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Guest Blog Post: The Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures of the University of Verona focuses on inclusion and adopts the Blackboard Ally plugin to increase the accessibility of its digital educational content

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Marco Rospocher, Professor of Computer Science in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of Verona.
Manuel Boschiero, Professor of Slavistics at the Department at the University of Verona

The Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures of the University of Verona, awarded as a department of excellence by the National Agency for Evaluation of the University System and Research (ANVUR), in 2020 has implemented its LMS system with the Blackboard Ally plugin to improve the accessibility of educational content produced by teaching staff.

The decision to integrate the Moodle platform in use within the university with Ally is part of a specific interdisciplinary Project launched in 2018 with the aim of making the department a pole of excellence and an experimental laboratory for both research and teaching in the field of digital humanities applied to foreign languages and literatures. But it also responds to the indications contained in the recent European Accessibility Act, the directive approved June 7, 2019 by the European Commission that requires all member countries to update, implement or generate by 2025 all digital content so that it is readable and decodable by all EU citizens.

“Our Department has a great interest in the topic of accessibility,” explains Marco Rospocher, Professor of Computer Science in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of Verona. “For this reason, when the Department received funding as a university pole of excellence, the search was started for a software capable of making the educational materials developed for the e-learning platform as inclusive as possible. We felt that Ally could meet our needs and, thanks to the collaboration of Seidor Italy, since December 2020 we have been able to activate the plugin specifically for the catchment area of the Department, which currently consists of about 4000 students and 150 teachers for a total of about 250 lessons per year”.

The reasons for the choice: reports, multiple formats and a self-assessment system

“There are three elements that convinced us to choose Ally,” continues Manuel Boschiero, Professor of Slavistics at the Department. “The first one is that it continuously provides teachers with a report on the level of accessibility of the uploaded content and teaches them how to improve it so that they can become more aware and sensitive each time. In addition, it allows the student to choose the reading format he/she prefers and automatically converts the materials according to the choice made. Finally, it allows the Department to self-assess the level of sensitivity acquired in the production of the materials and provides indications for improvement. A corrective system alone, in fact, would be unproductive and would not meet our objectives, that is, to reach a level of awareness such as to produce in the future materials that are perfectly accessible and readable for all”.

Italy at the forefront of digital content accessibility

The objectives of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures of the University of Verona are also in line with the indications of AgiD (the Agency for Digital Italy) on the adaptation of digital and IT tools of the Public Administration in terms of accessibility. According to Legislative Decree n.106 of 2018, AgiD promotes the implementation of hardware and software in use in the PA, provides assistance for the application of current legislation and issues technical rules, circulars and guidelines so that an accessible and inclusive ecosystem is created in all public services.

“The Department’s interest in the topic of inclusion has actually existed for some time,” continues Professor Boschiero. “We have contacts with associations in the area such as the Italian Union of the Blind and Visually Impaired of the Verona section, and we have introduced sign language learning as an accredited educational activity for our students. We have also started training meetings for teaching staff on the topic of accessibility, for example to adequately accommodate students with DSA and provide them with appropriate tools and compensatory teaching. The desire to make the technologies and digital materials in use at the Department more accessible is naturally part of this methodological approach. In fact, if a teacher uses digital tools in use at the University without making them accessible, he/she immediately creates a form of exclusion. Therefore, a plugin such as Ally can teach how to improve the production of educational content so that it can be used by everyone, without distinction of any kind”.