Blackboard Ally is a toolkit added to Moodle that can provide guidance on how to improve the accessibility of PDF, Word, PowerPoint and other resources that are uploaded to Moodle. 

To use Ally, you do not need to change the way you upload content to your Moodle pages. After uploading course content, Ally automatically analyses your resource and generates an accessibility score based on core accessibility requirements. An accessibility score indicator is displayed as an icon alongside your resource to give you an initial idea of how accessible it is. 

Low accessibility score redMedium accessibility score amberHigh accessibility score greenPerfect accessibility score dark green

Clicking on the icon will provide more detail about the resource's accessibility issues and specific guidance on how to address them. 

Ally can also provide you with an accessibility score for the entire course and help you to prioritise the accessibility issues that will have a more significant impact on students.

Accessibility scores can only be seen by staff and not by students. They are not collected or used to assess staff. They are intended to provide you with information and guidance on how to address any accessibility issues identified.

You are more likely to receive higher scores if you have followed the guidelines in the Creating Accessible Resources course.

Ally cannot automatically modify your original uploaded file to make it accessible - all required accessible file modifications are your sole responsibility. 

In addition, Ally can also provide students with access to a range of alternative formats that may better suit their specific needs. These formats are generated by Ally – not you.

Frequently asked questions

 Which types of files can Ally check?

Currently, Ally checks files in these formats:

  • PDF files
  • Word documents
  • PowerPoint slides
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice files
  • Uploaded HTML files
  • Image files (JPG, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BPM, TIFF)
  • Pages created using the Moodle editor
  • YouTube videos embedded in Moodle pages

 Which accessibility issues will Ally identify?

There can be many reasons why a resource may not be accessible. Ally checks accessibility using established WCAG 2.1 AA standards. The range of potential issues detected is large, but some of the more common ones are relatively easy to address. Ally will describe the issue, explain what the impact will be for a disabled student and provide guidance on how to fix the issue.

Some accessibility issues can be addressed within the Moodle / Ally environment, but most issues must be corrected in the source application and a revised copy of the resource will need to be uploaded to Moodle.

 What do the accessibility indicators mean?

After you upload files in your course, Ally produces an accessibility score for each file. An accessibility score indicator icon will be displayed alongside your file to inform you of how accessible the file is.

Ally red low accessibility score indicatorLow (0-33%): There are severe accessibility issues.

Ally amber medium accessibility score indicatorMedium (34-66%): The file is somewhat accessible and needs improvement.

Ally green high accessibility score indicatorHigh (67-99%): The file is accessible, but more improvements are possible.

Ally green perfect accessibility score indicatorPerfect (100%): Ally didn't identify any accessibility issues, but further improvements may still be possible.

A low score indicates a resource has severe or multiple accessibility issues; a high score means there are minor or no accessibility issues.

Be aware that the accessibility score is automatically generated and should only be used to guide you towards potential accessibility issues. Complex documents may score low, but have accessibility functionality that Ally can't detect.

 How do I use Ally to improve the usability and accessibility of content?
  1. Click on the accessibility score indicator next to your resource to see the Instructor Feedback panel.

  2. The Instructor Feedback panel shows you a preview of the document’s content as well as detailed feedback and support to help you fix your accessibility issues.

    Instructor Feedback panel

    • The percentage rating (1) shows the overall accessibility score for the file.
    • Click All issues (2) to see every accessibility issue in the file and by how much the score can be improved by fixing each issue. 
    • Select What this means (3) to learn more about the issue. The issue description can provide additional information about the issue, what the implications of not fixing it will be and advice on how to fix it.
    • Select How to fix the issue (3) and follow the steps to improve the file's accessibility.  These instructions change depending on the file and the accessibility issues found. For example, with a PDF you may see instructions on how to make the PDF tagged.
  3. Once you have fixed the issues in your file, you can upload the updated version to replace the one on Moodle.

The document preview will demonstrate where some of the issues in the resource are located to help you rectify them. Missing image descriptions, insufficient text contrast and tables without headers will be highlighted in the document preview. It is important to note, however, that the document preview does not show the full range of issues that may be present in your resource.

Some issues can be remedied or improved within the Moodle / Ally environment:

 Add Alt Text to images uploaded to Moodle

You can provide alternative text descriptions for images files uploaded to Moodle.

  1. When presented with an Instructor Feedback Panel indicating that the image is missing a description, type a description into the text field select Add.

    Instructor Feedback Panel indicating that the image is missing a description

  2. Make sure your description is more than just the title of the file, or Ally will report an accessibility error.

  3. Describe the image and what’s important within it. Make sure you mention any text in the image.

  4. If an image is only for visual effect and does not contain information relevant to the learning content, select Indicate image is decorative. You do not have to provide alternative image descriptions for decorative images.

 Making scanned PDFs accessible

If you upload a scanned image PDF to your course, Ally will mark this with a red, low accessibility indicator. PDFs created by scanning pages from old textbooks are inaccessible.

The best practice is to replace these with a proper digital text document. You can request accessible versions of library resources via the Library’s digitisation Service

  1. Ally will ask if you want to replace the scanned PDF with an accessible text version. If you don't yet have an accessible version, select No and Ally will allow you to add bibliographic information to the inaccessible file to help students find a more accessible version.

  2. When asked if the document can be found in the library, select Yes and add whatever information you have about the document, including a link to the library catalogue.

    Add bibliographic information to PDF
    This information will be available to your students via the resource's Alternative formats menu. Bibliographic information seen by students

  3. If the resource is not in the library catalogue, selecting No to both the text-based and library questions in the Ally feedback panel will prompt Ally to perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on the PDF file to attempt to identify text elements. While this will make the scanned document more accessible, it is not ideal and it is not a final solution, so will not improve the accessibility score. You still need to replace the scanned version with an accessible version when possible.

Further Guidance

For more information on making your resources accessible visit the Digital Accessibility help and training page or look at the accessibility checklists training section of this page.

 What alternative formats are available for download by students?
An inaccessible document cannot be made accessible by Ally converting it into a different format Alternative formats do not negate the need for you to provide an accessible resource in the first place.

Ally allows students to download a range of alternative formats of the resources you upload to Moodle. To see the range of formats available:

  1. Log into your course and find the file you want.

  2. Click the Alternative formats icon that is alongside the file.

    Alternative Formats icon

  3. Choose a format from the options listed. Alternative format options are as followed:
    • OCRed PDF – from scanned documents
    • Tagged PDF – from Word and PowerPoint files
    • Mobile-friendly HTML
    • ePub for eReaders and tablets
    • Electronic Braille – for visually impaired and blind students with electronic braille displays
    • Audio – MP3 recording of text
    • BeeLine Reader – a specialty reader that helps readers keep their place on the page

Ally will automatically translate your original uploaded resource into these formats - you do not have to do anything.

Further information about the different alternative formats

Not all files can generate an alternative format (e.g. PDFs compiled in LaTeX)

 Can I disable the ability to download alternative formats?

You can turn off alternative formats for individual content items. You may want to do this for pedagogical reasons or if your content cannot be accurately converted (eg Maths content created using LaTeX).

Disabling alternative formats only affects the selected file and you must repeat the process for every file you want to disable.

  1. Find a file attached to your course.

  2. Click on the Alternative Formats icon alongside your file.
    Alternative Formats icon

  3. The Download Alternative Formats panel is displayed. Select the down arrow button beside the Download alternative formats heading.

    Disable alternative formats for this file

  4. Select Disable alternative formats for this file.

  5. Select Close.

If students try to download alternative formats when disabled, they see a message telling them the alternative formats for that content item are not available.

To re-enable alternative formats for individual files.

  1. Find a file attached to your course.

  2. Click on the Alternative Formats icon alongside your file.

  3. Select Enable for this file.

    Enable alternative formats dialogue

  4. The Download Alternative Formats panel will then be displayed. Close the panel by clicking the X in the top right corner or Cancel.

 How do I access the Course Accessibility Report

The Course Accessibility Report acts as a complement to the accessibility score indicators. It provides an accessibility summary and overview at the course level. Use the report to help you decide what to fix first. For example, content with most severe issues first or start with the content that's easiest to fix.

To see the Course Accessibility Report:

  1. Go to your Moodle course

  2. Click the Settings button on the Moodle toolbar and select More from the menu.

    Moodle Settings menu

  3. Select Accessibility Report from the Course Administration menu.

    Accessibility Report in the Moodle Course Administration menu
  4. The Course Accessibility Report page will be displayed.

Course accessibility report

Select the Content tab to see a full list of the content items that have accessibility issues.

Select the Overview tab to show the overall accessibility score for the course, course content grouped by content type, and a list of all issues identified in the course.

The lower panel on the Overview page lists the accessibility Issues that have been detected in your content. The issues are listed in order of priority from severe to minor. Those at the top of the list should be addressed first. The severity of the issue is based on the potential number of students impacted, how often the issue occurs, and the accessibility score.

  1. Select an issue to see all the pieces of content that have that issue.
  2. Select an individual content item to open the Instructor Feedback panel to fix the issue.

You can also choose to address

  • Content with the easiest issues to fix
  • Low scoring content

Each option displays the number of items you'll be fixing.

Select the relevant Start button to see the content items listed and then select an item to open the Instructor Feedback panel.