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Ally 1.35 | Release to production 5 September 2019

New Features, Updated Features

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.
New Features, Updated Features

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
Updated Features, Canvas Integration, Web Integration

Ally 1.33.2 | Release to production 24 July 2019

Updated Features

Ally 1.33.2 bug fixes and improvements

  • Fixed a bug in the Blackboard Learn integration that caused the more prominent alternative formats icon to not be available to students on certain file attachments.
  • Implemented a range of accessibility improvements in the alternative formats modal dialog.
Updated Features

Ally 1.33.1 | Release to production 15 July 2019

Updated Features

Ally 1.33.1 bug fixes and improvements

  • The alternative format and instructor feedback usage tracking now also contains information about the role of the user (student, instructor or administrator)
  • Reduced the overall size of the JavaScript code included and utilized by Ally
Updated Features

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.

New Features, Updated Features, Blackboard Learn Integration, Blackboard Open LMS Integration, Canvas Integration, Web Community Manager Integration, Web Integration, D2L Brightspace Integration

Ally 1.32 | Release to production 27 June 2019

New Features, Updated Features

Institutional hierarchy

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.
Updated Features, New Features

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.
New Features, Updated Features, Blackboard Learn Integration, Canvas Integration, Web Integration

Ally 1.30.1 | Release to production 22 May 2019

Updated Features

Ally 1.30.1 bug fixes and improvements

  • Fixed a bug that caused special characters to not be pronounced correctly in the Audio alternative format.
  • Fixed a bug that caused the Audio alternative format for certain Norwegian Bokmål documents to be generated in English.
  • Improved the handling of unexpected REST API and institutional load balancer responses.
Updated Features

Ally 1.30 | Release to production 18 May 2019

New Features

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.

Just like the Ally for Websites accessibility report, the Ally for Websites Alternative Formats are fully CMS agnostic, and only require that a JavaScript snippet is added to the page. As soon as that snippet has been added, the alternative formats will automatically become available for all visitors. There are 4 different ways in which the alternative formats can be exposed on a website, with differing degrees of prominence.

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.
New Features

Ally 1.29.2 | Release to production 5 May 2019

New Features, Updated Features

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.
Updated Features, New Features, Web Community Manager Integration, Web Integration

Ally 1.29.1 | Release to production 16 April 2019

Bug Fixes, Minor Enhancements

  • Fixed a bug that prevented the ePub alternative format from generating correctly for HTML files using UTF-16 LE encoding.
  • Implemented several stability improvements in the Ally for Websites crawler.
  • Ally accessibility indicators are now easier to click on mobile devices.
  • Improved the HTML alternative format to beautify the HTML code output, like line breaks and indentation, making it easier to manually alter the generated alternative format. 
Bug Fixes, Minor Enhancements

Ally 1.29 | Release to production 11 April 2019

New Features, Updated Features

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

Course synchronization

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
Updated Features, New Features

Ally 1.28 | Release to production 6 April 2019

New Features, Updated Features

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.

More on the Ally for websites report

New Features, Updated Features, Web Integration, Web Community Manager Integration