What were you doing on Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2019?


It’s been a few weeks since we paused to recognize Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), May 16, 2019, with a series of informative webinars around the world.  Many of you joined us to hear from our partner institutions and accessibility experts. Now, I thought it might be a great idea to also hear from some of my fellow team members here at Blackboard as they talk about how GAAD impacted them personally and why the efforts of our partner institutions and organizations are so crucial to the success of so many.   

Krista Greear – Accessibility Strategist, Blackboard

As an Accessibility Strategist, I am blessed to work strategically with a variety of institutions on how to become more inclusive, with the emphasis on digital accessibility. GAAD is not only an opportunity to raise awareness, it is also an opportunity for me to personally and privately celebrate the progress of higher education institutions of all shapes.  Many campuses struggle with similar accessibility challenges, not to mention challenges around communications, awareness and resources when trying to create a more inclusive digital ecosystem.  

What is clear is that all schools care about their students’ experience. They want them to feel welcomed and to be successful at their institution. So many campuses are discussing “what can we do now?” and “what do we need to start building or changing in order to provide a more equitable learning experience for all students?”  I am excited to have a first-row seat to these institutional efforts. I can say with absolute confidence that we are collectively trying to change the student experience. That is a wonderful reason to celebrate GAAD.

Nicolaas Matthijs – Director of Product Management, Blackboard Ally

This was the most exciting and energizing GAAD I’ve actively participated in so far. It overlapped with the final day of the European Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference in Newcastle (UK), and we therefore themed the entire last day around Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning. This included a keynote session with lots of institutional stories and testimonials, a great session by UK accessibility guru Alistair McNaught, a session led by the University of Derby, University of Reading, Edge Hill University and Northumbria University on how they’ve implemented Ally and a 2-hour workshop on how to create more accessible content.

What was most exciting to me though is how much the conversation has changed in the last two years and the momentum that now exists and it was great to see the role that Ally has played in this. This was the first conference where we didn’t feel we had to demo Blackboard Ally and could instead really focus on implementation stories, best practices, results, etc. It was so wonderful to see administrators, faculty and students talk about their journey to a more inclusive learning environment, and the most exciting thing is that it only feels like the beginning!

Elizabeth Simister – Accessibility Product Manager, Blackboard

There are so many great ways to participate in GAAD.  I spent part of the GAAD week at the John Slatin University AccessU conference in Austin, TX as a teacher and participant.  One of the great benefits of AccessU is that it is one of the best places for those new and old to accessibility to learn from industry experts in multiple fields, including education.  One unique aspect is that participants experience in-depth sessions where they can really get a deeper understanding of topics ranging from accessibility law all the way through to how to create interactive websites with the latest ARIA techniques. 

Following the last AccessU session on May 16th, I also had the opportunity to present as a part of our GAAD webinar series about ways to test web applications and digital content even on a shoestring budget.  All in all, it was great to hear about all the different ways people around the world are creating more inclusive environments for all.

Heidi Jungel – Accessibility Engineer, Blackboard

One of the great things about GAAD is that it highlights so many of the efforts related to accessibility that often go on behind the scenes, especially related to the technology and development work that is involved.

From a development perspective it has been very exciting to see new ideas and processes take hold. For example, in recent years, unit testing for accessibility has made great strides. Writing unit tests for accessibility allows developers to focus on the code rather than the standards and assistive technologies that are tied with that code. In addition, unit tests help increase developer knowledge for accessibility coding and ensures issues are addressed before being released into production. Build failures from running those tests can be written in such a way that it guides developers on resolving those failures. While it will not catch every single accessibility issue, these tests can catch major issues that often plague users who deal with inaccessible applications. This can create a huge positive impact and is exciting.

Sharing knowledge and experience like this is one of the great ways that the conversations from GAAD can extend throughout the rest of the year. 

John Scott – Product and Community Manager, Blackboard Ally

I also had the pleasure to attend Blackboard’s European Teaching & Learning Conference where over 30 members of our European Blackboard Ally User Group convened both in-person and virtually to share their insights about Blackboard Ally and inclusive education. The group is led by Claire Gardener from Derby University and Kristen McCartney-Bulmer from University of Northumbria and just celebrated the one-year anniversary of its founding. 

During one part of the meeting, group members shared their recent experiences from the Blackboard Ally Tour visits, where members of the Ally team visited campuses around the world to host an accessibility workshop and data review. Members discussed the value of the data review and being able to see how their institution’s Ally usage and accessibility issues compared to other European institutions, and how they are now leveraging those insights to further their inclusive learning strategies.  

This year’s GAAD was a great way to bring these collaborative groups together and to shine a light on what a positive impact inclusive education can bring to everyone. 

If you missed any part of the webinar series on May 16th, I’d encourage you to check them out here.  If you are interested in becoming a member of the Blackboard Ally User Group, we’d love to welcome you into the community to join the discussion as the rest of the year progresses!