Blackboard Ally for Instructors

Ally Supports Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Education

As of June 21, 2018, eLearning and Emerging Technologies is pleased to announce the addition of a new enterprise software solution called Blackboard Ally to support the university’s work in providing inclusive education through accessibility. Ally supports the university’s work in recognizing the importance of accessibility as part of our pathway to inclusive education whereby we support the diverse physical and cognitive needs of ALL students at GVSU, including those with identified or self-disclosed disabilities. 

Why Ally and Accessibility?

Accessible content helps all students learn while supporting principles of universal design for learning (UDL). Learning materials that are more usable and readable provides students with high-quality alternative formats of content that provide flexibility and work more effectively on mobile devices.

Ally was adopted at GVSU to increase awareness of the importance of accessibility and ADA compliance, to build the capacity of faculty in creating accessible content, and to offer greater insight at the institutional level. Since deploying Blackboard Ally, the overall accessibility score reported by the institutional dashboard indicates an increase of 16 percentage points.

VIDEO > Viewing File Accessibility with Blackboard Ally

Ally Support Contact

Blackboard Administrator
(616) 331-8526 
4450 KHS 

Blackboard Ally Indicators

"Accessible content is better content... enabling ALL students to be successful!"

How does Ally work?

As content is uploaded into Blackboard by faculty, an indicator is displayed, providing an at-a-glance view of the level of accessibility of the file. Clicking an indicator provides additional information about how to improve the file with "green being the goal". Ally also automatically creates alternative formats for students.

Faculty Benefits

  1. Increases capacity to support faculty in building high quality accessible content and correcting files already in their Blackboard courses.
  2. Assists in the creation of alternative accessible content in Blackboard through the real-time conversion of files uploaded into Blackboard without any faculty intervention or extra work. Automatically generated alternative file formats include: Tagged PDF, HTML, ePub, Electronic Braille, Audio
  3. Provides additional ADA Section 504 and 508 due diligence and good faith effort of evaluating content that has been uploaded by faculty into Blackboard.
  4. Supports requests for an institutional dashboard view for the level of accessibility of all courses in Blackboard at GVSU.
  5. Responds to student needs for accessible versions of content without the extra overhead of development time for our existing staff or faculty.
  6. Builds institutional capacity to respond to increased federal and legal requirements for accessibility at GVSU.

In short, Blackboard Ally reviews the accessibility of course content and provides faculty guidance, insight, and tips for lasting improvements to content accessibility. Faculty receive feedback on the accessibility of their content, along with step-by-step instructions to improve files.

Currently, Ally checks the following file types that have been uploaded to Blackboard: 

  • Images
  • PDF files
  • Microsoft® Word files
  • Microsoft® PowerPoint® files
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice files
  • Uploaded HTML files
  • YouTubeTM Videos without Captions

Student Benefits

In addition to providing faculty with insight to course content accessibility, Ally automatically creates alternative versions of your files to support Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This allows students to choose the type of file they want that best suits their needs. While faculty are in the process of improving files, students still access alternative copies. Ally creates the following alternative versions for students to be used while commuting, driving, when audio is preferred and on mobile devices. 

  • Tagged PDF - Structured 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 

VIDEO > Converting Scanned PDFs into Accessible Tagged PDFs with Alternative Formats and Microsoft Word

Ally Support Information

Quick Start

Accessibility Scores

View File Accessibility

Improve File Accessibility

Frequently Asked Questions

Ally Tip Sheets

Learn about Ally one fix at a time. Walk through accessibility scenarios, and see how Ally feedback helps you improve inclusive learning in your course in the following links.

GVSU Professor Testimonials

"Ally is an important tool for ensuring all students can access course content."

- Ira Woodring, Affiliate Faculty, School of Computing and Information Systems

“Ally documents evidence of my efforts as faculty to make my teaching more accessible.

Through incremental changes Ally guides me step by step to adjust course files.  As I’m learning how to use Word better, all other file formats are generated in my course automatically.

Ally uses gamification to indicate my progress in making files student-friendly.  Getting to 100% is an emotional rush!”

- Szymon Machajewski, CIS Affiliate Professor, teaching CIS150 in the School of Computing and Information Systems and recipient of the Most Inclusive Classrooms in the United States

“GVSU is committed to inclusive education, and I am focused on ensuring my courses are accessible. Blackboard Ally will help me ensure that my courses are as accessible as possible for my students, save me time, and most importantly help faculty at GVSU to focus on improving student success.”

- Cheryl Kautz, Affiliate Instructor in the School of Computing and Information Systems and recipient of the Most Inclusive Classrooms in the United States

GVSU 2021 Strategic Plan Connection

Blackboard Ally supports the university's 2021 Strategic Plan in the following areas:

  • Objective 3.B.1: All systems and policies ensure inclusiveness and accessibility.

    Objective 1.D.2: At least 93% of faculty members regularly use electronic course management tools, such as Blackboard, in their teaching.

    Objective 3.D.2: At least 30% of undergraduate courses are offered in innovative approaches and formats, such as hybrid, online and competency-oriented.

    Objective 3.D.3: At least 30% of graduate courses are offered in innovative approaches and such as hybrid, online and competency-oriented.

    Objective 4.D.1: Effective technologies are integrated into every function and structure across the institution.

  • GVSU Inclusiveness Value Statement - “Grand Valley State University values all identities, perspectives, and backgrounds and is dedicated to incorporating multiple voices and experiences into every aspect of its operations. Grand Valley is committed …removing the barriers to full participation and providing a safe, inclusive, vibrant community for all.”
  • GVSU Vision Statement - “GVSU demonstrates its commitment to providing an inclusive learning environment where all students can explore new directions, find their niches, and develop skills for life and productive careers.”

Noteworthy Ally Highlights

Ally was recently featured in the Grand Valley Lanthorn in an article entitled: "Blackboard Ally provides resources to improve accessibility", in GV Forum "Blackboard Ally increases student accessibility", and in a PRNewswire article: "Blackboard Ally Helps Make Course Content more Accessible for Students". The eLearning team has recently presented in 2 webinars highlighting Ally at GVSU: "Blackboard Ally Forum Series Roundtable" and a Michigan Blackboard Users Group webinar entitled: "Making Accessibility Accessible at GVSU with Blackboard Ally". A presentation was also given in partnership with the University of Cincinnati ad the ELI Annual Conference entitled: "Strategies to Establish Pathways for Inclusive Education". EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research has provided a report underscoring the importance of accessibility awareness and support. GVSU was featured in an article entitled: "Data-Driven Strategies for Inclusive Learning" in a Blackboard Pathways to Inclusion: Stories from the Ally Community" series.

Blackboard Ally Awards

Page last modified March 20, 2019