Accessibility / Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Accessibility is generally defined as the qualities that make an experience open to all. The experience would therefore be inclusive to all. Most people think of accessibility as only benefiting people with disabilities. This is not true. Creating accessible learning environments benefits all of your students, regardless of their circumstances. 

Students who work full-time and may be reading, listening to, or watching your lectures during their commute, will benefit from having access to accessible documents or videos. So will students for whom English is a second language, as well as students who are deaf or have significant hearing loss who may rely captions to follow along with a video lecture. Students who are blind or have some level of visual impairment benefit from accessible documents, clear audio descriptions, and/or high contrast in materials. Most common, students who primarily access your course on a mobile device, benefit from similar accessibility features as well as from consistent and concise navigation.

For these reasons, all content used in an online Blackboard course needs to be accessible. This especially applies to any content brought in Blackboard from an outside source, such as Word and PDF documents, video and audio clips, and other multimedia. 

Best Practices

Follow the best practices below to ensure content accessibility and usability:

  • Word documents and PDFs should have headings for screen reader navigation
  • Hyperlinks in documents and presentations should be descriptive  (i.e, do not use “click here”)
  • Images should contain alt tags.
  • Video content needs to have accurate captions embedded (VoiceThread, YouTube, etc.)
  • A text transcript should be provided when using audio files (podcasts, MP3, etc.), 
  • Use Ally in Blackboard to detect and remedy accessibility problems
  • Do not upload improperly scanned (photocopied) PDF documents as they are inaccessible and pose usability problems for all students.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a helpful framework to follow for designing an inclusive course. Generally, by allowing your students options when completing the required activities of your course you are applying the three guiding principles of UDL: 1) multiple means of representation, 2) multiple means of action and expression, and 3) multiple means of engagement. Learn more about implementing UDL in your course from The Center for Universal Design in Education at the University of Washington.

Use ‘Ally’ in Blackboard

Ally is a product within your Blackboard course that indicates the level of accessibility of your materials through a scale system of red, orange and green gauges and walk you step-by-step through making that document more accessible. In addition, Ally produces alternative formats of your document (i.e. epub, HTML, PDF, electronic braille, audio, and more). It is very important that you use Ally to make your documents accessible. If your original document isn’t accessible, the alternative formats your students download will not be accessible either. Visit the Accessibility pages on the Learning Design Services website to learn more about Ally and creating accessible content. 

Tips & Tricks
Synchronous Accessibility and Usability
  • Before your live class meetings, post the materials you will be sharing for students in Blackboard. Allowing students to view materials ahead of time helps them better prepare for the class. Also, students using screen readers can access the materials they wouldn’t have access to when you are sharing your screen.
  • Use descriptive language. When you are presenting, consider how your participants perceive how you describe what you’re showing. For example, saying "click here" or “over here” doesn’t give enough information to the person who is relying on audio. Saying "click the Submit button at the bottom right" or “at the top-left there is a three-line menu” gives all students a clearer understanding of what is being communicated, especially those who are unable to view the screen, whether it is due to vision impairment, or temporary circumstances.
  • Request that students stay muted unless speaking. This will minimize background noise and make it easier for everyone to hear what is going on.
  • In Zoom, remind students they can use the Live Transcripts (CC) button. Zoom now has automated speech recognition and can provide live transcriptions. Click on CC and select Enable-Audio Transcription.This is a helpful feature but is not fully accurate and would not be used to satisfy a student accommodation request. Learn more at UMB Zoom Video Conferencing or Zoom Closed Captioning and Live Transcription.



Defined by when the instructor teaches a class in real-time on a set class schedule using video conferencing technology (e.g., Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate). Reliable Internet access is needed both by students and instructors. Since there are many valid reasons why students may not be able to participate in synchronous instruction, it is important for instructors to plan asynchronous alternatives for students who miss class.

All Glossary Terms