Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Faculty at UTSA find an Ally to make their courses more accessible

Faculty at UTSA find an Ally to make their courses more accessible

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.

“While the law mandates accessibility, UTSA’s Digital Accessibility team understands that accessibility is necessary for some but beneficial to all.”

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.”

Faculty interested in participating in Ally can learn more by clicking here.
Visit Academic Innovation’s Accessibility Support website to learn more about the digital tools utilized by UTSA.
Students who have accessibility issues or questions about available accommodations are encouraged to visit Student Disability Services.
Contact the Digital Accessibility team.
Contact Disability Services.

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.

Brett W. Copeland

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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.

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We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.

UTSA’S Destinations

UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education.

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The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to ending generations of discrimination and inequity. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.