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Re: Accessibility problems with Blackboard?

From: Mike Scott <mscott2@msfw.com>
Date: Fri, 22 Mar 2002 00:03:19 -0600 (CST)
Message-ID: <3640.>
To: <j.byrne@gcal.ac.uk>
Cc: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Sorry to jump in a little late on this question, but for what it's worth...

In a project with a local community college, I have been working to provide 
Blackboard-based on-line courses to students with disabilites. In a 
nutshell, the accessibility of the Blackboard 5.5 system has been extremely 
disappointing. Of six blind students who began the course this January, all 
but two have dropped because of the extreme difficulties they found in 
attempting to use Blackboard with a screen reader. (The remaining two are 
having to rely heavily on sighted assistance to continue.) In addition to 
the Blackboard-acknowledged issues of the inaccessible third-party chat and 
whiteboard application, we have run into a frustrating array of 
accessibility issues throughout the system, for example:

(1) A complex, frames-based layout with frames that are ambiguously 
named/titled. (Additionally, the deeply nested framesets appear to be 
invalid and intermittently cause the screen reader to lose focus (JAWS 4) 
or fail to render the page (HPR 3.02).)

(2) System-generated forms-based quizzes that do not use label tags and use 
layouts that are extremely cumbersome to operate with a screen reader. 
(The "matching" question construct is impossible to use, and we have had to 
direct instructors to avoid it completely. Students had to be trained on a 
work around for true/false and multiple choice question types.)

(3) System-generated content (e.g. announcement of content or quiz posting) 
that uses ambiguous and/or repeated link text (e.g. "click here" and system 
generated/modified filenames) making it useless for screen reader users 
to "tab" from link to link or use screen reader "link list" utilities. (We 
were able to help instructors to manually re-name the system generated 
links whenever possible.)

(4) Missing alt text on image links in some (admittedly rare) occasions and 
regular use of unnecessarily redundant alt text on purely decorative images
(e.g. "announcement icon" on the every single image used for a bullet in a 
pseudo- bulleted list of course announcements).

(5) Use of images of text in navigation/header menus that hinder the 
effectiveness of "high contrast" display settings for students with low 

(6) A content posting system that appears to cater to and foster the use of 
non-HTML content, i.e. Word and Power Point documents. (A large part of our 
initial task was assisting instructors to convert all their Word and Power 
Point-based content to accessible HTML documents. However Blackboard's 
document posting process made the posting of HTML documents, especially 
those with links to other internal documents/files, far more difficult than 
posting Word or PPT files.)

In Blackboard's defense, I will admit that it is unclear how much the local 
implementation of the system may or may not have contributed to the 
accessibility problems we've found. (If anyone has had more positive 
experience with a Blackboard system that might suggest that our experiences 
are not typical, I would be very eager to hear about them.) However, it was 
especially disappointing to find Blackboard (the company) largely 
unresponsive in addressing these issues when we brought them to their 

As part of the project (funded by a US Dept of Labor grant), we will be 
writing a thourough findings report including our experiences with 
Blackboard -- I'll be happy to share it when it is completed.  


> Hi,
> I am doing an accessibility audit of Blackboard for one of the course
> in my University. Assuming there are people on the list who have used
> the product - I would appreciate comments about how accessible or
> inaccessible they found it to be.
> Thanks,
> Jim
> -- 
> Jim Byrne Project Director, The Making Connections Unit, Glasgow
> Caledonian University, Glasgow G4 OBA, 0141 331 3893
> Everything you need to know about publishing accessible information on
> the Web.
> Services: Website Accessibility Audits, Accessible Web design,
> Accessible Website Management Training.
> The Making Connections Unit: http://www.mcu.org.uk/
> Scottish Disability Information Mailing list:
> http://www.mcu.org.uk/mailinglists/
Received on Friday, 22 March 2002 01:03:39 UTC

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