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Blackboard and Accessibility

Blackboard is the enterprise course management system at Grand Rapids Community College that is used for the delivery of online courses and in the support for online resources used for on campus classes. 

The latest release (version 9.1) of Blackboard software has recently been awarded with a "Nonvisual Accessibility Gold Certification", making it the first learning management system to achieve certification by The National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

Blackboard uses the following sets of standards with audits of the software releases being conducted by a third party to ensure the accessibility of the products:

  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) issued by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act issued in the Untied States Federal Government

Additional resources such as the VPAT documents for conformance with accessibility standards are available on the Blackboard accessibility web page.

This page highlights resources for faculty that can be used as recommendations to make course materials more accessible which is a requirement under the Assistive Technology Act, Section 508.

When designing instruction and creating electronic resources for your courses, Section 508 standards are important, especially in the following areas:

  1. Text - Headings should be properly used to create a hierarchical order, and color contrast should be adequate and not convey meaning.  Tables should have column and row headers.
  2. Video - Captions and descriptive narration are needed for video elements.
  3. Images & Graphics - Visual elements need alternative text and narrative descriptions.
  4. Audio - Transcripts need to be included with audio files.

    * WebAIM has a helpful checklist to assist in ensuring the compliance of your instructional content.

    * Content that is developed and uploaded by faculty and also information provided by external websites and textbook publishers are also required to be accessible.

     

Support regarding accessibility is provided to faculty and students by GRCC's Disability Support Services (DSS) office.  DSS offers several services to students such as alternative text, sign language services, note taking, assisting in captioning videos and transcription, student interpreters, and more. 

Note: If you have a student with a disability enrolled in one of your courses, please contact DSS if you have any questions regarding legal obligations or if you need additional support in providing instructional accommodations.

Faculty training sessions and resources offered through the Center for Teaching Excellence, and faculty Blackboard training through the Distance Learning and Instructional Technologies Department.

Universal Design for Learning

Building Accessible Content in Blackboard

While Blackboard has received the Gold Certification for accessibility from the National Federation of the Blind, the accessibility of content loaded into the system (by faculty or textbook publishers) is also important.  Here are a few tips for creating accessible content in Blackboard:

  1. Text - When authoring in Blackboard, it is important to keep the text on screen as clean and clear as possible so that screen readers can effectively read the text and relay it back to a student with a disability. 

    Text can be entered directly into the Visual Text Box Editor in Blackboard or copied into the editor from a word processor such as Microsoft Word.  Microsoft Word files can also be uploaded to Blackboard and it is important to use filenames that better reflect the purpose and content of the document. (For example: "Fall 2012 Syllabus.doc" is more descriptive than "doc1.doc".)  WebAIM has resources for PDF files, Powerpoint and Microsoft Word.  Guidelines are also available from Portland Community College.
     
  2. Images - When images are added into a course (or in a file that is uploaded into a course), it is important to be sure that alternative text is available for the images.  Alternative text is used to describe and explain the image to a student with a disability. 

    A good resource for additional information about using "Alt Text" features is located on the WebAIM: Creating Accessible Images web site.  If images are used in Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, or Powerpoint files, it is important to use the "Alt Text" features in these applications to ensure accessibility.  WebAIM has resources for PDF files, Powerpoint and Microsoft WordGuidelines are also available from Portland Community College.
     
  3. Audio, Video, and Multimedia - As multimedia is added into a course, such as audio clips or video such as a Camtasia Relay lecture, it is required to have transcripts (for audio) or captions (for video) for students with disabilities. 

    Commercial or textbook publisher content also requires transcripts or captions for audio and video content.  If these are not available, contact the GRCC Library and/or the publisher directly to determine if an accessible version is available.

    In either case, additional accommodation may be available on a case by case basis through support of the Disability Support Services department. (DSS offers several services to students such as alternative text, sign language services, note taking, assisting in captioning videos and transcription, student interpreters, and more.)

    Real-time or synchronous technologies such as Blackboard IM or Blackboard Collaborate that include audio or visual elements are also in need of transcripting, captioning, and support. If a student is part of a class that needs captioning, transcription, or accommodation, please contact Disability Support Services department to determine if sign language services, note taking, or a real-time captioner for the live event can be arranged.

    In summary, a transcript is typically a text version of audio or in a video it is the sound track.  Captions are usually placed over the video and synchronized with the playback of the media.  A good resource for additional information about captioning and transcripts is located on the WebAIM: Web Captioning Overview web site. Guidelines are also available from Portland Community College.

Blackboard Resources

Student Resources

  • GRCC Disability Support Services - GRCC's Disability Support Services provides academic support to qualified students with documented disabilities. DSS offers several services to students such as alternative text, sign language services, note taking, assisting in captioning videos and transcription, student interpreters, and more.
  • Screen Reader Tutorial - A student tutorial on how to navigate Blackboard using a screen reader.
Tools for Checking Accessibility Accessibility FAQs