As many of you know, ever since I started working at Blackboard Collaborate (then Elluminate), accessibility has been one my most important priorities when it comes to designing our collaboration software for education.  From the old Elluminate slogan of ‘No user left behind,’ to leading accessibility forums throughout North America, I’ve felt that it’s not only our legal obligation to make accessible software, but it’s also, simply, the right thing do.  With so much of the educational experience happening online – in virtual classrooms, through collaboration, formal meetings and informal get-togethers – it was especially important for those of us involved to develop software that enables online education and make sure that our products work for everybody. After all, every person, regardless of (dis)ability, is entitled to equal access to an education.

When it comes to our accessibility efforts, perhaps the most valuable thing we’ve done happened in 2009, when we set up our Accessibility Taskforce and formalized the process of including people with disabilities in our development efforts. Carin Headrick, an Accessibility Taskforce member with visual impairment, told us, “Because we live our disability, we know how we can give feedback about what works and what doesn’t. It’s all well and good to design something with the best of intentions, but sometimes that results in a partial solution that’s not really a solution at all.”

Carin was a key taskforce contributor, and was instrumental in helping us focus a recent web conferencing release on providing rich support for those with limited vision, paralleling our earlier accessibility efforts on behalf of those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

My colleague, Shannon Urban, recently spent some time with Carin, and captured her reaction in a few YouTube videos, which I’d like to share with you. Here’s Carin going through some of the accessibility features designed to help users with visual difficulties. These were carried over into the new Blackboard Collaborate release, which we introduced Carin to here. In the final clip, Carin talks about Blackboard Collaborate’s documentation and support.

Listening to Carin say “Cool!” I can’t help but feel pride in the strides that Blackboard has made, and continues to make, in terms of making our products accessible to all. Watching these clips also brings home the fact that our products help solve real-world problems for real-world people

Making rich software applications like Blackboard Collaborate truly accessible is hard work.  It requires great universal design, careful implementation and extensive testing.  Through our interactions with our customers, users and Accessibility Taskforce, we’ve learned that continued emphasis on accessibility in our products is not only the right thing to do, but it makes good business sense as well.

All that said, we also recognize that our job isn’t done. We intend to make accessibility improvements an ongoing and integral part of our release process, and we’ll continue to tap the insights of our Accessibility Taskforce to make sure that we get things right. After all, we want to keep hearing Carin Headrick tell us that what we’re doing is “cool.”

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For more about accessibility in Blackboard Collaborate, please see our recent white paper No User Left Behind: Blackboard Collaborate and the Accessibility Imperative.

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