Bb Mailbag: Accessibility Spotlight on Ally


Welcome to the Blackboard Mailbag, where we feature a commonly asked question that has been hitting our mailbox recently: You’ll find an archive of all of the previous questions and answers on our website.

Note: Features may change with future updates.

Q: What is Bb Ally and how can it help me make my course more accessible?

screenshot of ally formatsAccessibility online means designing websites, tools, and technologies so that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with them.

Anthology Ally (previously Blackboard Ally) is a Blackboard course tool that allows you to evaluate the accessibility of your course content. It provides feedback on the accessibility of your materials and guidance on how to improve it. 

In addition to accessibility insights, Ally automatically generates alternative versions of your files. This enables students to choose the file type that best meets their needs. Even as you work to improve the accessibility of your original files, students can still access the alternative versions.


Alternative formats

Advanced machine learning algorithms automatically provides all students access to:

Immersive Reader– Aid reading comprehension and grammar skills. Internet required.

Beeline Reader– Enhanced version for faster and more focused on-screen reading.

OCRed PDF– Makes scanned documents searchable and more readable. Reduces file size.

Tagged PDF– Structured PDF for improved use with assistive technology.

Audio– MP3 version for listening on personal devices and in more contexts.

ePub– For reading as an e-book on an iPad and other e-book readers.

Electronic braille– BRF version for consumption on electronic braille displays.

HTML– For viewing in the browser and on mobile devices.

Translated version– A machine-translated version of the original document.


Accessibility scores

Ally provides scores to measure the accessibility of content. Accessibility scores are determined by the severity of issues in each digital file. Scores range from Low to Perfect; the higher the score, the fewer the issues.

Low (0-33%): Needs help! There are severe accessibility issues.

Medium (34-66%): A little better. The file is somewhat accessible and needs improvement.

High (67-99%): Almost there. The file is accessible but more improvements are possible.

Perfect (100%): Perfect! Ally didn’t identify any accessibility issues but further improvements may still be possible.


Improving accessibility with Ally

Ally provides you with detailed feedback and support to help you identify accessibility issues and fix them for your students. It also generates alternative formats of course files based on the original, which are made available alongside the original so that the students can find all required materials. The alternative formats are created for you automatically when you upload a document to Blackboard.

Here are a few common accessibility errors that Ally flags and how it suggests you fix them:

This image is missing a description

What this means

An image description, sometimes referred to as ‘alternative description’ or ‘alt text’, is a textual alternative for an image. It makes it easier to connect the image to its context and allows students with visual impairments to engage with the image. Descriptions should be brief and convey the full meaning of the image. They should not be the same as the file name as this is often not descriptive enough.

How to fix it

An image description (featured in Blackboard) should provide a textual alternative to the image so that people with a visual impairment can get an equivalent experience. Descriptions also make it easier for all students to connect the image with the context.

Please note: the decorative image button tells Blackboard that the image is used for decoration only, and a description is not needed.

For more information about using Alt Text in your course, please see our Bb Mailbag post on Making Your Course with Alt Text.

This PDF is untagged

What this means

Most documents are created in a word-processing program such as Word or PowerPoint before they are converted to a PDF. Many programs create PDF files, but few produce structured or tagged PDFs. PDF tags are hidden labels that clarify the structure of the document (e.g., table, heading, paragraph, etc.). Untagged PDFs do not contain any of this information and can cause the content to be misinterpreted.

How to fix it 

If you can get an editable version of your file, Ally provides guidance on how to edit it in different programs.

If you don’t have an editable version of your file, Ally will ask for bibliographic information about your file. 

This image has contrast issues

What this means

Images need to have a high enough contrast in color to easily read any text and distinguish between elements. This is especially vital for students who may have low vision or color blindness and may have difficulty . 

How to fix it

Ally doesn’t have any built-in instructions for fixing this issue, as it can be difficult to find the right tools easily available for such a task. You can prevent this error by selecting images that have high contrast for your materials. Use an online tool like Contrast Checker to determine if your image passes accessibility guidelines.

This document does not have headings

What this means

Do not only use visual appearance such as text size, bold or underline to mimic a heading. Always use the program’s native heading styles to ensure headings are properly marked as headings.

How to fix it

Ally guides you on changing headings in Microsoft Office and LibreOffice tools by using features like Style. 

Related Resources


For additional FAQs and resources about Blackboard, visit, attend one of our workshops, or reach out to us with your availability and we will accommodate small groups and one-on-one sessions.

Have feedback or suggestions on features? Blackboard’s parent company Anthology hosts The Idea Exchange. This is a place specifically for Blackboard to track and manage enhancement requests. It allows for things like upvoting ideas and sharing development plans and statuses. You will need to create an account to access the Idea Exchange.

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