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Accessibility in Blackboard Learn 9.1, SP10

In Service Pack 10, our latest update to Blackboard Learn Release 9.1, considerable focus was put on continuing to improve the accessibility and usability of major workflows for users with disabilities. This release not only resolves some long outstanding issues but also introduces some brand new features that can help improve the experience for both teachers and students overall. While considerable improvements have been made with this release there are still some outstanding challenge areas which have been noted below.

Resolved Issues & Improved Workflows

In Service Pack 10 a lot of small details were addressed to provide an improved experience across the application. In addition, the following areas within the application include significant improvement over previous releases.

Content Editor

The previous challenges with the content editor have been resolved with the implementation of and entirely new content editor across the application. Formatting controls, such as bold, italics and underline can be accessed with common keyboard shortcuts. The full set of formatting toolbars can be accessed at any time by pressing Alt+F10 (on PC) or Alt+Fn+F10 (Mac).

Contrast Issues

The entire application has undergone a complete UI review to ensure that all default color schemes are meeting WCAG 2.0 Level AA expectations for color contrast. Contrast ratios across the application are now 4:5:1 consistently.

Taking a Test

The experience of taking a test continues to undergo significant improvements at the form mark up level to ensure the best experience for both keyboard only and screen reader users.

Skip Links

Skip links have been added in appropriate parts of the application allowing users to skip over major navigation sections (such as the course menu) and jump directly to the most relevant content. Skip links are available to both keyboard only and screen reader users.

ARIA Markup

This release includes an increased use of ARIA markup across the application to improve the screen readers experience navigating the Blackboard Learn application. ARIA landmarks have been implemented in some new pages but this is not yet application wide.

Forms Markup

Improvements have been made to the structure of forms to ensure a user is always aware of what they are filling out and what is required within the form.

What's New in SP10

The following new features added in Service Pack 10 for Blackboard Learn Release 9.1 can help significantly improve the overall experience of using Blackboard Learn for all users, including those with disabilities.

Global Navigation Menu

A new global navigation menu has been developed providing quick links to courses, organizations, settings, bookmarked files, and user settings in addition to some of the new tools provided within the new My Blackboard feature set (see below). This menu can be accessed at any time throughout the application by pressing Shift+Alt+M (PC) or Control+Alt+M (Mac) on your keyboard.

My Blackboard

My Blackboard is collection of new tools that aggregate conversations, grades and activities within the courses a user is enrolled in into a central location within Blackboard Learn. This allows a user to get an overall sense of what's happening within Blackboard Learn without the complexity of navigating into and out of each course individually. Additional features, including the ability to define a basic personal profile and locate classmates and colleagues within your institution are available if the school chooses to enable the Blackboard Cloud.

My Grades

The "My Grades" tool for students was completely re-designed and significantly simplifies the users ability to find and consume their grades within a single course and across all the courses they are enrolled in.

Needs Grading

The "Needs Grading" workflow for teachers (added in an earlier release of Blackboard Learn 9.1) was updated and improved to provide teachers with a simpler, more focused way to see and grade all outstanding student submissions within a course.

Outstanding Challenge Areas

The following list of features continues to pose some challenges for accessibility in Blackboard Learn. We are working in partnership with our clients, Blackboard Accessibility Partners and our vendors to constantly improve accessibility and overall user experience in Blackboard.

Discussion Board

The complexity of the messages page in the Discussion board still requires significant improvement to work with assistive technology tools. Viewing collections of messages (For example, all messages from a specific user or all unread messages) can somewhat improve the experience for users but it is likely that training will be required for users to be successful.

Virtual Classroom

Although the Accessible Chat alternative is provided, this is not considered "equal access" to all users.

Multi-file Upload

The multi-file upload function within Course Files and the Content System uses a Java Applet that does not interact well with various assistive technology tools. There is an option to upload files one at a time using the "Single File Upload" function so users can still attach multiple files to content items. The process just takes much longer.