At Blackboard, we are serious about our effort on making our platform accessible to all users. A year ago, when Blackboard was awarded the annual Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for “groundbreaking work in accessibility,” we decided to reinvest the $10,000 award and put in an additional $15,000 to form the Blackboard Accessibility Grant to support work enabling education for students with disabilities.

A great number of submissions were received. It was a tough decision to pick out the five awardees, given the amount of good proposals we received, where they all showed great potential to make a great impact to those with disabilities. With the wonderful help of an evaluation committee, consisting of a team of professionals in the Accessibility Community from outside and inside of Blackboard, we’re proud to announce that we have reached a decision in our list of five awardees for the Blackboard Accessibility Grant.


Here’s a quick glimpse of what the awardees’ proposals aim to achieve, in a one year time-frame:

  1. Simon Thompson (Widgit) & Susie Blackstien-Adler (Bridges) aim to develop a Blackboard building block for the Widgit symbol-content editor called Insite. Insite allows you to create and display symbol-supported content on a website quickly and easily. Insite can significantly enhance the accessibility of the website. Individuals who benefit from symbol-supported content are those with reading impairments as a result of learning or cognitive disabilities or English as a second language (ESL).
  2. Benjamin K. Davison (Georgia Institute of Technology) looks to provide an evaluation to confirm the effectiveness of a great Multiple Graph Displays tool, which allows users to generate a textual description, a visual representation, and an audio representation of a graph. (Check out the web version of this tool at
  3. Deborah C. Pichler (Gallaudet University) aims to develop an ASL glossary of key terms from Cognitive Linguistics which is a new approach in sign language research. Their team of students have already taken initiative and compiled an extensive list of key terms in Cognitive Linguistics and posted it on their Blackboard installation as a wiki. First goal of this project is to both expand the glossary’s coverage and film short video clips for each entry in ASL to be made available on iPads. This project will also use iPads as a sketch tablet, with direct application to Generative Linguistics classes.
  4. Julie Balassa (Valencia Community College) will establish a team of faculty and staff that will coordinate research that compares the effectiveness of different tools to create closed captioning for online instruction offered via Valencia’s Blackboard Learn system. The project will target identifying improvements designed to enhance learning for deaf and hard of hearing students who elect to enroll in online courses.
  5. Wilma Alexander (University of Edinburgh) will evaluate different approaches to structuring online materials and activities within a VLE/LMS, and develop support for staff in adopting the most appropriate and accessible structures and pathways. This would take the form of suggested patterns or templates for course structures, and would include examination of the migration process into Learn 9 with a view to optimizing the accessibility of the results.


We couldn’t have reached a conclusion without the great and detailed evaluations that these awesome folks gave on the proposals, which was done on their own time, with some evaluators from outside of Blackboard and the others from within the Product Development team of Blackboard:

  1. George Irwin (Syracuse University)
  2. Brad Kadel (Fayetteville State University)
  3. Saroj Primlani (NC State – Retired)
  4. Mark Camp (Jacksonville State University)
  5. Dan Rinzel (Bb’er)
  6. Lisa Neal (Bb’er)
  7. Jim Riecken (Bb’er)
  8. Bill Richard (Bb’er)
  9. Mark McCullough (Bb’er)


On the Blackboard side, a periodic status meeting will be setup with the five awardees, and updates on the projects will be shared with you all through this blog.  So, stay tuned!

(Priyanka Gupta and Alex Ku are leading the Blackboard Accessibility Grant program)

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