I’ve made openness a key theme for my last few blogs – one on our growing focus on the Moodle community, and my latest on our acquisition of Remote-Learner UK, a leading provider of open source solutions in Europe. And as promised, I’m back again to share more about our commitment to open education. This time, I’m welcoming JoAnna Hunt, design strategist for Blackboard, to discuss one of the most critical elements of open education – the ability to cater to the needs of all learners, including those with disabilities:


0e2359f JoAnna Hunt, Design Strategist, Blackboard

For Blackboard, the journey towards accessibility began in 2008 with customers telling us we needed to have a more holistic awareness of users with disabilities. My journey towards accessibility began with the realization that people, especially students, with disabilities have the same goals and ambitions as everyone else but our lack of understanding caused us to erect roadblocks along their path without realizing we were making it more challenging for users with disabilities to be successful. I wanted to be part of changing that.

We started small. But, as awareness around accessibility grew, we learned more about the impact it had on students, teachers, and the people who supported them. The various product groups at Blackboard started putting more resources towards accessibility initiatives.

In early 2012 we were beginning to establish ourselves as a leader in the accessibility community and were invited to work with groups like SLATE and The Online Learning Consortium (SLOAN) to help educate people about the importance of accessibility in educational technology.

The acquisition of Moodlerooms and NetSpot in 2012 provided us with additional opportunities to give back to the accessibility community. Over the last three years the Moodlerooms team at Blackboard has been hard at work.

  • A full evaluation of the accessibility of Moodle was completed.
  • All issues that were discovered were resolved and published back to Moodle headquarters for inclusion in the core code.
  • A collaborative accessibility group within the global Moodle community was established to continue testing efforts.
  • A partnership with longtime accessibility advocates at the University of Montana was developed to build and release a fully accessible discussion board module.

Still, Blackboard’s accessibility journey is just getting started. Earlier this year we hit another major milestone with the establishment of a full-time Accessibility Manager role. This role is centrally positioned in the organization to bring all of these groups together and will continue to drive product improvements, community involvement, and continued evolution across all our products and services.

After spending the last six years advocating for accessibility at Blackboard and watching the culture shift in so many positive ways, I am incredibly excited to be the one stepping into this new Accessibility Manager role. The edu-tech industry is recognizing that accessibility isn’t a “nice to have” anymore. It has become a key element of success and we have a lot of innovative things planned for this continuing journey towards open accessibility. Watch for exciting product updates and join the conversations happening in both the Moodle and the Blackboard communities.

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