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Accessibility and Ally


1. What is Ally - and what will I see?

What is Ally?

Ally is a tool, built into Blackboard / MyBeckett. It has three basic functions:

  1. It scans your materials, like a spell-checker, and helps you to create resources that are 'accessible' and easier to use.
  2. It automatically creates copies of your materials in different formats - such as audio or braille - and makes them available to students on request.
  3. It produces information about the usage of your materials, helping you review and plan your module developments.

What do I see when Ally is enabled?

 a) Within the content area.

Every time you upload an item to your module, Ally will scan the material automatically and create a report.  When the scan is complete, and you look at the item in your module, the report is set out like this:

Picture showing Ally item report

The key features of a report are:

(1) A summary of all issues identified under each 'category.' (In the example above it has flagged 1 of 3 images that do not have a description.  It highlights all the issues in that category (images with no description) and allows you to cycle between them using the up/down buttons.

(2) The overall accessibility score of this item is 35% in the example above - this is calculated against international design standards.

(3) This document contains the images that do not have a description.  Clicking the 'information' symbol (i) also provides a list of all the issues identified in this document.

(4) Click this if you want more information about this issue (images without descriptions) and why it is important.

(5) This is a direct link to the Blackboard help pages, useful if you need more general 'system' information.

(6) Click this to start a 'wizard' that will guide you through how to 'fix' the issue of 'images without descriptions.'

(7) When you have made the changes, click Browse to upload the replacement document - directly. You do not have to remove the old version or modify anything else in your module.

Clicking the 'speedometer' (Accessibility score indicator) will give you access to the accessibility report; this will identify and explain any accessibility issues.

The report will list issues according to how easily they can be modified and the impact those changes will have on the accessibility score. It also provides controls and tools that will guide you through the steps necessary to make improvements.

Once recommended improvements are done, you will see the new score and any further improvements that can be made.

Picture showing revised score

 b) From the control panel.

You can run Ally from the left-hand tool bar of your module.

In this case, Ally scans all the materials in your module.   It produces a report listing all the items that have 'accessibility issues.'

The report provides a summary of the resources, and an 'action list' based on how easily they can be improved and their impact on the module's overall accessibility 'score.' 

This report shows:

  1. Overall accessibility score - for the named module.
  2. Summary of all the learning materials uploaded to the module - by file format and type.
  3. Number of items with issues that can be improved quickly and easily. Click Start to begin making improvements.
  4. Number of items with the lowest accessibility score - and the biggest impact on the module score. Click Start to begin making improvements.
  5. Any remaining items that have 'general' issues - with a description of what can be improved. 
  6. Number of items falling into each category.

Student View

Students will only see the Ally icon (Capital Letter A symbol).  By clicking this, they can request and download this item in a variety of alternative formats. As an instructor, you will see both the Ally icon and the 'speedometer' icon; Blackboard calls this the "Accessibility score indicator."


2. Why use Ally?

There are many benefits:

Ally has several features that are very useful for tutors - and students.

  • Ally works across MyBeckett checking the 'accessibility' of your course and its resources.
  • It identifies and explains any issues.
  • Ally guides you through how to make improvements - without having to leave the course. 
  • Ally automatically creates materials in 'alternative formats' and makes them available to students on demand.
  • It gives easy to use feedback on the usage of resources to assist in module development.  
  • Ally does more than simply report, it provides information and practical help with materials design and creation. Those features, and how to use them, are covered below.

Ally's reporting uses a 'rating system' that is very is clear and easy to understand.

This 'assessment' is purely concerned with the 'accessibility' of the item. That assessment is made against worldwide standards for accessibility design - such as the colour contrast ratio and how it affects 'ease of reading', or the existence of headings and image labels that are necessary for screen readers and other 'assistive technology.'  The rating has nothing to do with the quality or complexity of the content.

More significantly, Ally offers practical guidance on how to make improvements - and prioritises any actions based on what will be the quickest, easiest and 'most significant' improvements.

Convert easily into alternative formats

Ally also converts your existing materials into alternative formats for students to use if they find them more convenient - or more suited to their learning style.  

You do not have to make several versions of your resources. The system converts and delivers them automatically and on demand.

Blackboard Ally allows students and staff to automatically convert documents into a range of alternate media. You can make an accessible copy if:

  • you own the copyright (e.g. it's your own work),
  • you have permission from the copyright owner,
  • the copyright has expired,
  • you have a print disability or if it's for someone with a print disability.
  • documents produced by Leeds Beckett University in relation to course work and University activities, e.g. module handouts, course packs, lecture notes, without prior permission from the University. (This does not apply to published works or material where the copyright owner is not the University, unless you have a print disability)

If you require accessible electronic copies of published works, such as book chapters, for teaching purposes, these can be requested from LLI’s Digitisation Service (digitisation@leedsbeckett.ac.uk). See the following guidelines for information about this Service: Scan print materials for MyBeckett.

Please be aware of the Data Protection Act when converting and storing files that contain personal data.

Compatible with all devices

Ally also works across all major devices, allowing access to the feedback and tools at any time. 


3. How to use Ally

Ally's staff features can be used in two ways.

  1. From within the content area, working on each 'item' of content.
  2. From Module Tools (or Course Tools if in a Course Group), it will scan the whole module and then allow you to improve on each item as needed.

a. Using Ally from within a content area.

Every time you upload an item to your module (or Course Group), Ally will scan the material - and create a report. When the scan is complete, and you look at the item, you will see:

Picture of a tutor's assignment view with icons

Clicking on the 'speedometer' (2) will give you access to the accessibility report,
NB: on this example above the speedometer is green, which indicates no improvements are required, but if amber or red click it for a report.

The Report

This will identify and explain any accessibility issues - and guide you through making any improvements.

Picture showing Ally item report

Clicking button 4 will give a clear explanation of this issue and why it is important.

Picture showing Ally's explanation of an issue

Clicking button 6, "How to add descriptions", launches a wizard that will guide you through make the changes to your document.

Picture showing Ally's instructions on how to make improvements

You can leave your browser - and module - open while you make any changes to a document.

In this case:

  1. Leave the Ally report page open, go to your word processor/PDF editor and make the changes to your original file.
  2. Rename the revised file if you wish (to indicate the version number, for example). When you have made the changes to your document return to the Ally report page,
  3. Find "Upload a version with image descriptions" and click the Browse button.

Picture showing submission of revised materials

Browse your computer to find the new version, exactly as if you were attaching it to an e-mail.

Picture showing Ally's upload box

The file will upload and replace the old version automatically. You do not have to make any other changes in the module.

Picture showing revised score

You will also see the revised 'accessibility score' for your document - and the impact those changes have made. 

b. Using Ally from the Module/Course Tools Panel.

Run Ally from the Management area of your module or course group.

In this case, Ally scans all the materials in your module/course group. It produces a report listing all the items that have 'accessibility issues' in a report list, sorting them based on how easily they can be improved and the impact those improvements will have on the module/course group accessibility score. 

To run Ally from the Module or Course Tools panel, (scroll down the module menu until you see Course Management/Course Tools).  If necessary, expand the Course Tools heading to see Accessibility Report:

Picture showing Ally's accessibility report button

Click on 'Accessibility Report' to start Ally. It will produce a report like this one:

Picture showing Ally course report and issues

This shows:

  1. The overall accessibility score - for the named module.
  2. A summary of all the learning materials uploaded to the module - by file format and type.
  3. Number of items with issues that can be fixed quickly and easily. Click Start to begin making improvements for those items.
  4. Number of items with the lowest accessibility score - and the biggest impact on the module score. Click Start to begin making improvements.
  5. Any remaining items that have 'general' issues - with a description of what needs 'fixing.' 
  6. Number of 'general' items falling into each category. Click the > to begin making improvements for those items.

You can make improvements to the resources in your module from here.

You can target any or all these issues by running the same improvements wizard used in the 'content area' items and shown above - and prioritise your work according to any of the three 'cases.'. 

  • In cases 3 (easiest fixes) and 4 (lowest scoring items), you launch the Ally 'improvements'; wizard by clicking Start.
  • In case 6 (remaining issues), you launch the Ally 'improvements'; wizard by clicking the  > symbol.

In all cases, you  will be guided to the same report and tools shown above. 

Follow the same procedures to edit your documents and upload the revised materials.

An example:

In this case, one of the documents with remaining issues has a score of 32% because it has "images without a description." (known as Alt Text).

To fix those issue, click anywhere on or next to the file name

Picture showing Ally course report and issues

This opens the 'problem' document and goes directly to the 'improvement wizard.' 

From here, the process is the same as before. There are buttons for more information and full instructions on how to improve the document.

The new version is uploaded (as before) using the Upload/Browse box. It replaces the original and a new accessibility score is generated.  

Picture showing Ally improvement wizard

Once this is done, close the wizard using the cross symbol, X in the top right corner.

If there are any more documents with issues, Ally will return to the report automatically,  ready for you to repeat the process.


4. Help and resources

If you have any questions about using Ally or Designing for Accessibility - please contact Digital Learning Service using the contact details below.

(All links will open in a new browser window)


Contact Digital Learning Arrow Right Icon

Page last updated: 25/03/2021

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