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Ally 1.35.2 | Release to production 26 September 2019

Updated Features

Ally 1.35.2 bug fixes and improvements

  • Improved the Canvas integration to better support linked files in WYSIWYG content that was originally created in a different LMS
  • Implemented support for tables embedded in tables as part of the document preview and highlighting feature in the instructor feedback
  • Fixed a bug in the Canvas integration that prevented the alternative formats and instructor feedback from showing for linked files in the Syllabus tool

Ally 1.35.1 | Release to production 19 September 2019

Updated Features

Canvas Blueprint Courses

The Ally 1.35.1 release introduces support for Canvas Blueprint courses. Alternative descriptions for images and other accessibility metadata set through the Ally instructor feedback in the blueprint course will now be copied over correctly to any courses created from the blueprint.

Ally 1.35.1 bug fixes and improvements

  • Improved support for special characters and diacritics in the OCRd alternative format
  • Improved the display of the “large ribbon” for the Ally for Websites alternative formats to be smaller on a mobile device
  • Fixed a bug in the D2L Brightspace integration that caused the student enrollment count to not synchronize correctly for large courses
  • Added the “language” attribute to the ePub alternative format
  • Fixed a bug in the Canvas integration that occasionally caused the alternative formats modal to freeze the screen
  • Implemented several positioning improvements for the alternative formats icon and the accessibility indicator in the Moodle integration
  • Implemented several accessibility improvements in the alternative formats modal dialog

Ally 1.34.1 | Release to production 22 August 2019

Updated Features

D2L Brightspace student count

Ally 1.34.1 fixes a bug in the D2L Brightspace integration that caused the student count for a course to always be “0” in the institutional report. This fix does require an additional permission for the Blackboard Ally REST role though.

The following steps should be followed to configure this:

  1. Go to Security and Roles and Permissions in the administrator menu.
  2. Add the following extra permissions under Users to the Blackboard Ally REST role:
    1. View User Enrollments
    2. Search For Student

      If your institution uses a different / custom role for students, select “Search For ” instead.

Ally will only ever retrieve the student count, and not any individual enrollments or individual student information.

Ally 1.34.1 bug fixes & improvements

  • Fixed a bug in the Canvas integration that caused the alternative format download icon to not be visible for files in the Announcements and Discussions tools.

Ally 1.33.3 | Release to production 4 August 2019

Updated Features

Ally 1.33.3 bug fixes and improvements

  • Adjusted to styling of the more prominent alternative formats icon in the Canvas integration to make the icon slightly smaller and lighter
  • Added an indication of when the accessibility report for a course was last updated in the institutional report
  • Fixed a bug that occasionally caused the weekly Blackboard Ally for Websites recrawls to not automatically start
  • Improved the hover and focus styles in the alternative formats modal dialog for the Blackboard Ally for Websites integration
  • Improved the detection of HTML content with contrast issues

Ally 1.33 | Release to production 2 July 2019

New Features, Updated Features

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
  • Modules

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. D2L BrightSpace: The Alternative Formats icon is available as a single click from the Table of Contents and the individual content pages.

Usage tracking

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 1.31 | Release to production 18 June 2019

New Features, Updated Features

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 1.23.4 | Release to production 11 December 2018

New Features, Updated Features

Learn Ultra image descriptions

The Learn Ultra integration update automatically applies alternative descriptions for images set directly through the LMS as an alternative description for other uses of the image in the course. The automated process is reflected accordingly in the institutional report and applies automatically to all new images and all new and updated WYSIWYG content.

Bug fixes and improvements

  • Fixed an issue to make the Help link in the alternative formats available for the Ally for WCM integration.

Ally 1.23.3 | Release to production 4 December 2018

New Features, Updated Features

Instructor Help

Following the introduction of configurable help content for the alternative formats modal in Ally 1.23, Ally 1.23.3 brings the ability to configure custom help messaging for the Ally instructor feedback. This provides institutions an opportunity to point instructors to additional institutional documentation, contact information, and so on. The custom instructor help content can be configured through the Ally Configuration UI, and is available throughout the instructor feedback experience.

Instructor experience

Canvas administrators

Following the User Group poll, the Canvas administrator behavior has been made configurable. By default, administrators will only be able to see Ally in courses that have Ally enabled in the configuration UI. However, there is also an option to opt in to administrators being able to see Ally in all courses they can manage, regardless of their setting in the configuration UI (i.e., previous Canvas administrator behavior).

Please create a Behind The Blackboard support ticket if you want to opt into the ability for Canvas administrators to always see Ally in all courses. Institutions that indicated in the poll that they rely on this feature have already been enabled.

Institutional report and Configuration UI performance

Ally 1.23.3 introduces an underlying technology change that significantly speeds up the listing and searching for courses in the institutional report and configuration UI. This is also an important step toward allowing more complex querying and sorting in the institutional report going forward.

Ally 1.23.3 bug fixes and improvements

  • Show the correct title in the institutional report for WYSIWYG content in the Learn Ultra integration.
  • Improved the recognition of the primary content language for PDF, Word and Powerpoint documents.

Ally 1.23 | Release to production 14 November 2018

New Features, Updated Features

Student Help

Ally 1.23 introduces the ability to configure a custom student help message that will be displayed in the Alternative Formats modal. This custom help message can be used to point students to existing institutional documentation, share contact information, and so on. The custom help content can be configured in the Ally Configuration UI, and uses the Markdown format to help provide a structured (and accessible) message.

When no custom message has been configured, the Help link points to a default Ally documentation page that explains how and when the different alternative formats can be used.

This is the first of several help features. Upcoming releases will include the ability to configure custom help content for instructors and the ability for students and instructors to reach out for help from Ally.

Student experience

Ally 1.23 bug fixes and improvements

  • The course enrollment number displayed in the institutional report no longer includes disabled enrollments for Blackboard Learn institutions.
  • Implemented several improvements to the language detection for Microsoft Office documents.
  • Fixed a bug that would cause the Please enter an image description error message to flash when marking an image as decorative in the instructor feedback.
  • Fixed a bug in the Canvas integration that would prevent the window from growing sufficiently when opening the content preview.

Ally 1.21 | Release to production 22 October 2018

New Features, Updated Features

Instructor feedback in institutional report

It is now possible to access the instructor feedback and fix accessibility issues directly from the institutional report. Administrators, disability services, and instructional designers can now improve content items from a single place. This is also foundational work for the upcoming instructor-facing course report.

Go to the institutional report in your LMS. From the Accessibility issues table, find a specific content item in a course with an accessibility issue. Select the content item's accessibility score indicator to open the feedback panel.

More on the accessibility score and instructor feedback panel

This feature is disabled by default. Submit a request on Behind The Blackboard to have it turned on.

This feature is only available when accessing the institutional report from the LMS and not when using the direct access URL.

Image descriptions

The Blackboard Learn and Canvas integrations have been updated to pick up on alternative descriptions for images set directly through the LMS (i.e,. WYSIWYG editor) and automatically apply these as a fallback alternative description for other uses of the image in the course (e.g., Content Collection, Files Tool). This will also be reflected accordingly in the institutional report.

This functionality will be applied automatically to all new images and all new/updated WYSIWYG content.

This functionality will also be introduced for the Moodle and Blackboard Open LMS integrations in a future Ally release, which will also require an upgrade to the Ally Moodle plugin.

Image description instructor feedback

Based on usability testing feedback, “alternative description” has been renamed to “image description” in the instructor feedback to help instructors better understand the purpose of the description.

At the same, an additional panel has been added to the “How to write a good description" guidance on what to avoid when writing an image description.

Ally 1.21 accessibility improvements

Building on the accessibility improvements that were introduced in Ally 1.20.1, this release contains a number of additional accessibility improvements:

  • Improved keyboard accessibility for the carousel component in the instructor feedback, allowing for a content panel to receive focus by pressing the space bar.
  • Improved keyboard focus when navigating to the next page of instructions in the instructor feedback.
  • Improved screen reader accessibility for optional form fields when entering a library reference for a scanned or untagged PDF.

A special note from Product Management

Continuous Delivery v1.17 | Release to Production 2 August, 2018

We are developing our teaching and learning products toward the greater good of a holistic, next generation digital learning environment through the lens of three critical, unifying product themes: academic effectiveness, learner engagement, and education insight. By focusing on these themes, we will unify the development of our products to empower excellence in teaching and learning, inspire genuine interest, attention, and interaction in the learning process, and enable continuous improvement through accurate and deep understanding of the teaching and learning process.

In the Ally 1.17 release, we focused our development and design on academic effectiveness and learner engagement. You’ll see below that we’ve also aligned our feature list into groups based on value and benefit to you and your users.

Universal design

  • Blackboard Learn WYSIWYG content reporting

Ally 1.16.2 | Release to production 23 May, 2018

Updated features

Bug fixes and improvements

  • Fixed a bug in the Canvas integration that caused the Preview button to download the file instead of showing the expected preview.
  • Fixed a bug that prevented the “Other” content items (for example, content items that couldn’t be checked for accessibility issues) from showing in the institutional report.
  • Ensure that checking an HTML content item for accessibility issues doesn’t fail when a YouTube video can’t be checked for valid captions.
  • Renamed “courses” to “sections” in the Web Community Manager institutional report CSV exports.

Ally 1.13.1 | Release to production 20 February, 2018

New Features, Updated Features, Learning Management System Integrations

In this Ally 1.13.1 release, we focused our development and design on academic effectiveness. You’ll see below that we’ve also aligned our feature list in to groups based on value and benefit to you and your users.

Universal design

  • Alternative formats
  • Blackboard Learn Learning Modules
  • Moodle and Blackboard Open LMS course copies
  • New courses

Alternative formats

The existing “Accessible versions” option has been renamed to “Alternative formats” to better represent the purpose of these alternative formats, as well as help encourage all students to explore and use these formats.

Blackboard Learn Learning Modules

Ally now supports posting alternative descriptions for images provided through the Ally instructor feedback back into the page source for the Blackboard Learn “Learning Modules” content type.

This means that all images in Learning Modules are now expected to have the Ally accessibility indicator.

Moodle and Blackboard Open LMS course copies

Ally now automatically processes the content in copied Moodle and Blackboard Open LMS courses.

Large Moodle and Blackboard Open LMS course copies can take several hours to complete, and Ally only scans the copied content items once the course copy has been fully completed.

New courses

In the last few weeks, there have been several cases where delays built up in the processing of new courses. Ally 1.13.1 contains several improvements that should greatly speed up the processing of new courses in the Learning Management System (LMS).

Bug fixes and improvements

  • Fixed a bug in the Blackboard Learn integration that prevented alternative descriptions for images to be saved through the instructor feedback in “Forums”.
  • Fixed a bug that prevented alternative descriptions for images containing a non-breaking space character from successfully saving.
  • Fixed a bug in the Instructure Canvas integration that occasionally caused the “Accessibility” column to show in the Files tool for courses that do not have Ally enabled.
  • Implemented a number of wording improvements in the descriptions for the available alternative formats.
  • A number of small accessibility improvements have been made in the course report within the institutional report.

Ally 1.12.3 | Release to production 6 February 2018

Updated Features, Instructure Canvas Integration

Bug fixes

  • Fixed a bug that prevented the alternative format download option and accessibility indicator from displaying for content items linked from WYSIWYG content (e.g., Page, Syllabus). This was caused by a display change in the latest Instructure Canvas release.
  • Fixed a bug where the instructor feedback guidance on how to generate a tagged PDF from Powerpoint® 2016 on Microsoft® Windows® did not load correctly.

Ally 1.12.1 | Release to production 16 January, 2018

New Features, Updated Features, LMS Integrations

Alternative descriptions

Alternative descriptions for images provided through the Ally instructor feedback are now also pushed back into the source of the context in which the image is used.

For Blackboard Learn, this is currently available for:

  • Content Item
  • Web Link
  • Content Folder
  • Course Link
  • File

For Instructure Canvas, this is currently available for:

  • Page
  • Announcement
  • Assignment
  • Discussion Topic
  • Syllabus
  • Quiz

Additional areas will be added as new LMS REST APIs become available.

Course copy

Any metadata provided through the Ally instructor feedback that can not be pushed back into the LMS (e.g., library reference) will now automatically be copied over when a course is copied.

WYSIWYG content reporting

The WYSIWYG content reporting feature announced as part of Ally 1.12 (Ally 1.12 announcement) has now been enabled for all Instructure Canvas institutions.

Therefore, any new or updated WYSIWYG content will immediately be reflected in the institutional report. We will also be processing existing WYSIWYG content in existing courses in the background, but it’s expected that this will take several weeks to complete given the large number of items that need to be onboarded.

Instructor feedback wording improvements

Several wording improvements have been introduced in the various instructor feedback flows. These improvements cover the different languages in which Ally is available.


Ally 1.12 | Release to production 20 December, 2017

Updated Features, LMS Integrations, Web Community Manager Integration

Web Community Manager (WCM) integration

The Ally integration for Web Community Manager (WCM) is now available. WCM is distinct from Ally’s other integrations, as WCM is a content management system that is mostly used by K-12 schools and districts in the US.

In the first release of the Ally - Web Community Manager integration, Ally provides the ability to check the pages and embedded media in a WCM instance for accessibility issues, and generates an accessibility report similar to the LMS institutional report. Instructor feedback and alternative formats are on the roadmap for future releases.

More on Ally in Web Community Manager

WYSIWYG content reporting

Ally 1.12 introduces the ability to check content created in the LMS (through the text/WYSIWYG editor) for accessibility issues, and includes this data in the institutional report.

This allows Ally to review a significantly larger part of the LMS content, and is a first step towards providing alternative formats and instructor feedback for this content.

This feature is currently only available for Instructure Canvas. Blackboard Learn, Moodle, and Blackboard Open LMS require additional APIs and/or push notifications to support this feature. Those teams are working hard on this additional functionality, and we are hoping to enable WYSIWYG content reporting for Blackboard Learn, Moodle, and Blackboard Open LMS as soon as possible.

Additional language support

Ally is now available in these languages.

  • German
  • Italian
  • Turkish

Availability in these languages includes the Ally interface, as well as the alternative formats (including the audio format).

Ally 1.12 was originally going to include the ability to post alternative descriptions for images provided through the instructor feedback back into the LMS, and we have been working with all of you to make the required API permission updates. However, not all institutions have been able to make these permission changes in time. Therefore, the feature has not been enabled yet, as we didn’t want to introduce any risk over the holidays. The current plan is to enable this feature during the first week of January.

More on permission updates


Ally 1.11.4 | Release to production 14 December, 2017

Updated Features, LMS Integrations

OCRd documents

The reporting for scanned and OCRd documents has been improved. The institutional report now lists both the scanned documents that have been OCRd, and the scanned documents that have not been OCRd.

Note that the institutional reports are currently being reprocessed to reflect these changes, and it may take up to 24 hours for this to be available in your institutional report.

Bug fixes

  • Fixed a bug in the Canvas integration that would cause the alternative formats to be available for locked content items.
  • Improved the positioning of the accessibility indicators for Blackboard Learn 9.1 Q2 2017 CU4 and above. The accessibility indicator positioning has also been improved in text-only mode for all Learn releases.

Ally 1.11.3 | Release to production 7 December, 2017

Updated Features, LMS Integrations

Improved list recognition

Several improvements have been made to how list are recognized and converted in the alternative formats, especially for lists created in Word or Powerpoint.

Bug fixes

  • Fixed a bug that prevented alternative descriptions for images from being present in the audio alternative format.
  • Fixed a bug in the Canvas integration that would cause the instructor feedback indicator to show up in certain scenarios for courses that don’t have Ally enabled.
  • Fixed a bug in the Canvas integration that would cause some jumping of the interface when hovering over an accessibility indicator.
  • Fixed a bug in the Canvas integration that would cause the Canvas content preview icon to disappear in Pages.

Ally 1.11.1 | Release to production 21 November, 2017

Updated Features, LMS Integrations

Instructor feedback indicators

The instructor feedback indicators now show a tooltip with a summary of the item’s accessibility score. An additional “perfect” indicator has also been introduced, which is used when the item’s accessibility score is 100 percent. These improvements are aimed at increasing instructor engagement with the indicators and making them more obvious.

Canadian French

Ally is now also available in Canadian French. Availability includes the Ally interface, as well as the alternative formats (including the audio format).

OCR documents

OCRd documents are no longer marked as just scanned. Instead, the document will be flagged as OCRd and additional instructor feedback will be shown. The accessibility score of OCRd documents will be discounted by roughly 33 percent, as OCRd documents can still be difficult to read.

Improved scanned document recognition

Several improvements have been made to the recognition of scanned documents, including those with narrow or uncommon margins.

Moodle theme support

A number of improvements have been made to allow Ally to support a larger amount of Moodle themes, including the “express” theme.

Bug fixes

  • There was a bug that caused the institutional report to not always reflect alternative text that was provided for images through the instructor feedback. This issue has now been resolved, and the institutional report should be showing the up-to-date scores.
  • Fixed a bug where downloading a content item from the institutional report would cause the item to be downloaded inside of the institutional report frame, making it difficult to get back to the report. The content item will now always download in a different tab/window.
  • Fixed a bug in the Moodle integration where Ally wasn't be able to process content items uploaded by users that are no longer in the system.
  • Fixed a bug in the Canvas integration where images wrapped in a link to a different content item would not be displayed. The image will now be shown, and there will be an accessibility indicator for both the image and the linked content item.

Ally 1.11 | Release to production 19 October, 2017

Updated Features

Self-hosted Moodle integration

Ally is now fully available for self-hosted Moodle! The self-hosted Moodle integration has the same functionality as the other LMS integrations and is made available as a standard Moodle plugin. This integration is available for Moodle 3.2 and above.

This is fourth Learning Management System to support Ally, along with Blackboard Learn, Blackboard Open LMS, and Instructure Canvas.

Alternative format modal

The alternative accessible formats modal has been updated to provide a clearer description and possible uses for each alternative format.

Institutional report performance improvements

The loading times in the institutional report have been significantly decreased, especially for larger institutions. Listing the list of courses that have a specific issue, the list of items within a course with a specific issue, etc. should now be significantly faster.

Canvas administrators

Up until the 1.11 release, Canvas administrators would be unable to provide improvements through the Ally instructor feedback, as Ally would attempt to masquerade as those users and Canvas would (correctly) not allow this.

A fix for this limitation is now available, and will allow Canvas administrators to also provide improvements through the Ally instructor feedback.

Bug fixes

  • We fixed a bug in Learn where courses that do not have Ally enabled would show the placeholder used for the accessibility indicator, which unnecessarily altered the spacing within the content.
  • We fixed a bug in Learn where improved content items provided through the Ally instructor feedback would not have a meaningful name in the content collection. All items provided through the Ally instructor feedback will now have a meaningful name.

Ally 1.2.0 | Release to production 9 May, 2017

New Features, Updated Features, Canvas Integration

UK English

Ally is now fully available in UK English for both the Blackboard Learn and Canvas integrations.

Canvas Tools

The Ally instructor feedback and alternative accessible formats are now also available in the Modules, Syllabus, and Assignments within Canvas. This extends support for Ally to all of the major native Canvas tools.

Errors

Ally now provides clearer error messages whenever an unexpected error occurs.

Institutional Report

The Courses view in the institutional report will now default to the current active term.

Bug fixes

  • Improved the placement of the accessibility score indicator in the Icon only and Text only views in Blackboard Learn.
  • Fixed a bug where a screen readers would not announce transitions between certain views in the report.
  • Fixed a bug where an item with a specific accessibility issue couldn’t always be downloaded from the institutional report in Blackboard Learn.