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New Trends in Online Education

Faculty - Contributing to Ally and Digital Accessibility

The Accessible Campus, a report published in June 2023 by the Chronicle of Higher Education, "…examines how colleges are working to make physical and digital spaces accessible to all and the challenges that students and employees face in obtaining accommodations" (Field, 2023). The report illustrates a renewed focus on accessibility for Higher Education that is wholly consistent with Sam Houston State University’s focus on student success. SHSU Online is committed to addressing accessibility challenges in digital course delivery that affect all students, particularly students with disabilities. The interest in principles of universal design, in campus construction as well as pedagogy, has increased dramatically from the past. Like campus architects that design facilities that eliminate barriers up front, professors are offering students more options for how they can access, and demonstrate mastery of, course content (Field, 2023).

An abstract illustration that shows icons representing several accessibility features

Several years ago, SHSU Online purchased and implemented Ally, a three-component "plug-in" accessibility tool that seamlessly integrates into Blackboard (Bb), our Learning Management System (LMS). With guidance and feedback from SHSU Online and the Ally program, many faculty made great strides in improving accessibility, and we want to continue that trajectory of improvement. The purpose of this article is to support student success by providing information about Anthology Ally for new faculty that will also serve as a review for faculty already familiar with Ally. You can expect more information in future SHSU Online newsletters to support instructor efforts toward providing accessible digital experiences for students.

Ally functions within Bb to 1) identify, 2) measure, and 3) help address accessibility challenges in digital course content. In our case at SHSU, that content is the digital course materials in Blackboard which faculty upload not only into online courses but also use for instruction in face-to-face courses. Ally identifies digital course materials in Bb, evaluates the accessibility of that material, provides feedback to the instructor, and guides faculty with options to make a one-time improvement that addresses the identified accessibility issue.

From the standpoint of student success, Ally provides the opportunity for students - all students - to choose and access course materials in Bb in different formats – formats that students believe will work better, in accordance with their individual preferences and learning styles. Among the alternative formats are Tagged PDF, HTML, ePub, Electronic Braille, Audio, BeeLine Reader, Immersive Reader, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and Translations.

For you – SHSU faculty - Ally can provide you with a review of your digital course content in Bb, feedback on that review, and straightforward guidance on how you can improve the accessibility of your course materials (see Jacob Spradlin’s "Bb Tip - How to Run a Course Accessibility Report for your Blackboard Course" in this newsletter). After you address and apply adjustments to your content in Bb, you immediately receive new feedback.

Finally, from the SHSU perspective, continuing the institution’s trajectory of improvement in accessibility of digital course materials will reflect well on the faculty, the institution, and most importantly, the students at SHSU who will have improved accessibility that will contribute to their success.


Field, K. (2023). The Accessible Campus. The Chronicle of Higher Education.