Over the past two years Blackboard has been working closely with partners like the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Deque Systems to achieve significant improvements in the accessibility of our products. We pledged to achieve the NFB’s certification for Non-Visual Access and in March of 2010 we were presented with their Gold Level Certification and became the only learning management system certified by the NFB.
In July I had the opportunity to attend the NFB’s annual meeting with our VP of Corporate Strategy, Lara Oerter. Lara was speaking to the attendees about Blackboard and our partnership with NFB representatives like Anne Taylor and Clara Van Gerven. One of the themes of this year’s meeting was the power of education and equal access to information. The announcement of the certification of Blackboard Learn was met with much excitement.
Throughout the rest of the meeting I listened to speakers such as Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President on Disability Policy, Marcus Simmons a gentleman, blind his entire life, who builds, fixes and restores classic cars and was a safety standards inspector for both Ford and GM, and Timothy Cordes M.D./Ph.D, a practicing blind physician in his final year of residency at the University of Wisconsin Hospital share their stories and insights about the impact of education. At the closing banquet for the meeting I watched as thousands of dollars in scholarship funds were given to blind students looking to pursue higher education in fields like psychology, engineering and education. The experience took my breath away.
At the NFB meeting in Dallas, Blackboard was presented with a Dr. Jacob Bolotin award in the amount of $10,000 and was grouped with powerhouse organizations like Apple and Kurzweil for innovation in accessible technology. Receiving this award was an incredible honor but what I will never forget about the experience was the passion for and dedication to education amongst all members of the blind community. They truly embody the idea that when given the proper tools and equal access to information literally anything is possible. Blackboard’s mission is to increase the impact of education by transforming the experience of education. For me this was never clearer than when I was listening to these students talk about their goals and dreams for the future.
At BbWorld 2010, in Orlando FL, Blackboard announced a grant program with the money awarded by the NFB, plus another $15,000, which will be directed to individuals, groups and organizations interested in furthering access to educational information and resources for users with disabilities. The grant program is open and the committee is now accepting proposals through December 31, 2010. I am very excited to see what innovations in educational technology evolve out of this program.