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Ally 1.37 | Release to production 25 December 2019
Ally 1.37 introduces the ability to download an Ally Usage report directly from the institutional report. An additional Usage tab is now available in the institutional report, allowing for a date range to be selected and the usage report for that date range to be downloaded as an Excel file.
A usage report contains the following usage data about the alternative formats:
- How often has the alternative formats modal been triggered?
- How many alternative formats have been triggered?
- How often has triggering the alternative formats model led to an alternative format download?
- How often has each alternative format type been downloaded?
- In how many courses have alternative formats been downloaded?
- In which courses have alternative formats been downloaded (and how many per course)?
- What is the evolution of the alternative format modal triggers and alternative format downloads over time (by week)?
Usage reports also contain the following usage data about the instructor feedback:
- How often has the instructor feedback been triggered?
- How many content improvements have been made directly through the instructor feedback?
- How often has triggering the instructor feedback led to an immediate improvement of the content item through the instructor feedback?
- In how many courses have improvements been made through the instructor feedback?
- In which courses have improvements been made through the instructor feedback (and how many per course)?
- What is the evolution of the instructor feedback triggers and instructor feedback improvements over time (by week)?
Lastly, usage reports also include a Data tab that contains the full list of raw usage events that have been captured, and can be used to create additional custom visualizations.
Note that making the usage data graphs available directly in the institutional report UI is part of a future roadmap item.
Blackboard Ally is increasingly moving to feature flags as part of its development approach, allowing institutions to decide when to opt in or out of a particular feature. To help support this, a new Features tab is now available in the Ally Configuration UI. This Features tab lists all of the optional features that are available for your integration.
Examples of available optional features are the Translated Version alternative format, the ability to launch the instructor feedback from the institutional report, and so on. They can easily be enabled or disabled at any point in time, and more optional features will be added over time.
Ally for Websites Alternative Formats
The Ally for Websites integration now allows for specific HTML elements to be excluded from the alternative formats. Excluding an element can be achieved by adding the `data-ally-exclude` attribute to the element.
Next to Ally already limiting the content of the alternative formats to the `<main>` element or the element containing the `role=”main”` attribute, this new attribute provides some additional control on which page elements should be included or excluded from the generated alternative formats.
Ally 1.37 bug fixes and improvements
- The accessibility check for the presence of headings in Tagged PDFs has been expanded to also recognize `H` tags as a valid heading.
- Implemented several usability improvements in the Configuration UI based on the feedback from usability testing sessions.
- Improved the Print View in the instructor feedback to not include icons that are not relevant when printing the instructor feedback guidance.
- Fixed several bugs in the content preview component of the instructor feedback that occurred when closing and re-opening the instructor feedback for the same content item without refreshing the page.
- Fixed a bug that occasionally caused updates to image descriptions through the instructor feedback to fail.
- Fixed a bug in the Blackboard Learn integration that occasionally caused the alternative formats for content in a Learning Module to not be available.
- Fixed a bug in the Blackboard Learn integration that would occasionally cause the Ally accessibility indicator to overlap with the file name.
- Added support for courses with non-standard URLs because of their institutional hierarchy association in the Blackboard Learn integration.
Ally 1.36 | Release to production 2 December 2019
Ally for Websites content feedback
The Ally content feedback component is now available for Ally for Websites. In the Ally for Websites accessibility report, the score indicators for PDFs, Word documents, PowerPoint documents and Images can be clicked to launch the feedback component, which contains information about:
- What accessibility issues have been identified in the content item
- A preview of the content item and highlights that show where specific issues can be found in the document
- Documentation on what each issue means
- Detailed guidance on how to fix an issue
- A link to where the content can be found on the website
This feedback component will make it much easier for content creators to understand how accessible a content item is, what its issues are and how it can be made more accessible.
D2L Brightspace institutional hierarchy
The D2L Brightspace integration has been expanded to include the institutional hierarchy information for a course under the Department id and Department name columns in the courses.csv CSV export in the institutional report. This institutional hierarchy information is based on the `Department` organizational units that have been configured within Brightspace. This enables the calculation of the Ally score for each department in the institutional hierarchy through a tool like Excel, and serves as part of the foundational work to support native reporting by institutional hierarchy in the institutional report as part of our roadmap.
This feature requires an additional permission for the Ally API user. This can be configured under `Security > Roles and Permissions` by enabling the `Course Management Info` > `See Course Info: Enable for Course Offering` permission for the Ally API user.
A Library Reference could already be provided by instructors for scanned documents and untagged PDFs as a way to provide additional metadata for files where the instructor doesn’t have access to an original and has no other means of improving the accessibility of the file. Ally 1.36 introduces the ability for instructors to provide a Library Reference for all other PDFs.
Ally 1.36 bug fixes and improvements
- Improved the hover and focus styles of the Ally for Websites alternative formats button.
- Improved the Moodle integration to automatically accept the user policy for the Ally API user.
- Images embedded in the header or footer of a Word document are now excluded from the alternative description check.
- Fixed a bug that caused specific instructor feedback guidance fragments to not be translated correctly.
- Improved the handling of replacing a file with a different file type through the Ally instructor feedback.
Ally 1.35 | Release to production 5 September 2019
BeeLine Reader alternative format pilot
We are launching a pilot for a new alternative format, the BeeLine Reader alternative format. BeeLine Reader is a tool that we came across during last year’s Accessing Higher Ground conference, and is aimed at making on-screen reading faster and easier. To achieve this, it uses an eye-guiding color gradient to help pull the reader’s eyes from one line to the next, and reported benefits include increased reading speed and enhanced focus. The tool can benefit students with dyslexia, ADHD and low vision, as well as providing a better reading experience for all students. More information about BeeLine Reader can be found on the BeeLine Reader website.
As part of this pilot, we are looking for 25 institutions that are interested in enabling the BeeLine Reader alternative format in their Blackboard Ally integration for the next 6 months. There is no charge associated to this pilot, and feedback will be collected at the end of the pilot to help us understand how to best integrate this capability into Blackboard Ally going forward. To apply for this pilot, please fill out the BeeLine Reader Alternative Format Pilot request form.
Course accessibility report tracking
Blackboard Ally 1.35 introduces detailed usage tracking for the course accessibility report. These events are tracked:
- Launching the course accessibility report
- Opening the instructor feedback through the course accessibility report
- The different available navigation and filter actions
This usage data will also be made available in Ally usage reports going forward.
All usage data is anonymized, and therefore no usage reporting can be provided for individual instructors or students.
Ally 1.35 bug fixes and improvements
- Fixed a bug that caused the English account for the audio alternative format to be American English instead of British English for institutions in Europe.
- Fixed a bug in the Canvas integration that caused an unexpected outline to show around the alternative formats dropdown icon.
- Improved the quality of the HTML alternative format by automatically removing empty divs and spans.
Ally 1.33 | Release to production 2 July 2019
D2L BrightSpace integration
We are extremely proud to announce that Blackboard Ally is now available for D2L BrightSpace. Ally is seamlessly integrated into the D2L BrightSpace interface and provides the same functionality as the other Ally for LMS integrations, with alternative formats and instructor feedback being available for uploaded files such as PDF, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations and Images.
Next to these different file types, the institutional report also contains the results of checking the following WYSIWYG content types for accessibility issues:
- File topics
- Quiz topics
- External link topics
- Discussion topics
It may take up to July 25 for the integration to be available in D2L BrightSpace production environments, depending on which monthly release wave the environment is on.
Student alternative formats
Alternative formats panel
Instructor accessibility score
Instructor feedback panel
Administrator institutional report
More prominent alternative formats
In the last year alone, students have downloaded more than 2 million alternative formats through Ally. This has been a great confirmation of the Universal Design for Learning principles that Ally was designed with and how improved accessibility and choice can benefit all learners. Therefore, we are making the “Alternative Format” option more prominent to allow students to more easily find the alternative formats and access them more quickly.
Given that these more prominent Alternative Format icons affect the main LMS UI, we are doing a soft release of this feature. Institutions that want to enable the more prominent alternative formats straight away can request this through a Behind The Blackboard ticket. On August 1, all institutions will automatically be moved to the more prominent alternative formats, although it is possible to request a later date as well through a Behind The Blackboard ticket.
This is an overview of how the more prominent alternative formats are displayed in the different LMSs:
- Blackboard Learn: The Alternative Formats icon has been removed from the content dropdown and is now available as a single click next to the original file name.
- Blackboard Open LMS and Moodle: The Alternative Formats icon replaces the “Download” dropdown and is available as a single click next to the original file name.
- Instructure Canvas: The dropdown icon next to the original file name has been made more prominent. There are multiple actions that can be taken on a file (e.g., preview), so the dropdown is still in place to group those various actions and prevent the screen from becoming too cluttered.
- D2L BrightSpace: The Alternative Formats icon is available as a single click from the Table of Contents and the individual content pages.
Detailed usage tracking is now available for the Ally for Websites and Ally for Web Community Manager integrations. The following (anonymous) usage data is tracked for the alternative formats:
- How often is the alternative formats modal opened?
- How many alternative formats are downloaded?
- What alternative format types are downloaded?
- In which (sub)domains or sections have alternative formats been downloaded?
In the Ally for Web Community Manager integration, the following content creator feedback is tracked as well:
- How often is the content creator feedback opened?
- How many content items are improved through the content creator feedback?
- In which sections have improvements been made through the content creator feedback?
Similar to the Ally for LMS integrations, a usage report can be requested through a Behind The Blackboard support ticket. As part of our 2019 roadmap, this data will be exposed directly in the Ally report as well.
Ally 1.32 | Release to production 27 June 2019
Ally 1.32 introduces the ability for Blackboard Ally to record the configured institutional hierarchy within the LMS. The institutional hierarchy information for each course is then included under the `Department id` and `Department name` columns in the `courses.csv` CSV export in the institutional report. This makes it straightforward to calculate the Ally score for each element in the institutional hierarchy (e.g., departments) in Excel, and serves as the foundational work to support native reporting by institutional hierarchy in the institutional report as part of our roadmap.
Note that this feature is currently only available for the Canvas integration. The Blackboard Learn, Moodle and Open LMS integrations require additional REST APIs and support for those integrations will be made available as those REST APIs are released.
Course copies and imports
In the last few weeks, there were several cases where we incurred delays in the processing of new course copies and imports. As part of this release, several infrastructure improvements have been rolled out that should remove these delays.
Note that a small delay between copying / importing a course and Ally processing the content inside of the course is still expected.
Ally 1.32 bug fixes and improvements
- Fixed a bug in the Learn Ultra integration that occasionally prevented an image description set through the content editor from being recognized correctly.
- The scanned document accessibility check has been improved for long documents.
- Implemented several accessibility improvements in the Blackboard Ally for Websites alternative formats modal.
- Improved the handling of Word and PowerPoint documents that are flagged as zip bombs.
Ally 1.31 | Release to production 18 June 2019
Configuration UI in Blackboard Learn
The Ally Configuration UI is now available in the Blackboard Learn Administrator Panel, providing easier access to the various Ally configuration options and the ability to enable/disable Ally for individual courses.
Note that this requires the Blackboard Learn SaaS 3700.3.0 release (released to production on June 6 2019). It will be available for self-hosted and managed hosted Blackboard Learn institutions as of the Blackboard Learn Q4 2019 release.
Also note that Blackboard Learn doesn’t always automatically pick up on this new link when upgrading to this release. If that’s the case, you can toggle the availability of the Ally Building Block to Off and then to On again. At that point, the Ally Configuration link will become available.
ePub alternative format
The ePub alternative format generation algorithm has been significantly improved. This results in a much smaller file size, and should greatly benefit mobile usage of the ePub alternative format.
Ally LTI Tools in Canvas
The Ally LTI cartridge for the Institutional Report and Configuration UI in the Canvas integration has been updated to ensure that these tools are no longer visible in areas where instructors can select known LTI tools (e.g., “external module” or “external tool submission type”). To utilize these new LTI cartridges, the existing Ally Institutional Report and Ally Configuration UI LTI tools need to be removed and re-added using the existing installation instructions.
Ally 1.31 bug fixes and improvements
- Additional configuration options have been added to the Ally for Websites crawler to allow the frequency of the automated recrawls to be increased or decreased.
- The months in the Ally Institutional Report have been fully localized.
- The audio alternative format now distinguishes between ordered and unordered lists. Ordered lists will be announced as “Begin numbered list”, and unordered lists will be announced as “Begin bulleted list”.
- Decorative images will no longer be announced in the audio alternative format.
- Fixed a bug in the “This document has no headings” check for Word documents to prevent empty paragraphs from contributing to the minimum document length threshold.
- Fixed a bug that caused the incorrect severity label to be used for certain issues in the institutional report CSV export.
Ally 1.30 | Release to production 18 May 2019
Ally for Websites Alternative Formats
Ally 1.30 introduces the availability of the Ally Alternative Formats for the Ally for Websites integration. This allows all website visitors to automatically access the website’s content in a range of different alternative formats such as ePub, Electronic Braille, Audio, Translated Version, OCRd PDF (for scanned documents), etc. Alternative formats are offered for the web pages themselves, as well as any content that’s linked from or embedded into those pages, such as PDFs, PowerPoint documents and Word documents.
Alternative Formats large ribbon
Alternative Formats small ribbon
Alternative Formats footer
Custom element on your website
For web pages without any linked or embedded content such as PDFs, PowerPoint documents and Word documents, the alternative formats for the web page itself will be offered straight away. For pages with linked or embedded content, the visitor will be able to choose between the alternative formats for the current page and the alternative formats for each of the linked or embedded content items.
Ally 1.30 bug fixes and improvements
- Fixed a bug in the Microsoft Word accessibility checklist that prevented Ally from flagging images without a description in a table.
- Implemented several improvements to the Instructor Feedback guidance in the “Missing Headings” flow.
Ally 1.29.2 | Release to production 5 May 2019
Institutional report CSV export
An additional column has been added to the `courses.csv` institutional report CSV export that shows the date and time at which each course was last synchronized. This should correspond roughly with the last event Ally received for that course.
The CSV export for an individual course now also contains an additional column that shows when each content item in that course was checked for accessibility issues by Ally.
Web Community Manager institutional report
The section URL has been added to the list of available sections and the report for an individual section in the institutional report for the Web Community Manager integration.
Blackboard Ally for Websites accessibility report
The “By Month” view is now the default view when accessing the Blackboard Ally for Websites accessibility report.
Ally 1.29.2 bug fixes and improvements
- Fixed a bug in the Spanish Audio alternative format that caused certain characters to be pronounced incorrectly.
- Implemented several improvements to the instructor feedback flow for malformed documents.
- Improved the French translation of the institutional report.
- Fixed a bug in the processing of OLE2 Word documents without a defined `styledescription`.
- Improved the synchronization of Moodle courses when unable to process an individual content item in that course.
Ally 1.29 | Release to production 11 April 2019
PowerPoint alternative formats
The alternative formats for PowerPoint documents have been improved significantly, especially benefiting the responsive HTML, ePub, Audio and Tagged PDF alternative formats. A number of improvements have been implemented, making the alternative formats for PowerPoint files cleaner and higher quality:
- Background and slide template images are no longer included in the alternative formats
- Improved handling of lists and sub-lists
- Improved handling and extraction of images
- Fixed a bug where the alternative description for an image wouldn’t always move over to the alternative formats
A full course resynchronization will now be run automatically every week for each Ally integration. This provides the following benefits:
- Automatically remove deleted courses from the Ally Configuration UI and Ally Institutional Report
- Automatically update term associations for courses
- Automatically update other course metadata, such as the course name, number of enrollments, etc.
- Automatically include courses without content in the Ally Configuration UI
Ally 1.29 bug fixes and improvements
- Improved the accessibility check that checks for text in an image and whether that text has a contrast issue
- Implemented several wording improvements to the instructor feedback guidance
- Implemented several localization improvements in the Ally institutional report (display of percentages, numbers, etc.)
- Improved the handling of unsupported file types when uploading a new version through the instructor feedback
Ally 1.28 | Release to production 6 April 2019
Ally for Websites scoring
The Ally for Websites accessibility scoring in the institutional report has been reworked significantly to include all pages and content that’s available at a particular point in time. While the Ally for LMS By Month and By Academic Year reporting is based on the content that was added / updated during that month / year, the Ally for Websites By Month and By Year scoring is based on all content that was available during that month / year.
This provides an overall accessibility score across the entire website, making it very easy to identify how a website is currently performing. This is in line with accessibility regulations that require all website content to be accessible, and is slightly different than the Ally for LMS integration that contains lots of “unused” content from previous terms / years.
This means that the starting point for an Ally for Websites accessibility report will always be the current month and year (based on everything available on the website during the initial scan), with additional months and years added to the report as time goes by. This provides an exact measure of how the accessibility score across the entire website is evolving over time and makes it easier to identify when significant regressions were introduced and/or significant improvements were made.
Ally 1.27 | Release to production 1 March 2019
Additional Moodle content types
Ally 1.27 introduces the ability to check a number of additional Moodle WYSIWYG content types for accessibility issues, and includes these results in the institutional report.
Support for the following Moodle WYSIWYG content types has been added:
- Book chapter
- Lesson page
- Page content
- Page introduction
This functionality is available for all institutions using Blackboard OpenLMS or self-hosted Moodle institutions using Moodle 3.5 or above and the latest version of the Ally Moodle plugins
Configuration UI in Moodle
The Ally Configuration UI can now be accessed directly through the Moodle administrator interface. The Configuration UI is available through Site administration > Plugins > Admin Tools > Ally configuration.
This feature also requires the latest versions of the Ally Moodle plugins.
Ally 1.27 bug fixes and improvements
- Added a “Url” column to the course CSV export in the Blackboard Learn and Canvas integrations that contains the download/access URL for each content item.
- Added a “Url” column to the domains CSV export in the Ally for Websites integration that contains the download/access URL for each web page and content item.
- Fixed a bug that caused the “Send” button to show in the alternative format “Help” screen when the help request feature was disabled.
- Fixed a bug in the Learn integration that prevented courses containing content items with blank titles from synchronizing correctly.
- Implemented several improvements to the list recognition algorithm used for the alternative formats.
- The Ally for Websites crawler has been extended to make the maximum crawl depth configurable at the institutional level.
- Improved the Canvas integration to show the alternative formats for links containing a “span” tag.
Ally 1.26 | Release to production 14 February 2019
As a follow-up from the configurable help content introduced in Ally 1.23, it is now possible to allow students and instructors to request help from the Ally alternative formats modal and the instructor feedback panel. With this feature, we’re intending to provide an easy bridge between Ally and resources/processes available at the institution already, as well as allowing Ally to be connected to a helpdesk system.
An email address for alternative format help requests can be configured in the Ally Configuration UI. When alternative format help is requested, an email containing the help request and details about the current course, content item and user will be sent to this address. Similarly, an email address can be configured for instructor feedback help requests through the Configuration UI.
The Ally API user for the Blackboard Learn integration needs to be given the "Administrator Panel (Users) > Users" or "system.user.view" permission to allow Ally to include the student name and email address in the help request email. The Ally API user for the Moodle integration needs to be given the “moodle/user:viewalldetails” permission to allow Ally to include the student name and email address in the help request email.
Institutional report improvements
Ally 1.26 introduces several institutional report usability improvements:
- The comparison with the previous term/month/academic year in “Total courses”, “Total content created” and “Overall accessibility score” has been made clearer.
- The total number of items with an issue in the “Accessibility issues” list has been made clearer.
- “Document” has been renamed to “Word document” in the “Total content created” chart.
Ally 1.26 bug fixes and improvements
- Fixed a bug that caused the highlights for tables without headings to show on the incorrect page in the content preview.
- Implemented visual improvements for downloading the original file in the Instructor Feedback.
- The accessibility issue type is now tracked as part of the usage data when clicking the accessibility indicator.
- Implemented several accessibility improvements in the Instructor Feedback.
- The accessibility indicator can no longer be copied and pasted into the WYSIWYG editor in the Blackboard Learn and Canvas integrations.
- Fixed a bug in the Blackboard Learn integration that caused the accessibility indicator for a link to overlap with the preceding text in certain cases.
- Fixed a bug in the Canvas integration that prevented embedded images from being processed when copying a page from a different course.
- Fixed a bug that caused the CSV export for a courses with special characters in the course name to fail.
Ally 1.25 | Release to production 4 February 2019
Alternative Formats for Web Community Manager
The Ally Alternative Formats are now available for the Web Community Manager integration. Documents embedded in Web Community Manager will show an Alternative Formats icon, giving access to the following Alternative Formats for anyone visiting the website:
- OCR’d version (for scanned documents)
- Tagged PDF (for Word, Powerpoint and OpenOffice/LibreOffice files)
- Mobile-friendly HTML
- Electronic Braille
- Translated Version
This should now be available for all Web Community Manager schools that have Ally integrated.
Content Feedback for Web Community Manager
The Ally content creator feedback is now also available for the Web Community Manager integration. When accessing the Ally accessibility report for a site or section, the accessibility indicator for individual content items can be clicked to launch the Ally feedback. This also includes the “Preview” functionality that was made available as part of the Ally 1.24 release. Fixes can be provided directly through the Ally feedback and will be posted back into Web Community Manager.
This should now be available for all Web Community Manager schools that have Ally integrated.
Ally 1.25 bug fixes and improvements
- Fixed a bug in the Blackboard Learn integration that would occasionally cause the Alternative Formats dropdown to not be visible to students.
Ally 1.24 | Release to production 28 January 2019
Previews and highlights
The instructor feedback will now show in-browser previews for PDFs, Word documents and PowerPoint documents. These previews are then used to identify where in the document specific accessibility issues can be found. Highlights are currently provided for these items:
- Images without an appropriate alternative description
- Text fragments with insufficient contrast
- Tables without table headings
The instructor feedback for other accessibility issues will just show the content preview without highlights.
This feature should make it significantly easier to identify issues in a document, and should help cut down remediation time dramatically.
Missing text description
Ally 1.24 bug fixes and improvements
- Fixed a bug in the Ally for Websites integration that caused the CSV export for an individual (sub)domain to fail.
- Hidden heading tags are now excluded from HTML accessibility checks.
- Fixed a bug that caused headings to not be identified correctly in certain Word documents exported from Google Docs.
- Fixed a bug that caused the language to be misidentified for Word documents that only contain tables.
- Fixed a bug that caused a small number of “.docx” documents to be identified as “Malformed”.
- Fixed an encoding issue that prevented certain HTML files exported from Word from being processed correctly.
Ally 1.23 | Release to production 14 November 2018
Alternative Formats help
Visitors to your site can now get help directly from the Alternative Formats modal. The Help link points to a default Ally documentation page that explains how and when the different alternative formats can be used.
The Alternative Formats modal is only available in Web Community Manager at this time.
Ally 1.23 bug fixes and improvements
- Implemented several improvements to the language detection for Microsoft Office documents.
Ally for Websites
Blackboard Ally for Web helps administrators and content creators ensure their websites are accessible to all.
Building on its longstanding commitment to accessibility, Blackboard Inc. today announced the launch of Blackboard Ally for Web, leveraging the company’s groundbreaking technology to support institutions and organizations looking to improve the accessibility of their public-facing websites. Currently used by institutions worldwide, Blackboard Ally first launched last year as a tool designed to improve the accessibility of digital content within an institution’s learning management system (LMS) and K-12 school district websites.
Blackboard Ally for Web integrates with a website’s content management system (CMS) and scans website pages and embedded media for a range of accessibility issues based on key areas of the WCAG 2.0 AA Standard. The solution supplies comprehensive reporting, allowing web administrators to see their overall accessibility score and trends over time based on how their web environment is performing related to accessibility issues. Users can also pull domain-specific reports, and conduct easy searches to pull up information, including scores, on a particular domain. The website accessibility report also organizes issues by severity level, helping web admins prioritize key areas of focus and deploy resources to the most affected areas. Blackboard plans to bring all of Ally’s features to public websites in the future.
“Accessible websites create a better online experience for everyone, but we know it can be difficult for organizations and institutions to see how they are doing when it comes to web accessibility,” said Nicolaas Matthijs, Product Manager at Blackboard. “We look forward to working with clients worldwide to help them incorporate accessible practices into their websites, so that they’re providing a high quality and inclusive online experience.”