2013 has been a busy year for the Blackboard User Experience and Accessibility teams and we are only half way through the year. This year kicked off with the release of Blackboard Learn, Release 9.1 Service Pack 11, which was audited and verified by a third-party for conformance with the internationally recognized W3C WCAG 2.0 Guidelines at the AA level. This release resolved several outstanding issues with both accessibility and usability found in older releases of Blackboard Learn. Including those mentioned in a recent report comparing the accessibility of Learning Management Systems.
Shortly following the release of Service Pack 11 an updated version of the Blackboard Learn Discussion Board was released as a building block that could be installed on Service Pack 11 and higher. The new Discussion Board includes significant usability and accessibility improvements in a tool that was previously considered very challenging for users with disabilities.
Working in combination with internal and external testers as well as numerous client partners the team at Blackboard is continuing to focus on accessibility and with each release comes increased efficiencies and usability for all users. Here’s how:
- Quick Links with Service Pack 12 is a feature that goes further than skip navigation links and brings forward keyboard shortcuts along with an outline of the page content – something that will increase efficiency for all users.
- While grading within Blackboard, the screen reader view of the grading grid has always been available in Blackboard Learn. Service Pack 6 also introduced the Needs Grading feature which streamlines the workflow of grading and reduces the amount of content the user must navigate to begin grading – something that improves both accessibility and usability.
- Very soon Blackboard will release a new Meeting Room for all Blackboard Learn users to replace the older virtual classroom functionality. Meeting Room is a version of Blackboard Collaborate that is highly accessible for everyone to participate in synchronous collaboration.
But we are not stopping there. Additional improvements including enabling browser titles to indicate the current page, expanding our use of ARIA landmarks, as well as some specific page corrections for cleaner linearization of content, unique alt texts and visible cursor focus are already planned for upcoming releases.
The Blackboard User Experience team is always looking for more client partners interested in working with us to continually improve the accessibility of our products. If you are interested in participating in our Accessibility Partners program please email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us at @BbUIX