Blackboard Ally

Blackboard Ally is a new tool that helps increase the accessibility of pages and documents uploaded into the Canvas virtual learning environment.  

  • Students can view/download any document or page in alternative formats such as OCRed PDF, audio, high contrast or easy-read versions to suit all learning styles and benefit all students.
  • Staff can get feedback about the accessibility of any page or document via a course report and an accessibility indicator. Each issue is accompanied with a step-by-step guide on how to fix it. 

Making learning materials in Canvas more accessible over time

With Blackboard Ally, course creators will be able to respond better to the specific needs of their students. Over time, it will help staff to gradually improve content in Canvas so that it becomes more accessible to all students without needing additional attention.  Staff will be in control of WHAT changes need to be made and WHEN.

Blackboard Ally will also make it much more straightforward to check that the needs of students with Student Support Plans specifying digital accessibility requirements (e.g. use of screen readers or other Assistive Technology) are being met.

Help and support 

Blackboard Ally webinars 

Webinars were held in January 2022 to introduce staff to Blackboard Ally. Watch a recording of one of the sessions.

More information

Contact the project team on if you have any questions

Useful links

Blackboard Ally (external link)

Disability Advisory Service at Oxford

Inclusive Teaching Enhancements project

Centre for Teaching and Learning

Frequently Asked Questions

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No. Blackboard Ally is designed to raise awareness of digital accessibility issues and provide a more straightforward way to address these. It is not intended to make judgements about the quality of a particular course, the materials within it or indeed the abilities of its author(s). The fact that Ally also includes within its score some archived Canvas course material (that typically, would not be updated unless a specific need arose) and courses that may have no enrolled students, means that judgement cannot be made by a score alone. It can however be useful as an initial benchmark on which to build and develop greater accessibility as courses are edited.

Blackboard Ally reporting of individual courses or programmes of study is not a ‘centrally owned’ function. Instead, it is expected that the individual department or course director (or equivalent) will own the report. Summary reports at divisional and institutional level will be reviewed by the Disability Advisory Service and Digital Education Technology Steering Group to identify trends to understand how useful Blackboard Ally is and to inform advice and guidance as needed.

Most of Blackboard Ally’s functionality is independent of language. The accessibility scores do not rely on language and students can convert documents to PDF or PDFs to HTML regardless of language.

The only limitation is in creating alternative formats using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and conversion to audio for mixed languages. Specifically:

  1. Ally will not correctly OCR documents containing multiple languages, e.g, language textbooks or parallel translations. These documents will need specialist software to correctly convert. This is particularly true for non-Latin scripts but some Latin scripts with less common accents will not be converted correctly.
  2. Ally will not make correct audio versions of documents containing more than one language. All words are pronounced using the pronunciation system of the main language of the document. In addition to English, Ally supports all major European languages except Russian. Arabic is also supported. See Ally FAQ for a list of supported languages. If you do come across any issues with these documents (beyond the limitations stated) then please email and let us know so we can investigate further. 

No. Blackboard Ally cannot be used to compare the relative digital accessibility of academic departments or divisions, as not all materials are suitable for analysis. These may include specific scientific notation or graphical writing systems. It should also be noted that Blackboard Ally cannot analyse ORLO content.

No. Blackboard Ally only marks issues that can be identified automatically. For instance, it alerts you when headings are not marked appropriately but does not suggest adding headings where this would improve access to text. It will also not alert to you to font that is too small unless it cannot be enlarged by the student. Similarly, it will not highlight text that is unnecessarily complex.

Accessibility is always relative to the needs and technology that is being used. For example, many of the issues identified by Blackboard Ally impact most on screen reader users. Documents identified as ‘severe’ cannot be accessed by them at all. Many of the problems that completely lock out screen reader users still allow access to others but with less flexibility and utility, e.g. text that cannot be read out by a screen reader cannot be enlarged to make reading easier, copied for note taking purposes, or converted to MP3 for listening on the go.

Accessibility requirements for materials should always be decided by the needs of your students and the requirements of the department/faculty to comply with University guidelines.   Not all accessibility issues impact all students. In most cases, amending materials will be a gradual process as course materials are updated, and no immediate action will be required. Ally reporting can be used to help guide this process. Ally can also be used to guide course content creators to produce materials that are accessible by default so that no more work is required.

Who will edit courses will be decided locally based on existing working practices, staff availability, and team structure. 

No. Blackboard Ally can only see documents directly uploaded to Canvas. However, we strongly recommend that you use ORLO for all course readings and only upload course materials such as handouts or worksheets to Canvas. One benefit of using ORLO is that you can request that any printed materials linked to via ORLO be scanned using the digitisation service. Scans done via this service will also be OCRed to ensure accessibility.

ORLO will also ensure that any readings shared with students comply with copyright regulations.




If you have any questions about the project, please contact the team by emailing