Blackboard Ally Frequently Asked Questions

What is Ally?New

Blackboard Ally is a revolutionary product that integrates seamlessly into Blackboard and focuses on making digital course content more accessible. As the instructor adds course content, the content passes through an accessibility checklist and is scored, and machine learning algorithms perform a full structural and visual analysis.

Based on this analysis, Ally is able to generate alternative formats for students that are more accessible and to provide the instructor with feedback on how to ensure future content is as accessible as possible.

When can I begin using Blackboard Ally?New

The Disability Resource Center, Presidential Commission on the Status of Persons with Disabilities, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, and Division of IT are working together to design an implementation plan for Blackboard Ally. We hope to launch an initial pilot in fall, 2021. If you are interested in being part of the pilot group, reach out to us at citl@niu.edu.

What do my students see when Ally is enabled?New

Students will see a new menu to the right of any supported content that allows students to access the alternative formats available for that file.

Ally alternative format icon

Students do not see the icons that indicate the content's accessibility score, the scores themselves, nor the accessibility feedback. That information is only visible to the instructor. 

What file types does Ally support?New

Ally will check and provide alternative formats for any visual or text-based content that you have added to your Blackboard course, including the following file formats:

  • PDF files
  • Microsoft® Word files
  • Microsoft® Powerpoint® files
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice files
  • Uploaded HTML files
  • Image files, including JPG, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF

Ally also checks any text and images created using the text editor, although the results for that content is currently only available in the course accessibility report.

What accessibility issues does Ally check for?New

Ally’s accessibility checklist is based on WCAG 2.1 AA (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). This is an international accessibility standard, and most of the legislation and legal requirements worldwide aligns with this standard.

Additionally, Ally also adds a number of additional checks on top of this that start to target the usability and quality of the course materials a bit more.

What alternative formats does Ally generate?New

Ally provides alternative formats for these content types:

  • PDF files
  • Microsoft® Word files
  • Microsoft® Powerpoint® files
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice files
  • Uploaded HTML files

These alternative formats can be generated:

  • OCR’d version (for scanned documents)
  • Tagged PDF (currently for Word, Powerpoint and OpenOffice/LibreOffice files)
  • Mobile-friendly HTML
  • Audio
  • ePub
  • Electronic Braille
  • BeeLine Reader
What about copyright and prohibitions on making derivate works?New
  • Alternative formats are only and always available with the original file.
  • Students must be enrolled in a course to get alternative formats, which allows for an argument that these are instructional materials shared under fair use guidelines.  
  • Ally doesn't provide alternative formats for documents with metadata stating no derivatives of a document can be generated. Ally will only scan the document for accessibility issues and include this data in the course report and instructor feedback.
What does Ally do with YouTube videos?New

Ally checks YouTubeTM videos for captions and presents this information in the course accessibility report. Auto-generated YouTube captions aren't considered to be valid captions due to the likelihood of errors. Any YouTube video with auto-generated captions is considered "not captioned".

Ally checks for both embedded YouTube videos and links to YouTube videos. There isn't any feedback or alternative formats available at this time for videos.

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Technical Support and Student Help

Division of IT Service Desk

815-753-8100
servicedesk@niu.edu

Teaching Support and Faculty Help

Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning

815-753-0595
citl@niu.edu

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