Collaboration

Blackboard Collaborate (Ultra) Highlights Assistive Tech Adherence

Blackboard has improved accessibility functionality for its online collaboration application. Blackboard Collaborate with the Ultra experience recently underwent an audit by a company that provides consulting to organizations in the area of accessibility. SSB Bart Group determined that the Web-based conferencing tool met Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0 at Level AA. Analysis also found the product supported federal Section 508 standards "with exceptions."

Ultra is an optional user interface based on Blackboard's learning management system, Learn 9.1.

As the WCAG assessment reported, while Collaborate (Ultra) doesn't "fully support the WCAG 2.0 requirements... it does support, with exceptions, most of the important technical and functional accessibility needs of most disability and assistive technology types." For example, the software allows for live captioning, supports 4.5:1 contrast and follows consistent navigation.

The core issues in both reviews were few. The evaluator found that Collaborate (Ultra) wouldn't allow assistive technology or keyboard-only users to access the Share Application plug-in, that these users are unable to place content on the whiteboard, and that screen reader users lacked the ability to access content placed on the whiteboard.

Both assessments were done on Windows 7 using Chrome 43 or Firefox 41.0.1 browsers and iOS 8 using the Safari 8.0.3 browser. Several assistive technologies were tested: Freedom Scientific JAWS 16, Apple VoiceOver, ZoomText 10.0 and Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13.0.

One institutional fan of Collaborate (Ultra) and its accessibility features is the University of Montana, where the school's Accessibility Interest Group currently uses the software to conduct webinars. "It's extremely important to us that we use tools and technologies that share the same values and standards that we're working hard to achieve through our Accessibility Interest Group," said Marlene Zentz, senior instructional designer and accessibility specialist, in a press release. "The new Blackboard Collaborate is not only the tool we use to allow our campus leaders to keep working toward making teaching and learning an inclusive process on our campus, but the tool that our disabled students themselves can use to collaborate and learn at their highest potential."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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