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John Scott

Mar 19, 2019

Impacting Inclusion Across the District

Blackboard Ally for Web Community Manager

For Diverse Communities

As I’ve made my way around to colleges and universities using Blackboard Ally for the LMS, we’ve talked a lot about two important steps to a more inclusive community: Providing equitable access to content and providing options for engaging with content. Whether it’s course content in the LMS or content on websites, access and options can help people with different needs, abilities, and devices participate successfully. For a K12 district, websites play an important role in keeping parents, students, and the broader public informed and engaged. So taking the steps to make websites more accessible to such a diverse community can have a big impact on everyone.

Of course, making sure a website meets WCAG standards can help a district avoid Office of Civil Rights complaints. But as demonstrated in several studies, more accessible, usable content can also help non-disabled users retain information and complete tasks more quickly. With Blackboard Ally, districts using Web Community Manager have both the benchmarking tools and alternative media to better ensure all members of their community can access and understand important information, whether they use a screen reader, a mobile phone, or speak another language.  

During my visit to Barnstable High School on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, I had the chance to chat with Ryan Webber from Falmouth Public School district and Maura Bussiere from Barnstable Public Schools about their experiences using Ally and what they are looking forward to next on their road to IncluCity.


Expanding the Scope of Impact

For the over 290 school districts who used Ally to make their WCM sites more accessible in 2018, the release of alternative formats and instructor feedback in 2019 brought some exciting new capabilities to the Ally toolset. With the instructor feedback available for docs and files uploaded to WCM pages, webmasters can more effectively scale their accessibility efforts, as content creators now have inline feedback about the accessibility score of their materials as well as detailed information to address those issues. With the alternative formats, school districts can feel more confident that their community have access to content in a mobile-friendly HTML format, content translated into 50 languages, and content that will work better with screen readers and assistive technologies.

Providing equitable access to content and providing options for engaging with content are key first steps to a more inclusive community.


But how else might a school district take advantage of these new capabilities? With Ally, WCM users now have an expansive set of professional learning resources around accessible content authoring as well as an engine for alternative media production. The Instructor Feedback covers best practices and guidelines for over a dozen of the most common and impactful accessibility issues, offering users printable instructions that can be used to create training resources. For classroom teachers creating new content or adapting existing content from open educational resources, districts can put workflows in place using Ally to identify and fix accessibility issues at every level of the district.

The alternative formats allow website visitors to choose how they engage with their web content, but also offer districts sophisticated tools for transforming curriculum content into formats that can support student learning. Ally includes both text to speech tools and Optical Character Recognition tools, helping districts put workflows in place for special education teachers to create alternative media for students with accommodations. For schools that use tablets, Ally can also be used to generate ePub and HTML content that will work better with those devices.

More from K12 and WCM

We’ve got more K12 visits coming up on the Ally Tour, including a visit to Cullman City School District in Alabama on April 18th. If you’re a member of a K12 district, share your story of inclusion or post your Ally questions on Twitter at #BbAlly or #AllyTour2019. And join our Ally Community at as we work together on the road to IncluCity.


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