Blackboard Collaborate Accessibility Guide

Blackboard Collaborate is a useful tool for delivering real-time online teaching. These sessions offer greater flexibility to bring students together by removing the barriers of distance or circumstance and enables them to engage in an interactive online learning environment.

However, this learning environment may still present barriers or challenges for some students.. To minimise these barriers; it is important to consider and design in accessible and inclusive practices into your session.

You may not always know if you have  someone participating in a session that has a specific need. A good starting point is to:

  • Invite your participants to make you aware of any requirements that will help them participate ahead of the session, where possible.
  • Keep the design of your session simple, providing easy ways for your students to interact,
  • and ensure the session content is accessible.

This guide provides advice about things you can do when delivering online teaching sessions using Blackboard Collaborate to make them inclusive. The later part of the guide provides advice for specific disabilities.

Top 5 things to increase accessibility during your Blackboard Collaborate sessions.

  1. Ensure your content is accessible:
    • Correct formatting on text, including headers, font style/size, contrast and density.
  2. Any images should be relevant and include Alt-Text descriptions.
  3. Invite your participants to contact you in advance if they have any requirements or concerns.
  4. Keep a clear steady pace during your presentation, and allow time for participants to process, respond and ask questions.
    • Let students know about the Raise Hand feature and how you will respond to it.
    • Have your pauses planned, and don’t be uncomfortable about silence after asking a question – they may need some time to think and type. Mute the mic and have a drink!
  5. Work from a plan or script. This will depend on the nature of your session but having a plan or script will allow you to have readily available resources that can be shared with students before the session so they are able to participate in activities and know what information is being presented.
    • Changes from the plan (or additions to) can be summarised by talking through them clearly over audio, or by typing them up in the chat area.
    • When answering questions or giving instructions for an activity, make sure that they are covered in both spoken and written formats so that everyone can be aware of what is going to happen and their role.

Reassure your students that their participation is welcome and that the value of their contributions is greater than the speed of their typing or accuracy of spelling.

Foster an inclusive environment where everyone is encouraged – but not required – to share their opinions.

Before the session

    • Invite attendees to contact you in advance of the session if they have any specific requirements for assistance.
    • Provide an orientation session for attendees who want to try things beforehand. This can prevent issues arising in the actual session and help them feel prepared, build confidence or reduce stress.
    • Test third party tools (assistive technologies) in advance using the Course Room or an open practice session (by appointment if appropriate.)
    • Inform attendees about features that help them customise the interface to suit their needs and let them know which tools you will be using.
    • Review your session plan and materials based on the information you receive. If you are using an image heavy slideshow and know that you will have a visually impaired person attending, can you adjust or let them know in advance what you will be talking about so that they can participate?
    • Are you able to provide a closed captioner during the session, or, provide information on what you will delivering aurally to hearing impaired students?

 During the session

  • Check in with all students frequently and allow time for typed responses; especially if you have attendees using assistive technologies.
  • Encourage students to use the raise hand feature when typing questions so that you can give them time to type and respond.
  • Speak clearly and at a good pace, describe images or visual elements, encourage attendees to play an active role by typing things into the chat or participating with closed captioning.
  • Reassure students that contributions are optional. This will prevent them from feeling pressured to participate when they do not need to.
  • Everyone involved with the session can contribute to accessibility. Moderators (if confident) can help with closed captioning, explaining visual elements on the screen.

After the session

  • Speak to attendees to get feedback on specific elements of the webinar that they found difficult and if there are ways you could improve for next time.

Follow up with resources such as transcripts, recordings and files used during the session so that attendees can go over them again at their own pace.

Challenges:

Suggestions:

  • The student must balance listening to the speaker or to the screen reader. They may have trouble deciding which is most important and become disorientated from multiple audio streams.
  • Provide students with an outline and resources for the session, so they know where to focus during the session.
  • Communicate with the student during the session to let them know where to focus and whether they can listen to you and silence their screen reader.
  • Accessing visual information presented during the session.
  • Describe any key content of slides – especially images. Explain the context of the image.
  • Consider allowing the student to have permanent “open mic” so they can request clarification at any time.
  • Loss of Functionality of the tool – even with assistive technologies.
  • If possible, test any features you intend to use during the session with the student in advance to see if they work with their assistive technologies.
  • Keeping up with multiple threads of communication by sound alone. (Text, Video, Sound).
  • Try not to over rely on chat-based activities if you know you will have a blind or visually impaired student participating. Repeat key points aurally so that the student will know what other attendees are responding to.

Challenges:

Suggestions:

  • How can the student know what the presenter is saying? Can relate to content but also specific instructions on how to participate.
  • Depending on the content of the session, is the presenter able to work from a script that can be sent to the student in advance of the session?
    • Any deviations from script can be flagged up in the chat.
  • During activities, consider adding written instructions on the slides or in chat – but allow time for these to be read and processed.
  • Do students have time to process dense textual information.
  • Before the session you can provide students with knowledge of the terminology, this may help them with reading.
  • How can they keep pace with the closed captions, text on slides and conversations taking place in the chat area?
  • Build in time for summarising, using the text chat, key points of the session so far and you can ask others to contribute to make sure you’ve covered everything.
  • If you are using a sign language interpreter, pause regularly to ensure they have the time to make translations.
  • For some students, written English is like a second language, with their first being British Sign Language (or another country’s sign language).
  • Some students may be able to lip read through video – but test this in advance because it could be ruined by poor connection. Ask if there is anything that you can provide them that will help them know what is being said.

Challenges:

Suggestions:

  • Students may not be able to fully participate using only specialised keyboard functions.
  • Depending on the content of the session, resources could be sent in advance so students can prepare what they want to say.
  • Students may have difficulty coping with the speed of written discussions and having to navigate between different tools.
  • Build in time for students to process information, respond to questions and to summarise the key points of the session so far. Their navigation of the tool may be slower without use of a mouse.
  • Consider allowing the student to keep a permanent “open mic” to ask questions or make comments.

Challenges:

Suggestions:

  • Students may feel reluctant to participate in the text chat out of fear of poor spelling and typing speeds.
  • Reassure students that the value of their contribution is more important than correct spelling or typing.
  • Will students have time to make sense of text dense information? 
  • Depending on content, you could send the student text dense information before the session to allow them time to read and process it.
  • Make sure any images you include support the text and are not distracting.
  • Allow time to summarise the key points of the session so far.
  • Use a readable font and text-size to make it easier to access.

 

This guide has been adapted, with permission, from the Digital Practice Handbook – Inclusive Use of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra produced by the Technology Enhanced Learning department of the University of Derby.