Building accessibility into online Blackboard courses

Blackboard mark-up interfaceBlackboard provides built-in mechanisms to ensure online content adheres to accessibility standards for its static structure. Once content or third party elements like multimedia and links to resources are added, there are steps you take to maintain accessibility. As you begin adding course content in Blackboard, be mindful of what the end result may look like using a screen reader. There are some simple steps that provide additional benefit to all students.

Built-in headings

Screen readers rely on formatted code applied to headlines and subheadlines to assist with reading through a page. Blackboard automatically applies semantic heading code for sidebar menu items like “Assignments’ or “My Grades’ as well as content items on pages: “Lesson 1’, “Name of the Assignment.’ These headings guide screen readers through web pages.

Images and graphics

Add a textual description to images and graphics for screen readers using alternative text or Alt text or Alt tags. The icons and images built into Blackboard include alternative text; for example  when you create a Content Folder, the folder icon is identified by a screen reader as a folder.
If the image can be described in a few words do so using Alt Text. If it is more complicated, include an expanded explanation in the document text. For example, you might be able to describe what is relevant in a photograph, but you might need to give a more detailed narrative about a graph and what it represents.


According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), 8 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women of northern European descent have a common form of red-green color blindness (or deficiency) where red, orange and yellow appear greener. In some cases, red appears black and some shades of orange, yellow and green all appear as yellow or reds are brownish-yellow and green is beige. Most common, yellow and green appear redder.1 Color really does matter when used in any kind of learning environment.
Do not rely on color alone to denote importance or other conceptual information without considering the colors you use. Additionally, using colored patterns on menu buttons can make text difficult to read. Stick with solid color button options. Test how a page may appear to people with different types of color blindness: .


The biggest challenge for creating accessible courses comes when you add multimedia elements. Audio, video, interactive simulations, and games can all contain elements needing alternatives to be completely accessible. Audio files should have written transcripts. Videos should have closed captions and or transcripts. Many online tools to create transcripts for audio or captions for video exist. Keep in mind, most software, especially free, may produce text that needs a careful editing. Be sure to review the final document before posting it.


Use formatting styles or tags for your content, whether you are using MS Word, Google Docs or typing straight into a Blackboard content area. When you add content to a Blackboard  item, and make a word bold or italic, Blackboard automatically converts the text using the preferred “strong’ or “emphasis’ HTML code. When you copy and paste text that has been formatted to appear bold or italic in Word or Google Docs, the text appears correctly, but the underlying code is not updated appropriately and may be misinterpreted by a screen reader. Your best practice would be to use the strong HTML code not bold, and to use the emphasis code, not italics. Likewise, when creating a list, use the formatting style button, not the tab or space bar.


Learn more: about Accessibility online course starts Feb 22: Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners.

  1. Facts About Color Blindness. (n.d.). National Eye Institute (NEI). Retrieved February 12, 2016.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *