Improving Access to Course Materials for All Students

Ally is a tool that helps enhance the usability and accessibility of course documents. Ally's two main functions are to:

  1. Evaluate all documents that are uploaded to Canvas and, for those documents which do not comply with accessibility guidelines, lead the instructor through the steps needed to improve the accessibility of the document.
  2. Provide students with alternative formats of the original document so they can select the one that best fits their unique needs.

Ally is a tool designed to benefit all students! For example, many students have indicated a preference for the audio format (MP3) for longer documents so they can listen to them while doing other things like driving, exercising, or when their eyes are tired.

NOTE: The quality of the conversion results depends upon the quality and formatting of the original document. Results are best for documents that are primarily text. Documents less suited for conversion are those with non-textual content (i.e. scanned images of STEM content, complex mathematical equations, and graphs).

What Students Will See

Students will see a small button to the right of each document in Canvas when they hover the mouse over the document name.  For keyboard users, the button will appear when the keyboard focus moves to the button when tabbing past the document name. 

Activating this button will produce a list of Accessible Versions of the source document as shown in the example below.

Blackboard Ally Alt Format Download

The accessible versions available will depend on the original document.  The student may select the format that best meets their needs and select the Download button to obtain a copy of the original document in the selected format.

What Instructors Will See

The goal of Ally is to assist instructors with learning techniques for enhancing the accessibility of course documents. There are no REQUIRED actions. However, it is intended that the Ally tutorials will provide enough information to improve the accessibility of current documents and apply these same techniques when creating future documents so they are accessible from the start.

After a document is uploaded into Canvas, an automated accessibility evaluation is performed and a small accessibility indicator will appear next to the document name indicating the overall accessibility of the document. This process can take a few minutes to several hours depending on the traffic on the Ally server.

blackboard ally gauges

The indicator is color-coded and uses a visual pointer to indicate the accessibility score.

  • Red indicator with a left-pointing arrow = low accessibility score
  • Orange indicator with an upward-pointing arrow = medium accessibility score
  • Green indicator with a right-pointing arrow = high accessibility score

Clicking on or selecting the accessibility indicator, will pop-up a series of steps designed to lead instructors through the process of retrofitting the document to improve the accessibility.

blackboard ally accessibility score

Once the steps are complete, the final version can be uploaded to Canvas to replace the original document giving students a more usable and more accessible document. The new, revised document would then display a green indicator representing a high accessibility score.

Ally does not discard the original version of the document.  It is retained within the Ally system and can be retrieved if necessary.

For More Information:

Contact the AccessMU Center at 513-529-0200 or

Ally Accessibility Checklist: A quick-start reference to creating more accessible course content.

Visit the Ally for LMS Help for Instructors website