatically generates alternative accessible versions for course content and makes these available to all users (instructors AND students) within minutes.

  1. Click on the Ally Alternative formats button that appears to the right of the attachment name.
  2. From the options provided, choose any or all formats.
  • Tagged PDF: Structural PDF for improved use with assistive technology
  • HTML: For viewing in the browser and on mobile devices
  • ePub: For reading as an e-book on an iPad and other e-book readers
  • Electronic braille: BRF version for consumption on electronic braille displays
  • Audio: MP3 version for listening

Accessible Documents

Blackboard Ally indicates to instructors how accessible their course files are. It also provides hints for fixing issues. A red dial indicates a low accessibility score, orange indicates medium, and green is high. By clicking on the dial, instructors can view an exact accessibility percentage.

Instructors should follow these steps to make course files accessible.

  1. Click on the red or orange Blackboard Ally indicator to improve its accessibility score.

    Image of screen that shows a red, green and yellow indiactor next to each item listed  

  2. The Blackboard Ally window that appears will describe what needs to be fixed in the document. Changes to the document must be made outside of Blackboard, in the original application used to create it. The file can then be easily re-uploaded using the Ally tool.

    Accessibility score for: 5th Introduction to Business Homework Assignment Ch 12 Spring 16.docx. Indicator shows 32%. This document contains images that are missing an alternative description. What this means button. How to add descriptions button. Drop file to upload or Browse button. 

Accessible Images

An alternative tag or text, also known as alt tag or alt text, is the descriptive data included with website or document images. Alt tags provide a clear text alternative of the image for screen reader users. This makes it easier to connect the image to its context and allows students with visual impairments to perceive the image. Descriptions should be brief but convey the full meaning of the image. They should not be the same as the file name, as this is often not descriptive enough.

Similar to files, Blackboard Ally indicates to instructors when an image in their course is missing a description and provides the tool to fix it. A red dial indicates a low accessibility score, orange indicates medium, and green is high. By clicking on the dial, instructors can view an exact accessibility percentage.

Instructors should follow these steps to make course images accessible.

  1. Click on a red or orange Blackboard Ally dial to improve its accessibility score.
  2. Add an alternative description for the image. If the image is used only for decoration and conveys no meaning, you can click on the "Indicate image is decorative" button.

Tips for Writing Alt Text

  • Describe the image as specifically as possible. Alt text is designed to provide text explanations of images for users who are unable to see them.
  • Keep it short. The most popular screen readers cut off alt text at around 125 characters, so it's advisable to keep it to that character count or less.
  • Don't include "image of," "picture of," etc. in your alt text. This is assumed.