AUGUST 11, 2022 — UTSA faculty have been piloting a new tool that advances accessibility in course materials, giving all learners more equitable access to academic success. Known as Ally, the tool integrates seamlessly into Blackboard, UTSA’s learning management system, where students complete assignments, access course curricula and interact with their instructors.
Academic Innovation, a support division of the Department of Academic Affairs, is supporting faculty who are using Ally to create inclusive online learning environments. The division’s Digital Accessibility team’s instructional designers and accessibility experts, for example, are helping faculty use this technology to expand and enhance academic accessibility for all students.
Once faculty run an accessibility check, Ally provides immediate feedback and personalized recommendations to resolve common barriers like inaccessible digital documents and images missing alternative text that could not be read by an assistive screen reader. The accessibility check also provides guidance on whether text, image and design elements have a high enough contrast to be easily read by all learners. Ally also allows students to access available alternative formats for some courses.
“While the law mandates accessibility, UTSA’s Digital Accessibility team understands that accessibility is necessary for some but beneficial to all,” said RaLynn McGuire, Academic Innovation’s lead expert on digital accessibility and universal design for learning (UDL). “Often, many content creators are not aware of issues that create accessibility barriers for learners—we’re here to help them remediate the problems and find a solution.”
Academic Innovation partnered with UTSA colleges to enable Ally for all classes within departments from the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, the Carlos Alvarez College of Business, the College of Education and Human Development, the College of Sciences, the College for Health, Community and Policy (HCAP) and University College. Eighty faculty members have accessed Ally through the pilot program to address accessibility issues and implement UDL principles across 532 courses, impacting an estimated 14,391 students.
“I believe that all faculty recognize the importance of making our course material accessible. However, the difficulty has been knowing what that looks like,” said William Land, an associate professor of sport psychology in HCAP. “Ally makes the process of identifying accessibility issues within my Blackboard course straightforward.”
Since the tool does most of the work, faculty need not be experts in accessibility matters to use it, Land continued, adding that while having quality course content is important, “that content has to be accessible so that all students can learn and benefit equally.”
UTSA is committed to diversity and a campus culture of inclusion that is necessary for a rich learning environment and is essential in preparing students to work, live and contribute to an increasingly complex society. At UTSA, several offices and programs support accessibility and regularly review and grow assistive resources to improve the accessibility of campus, programs, and activities.
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