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How do I get started with Alternative Formats Ally?

Making course materials accessible for students is a legal requirement and the Alternative Formats Ally can do a lot of the work for you. This new plugin for Moodle is designed to help you meet accessibility requirements by giving all users the opportunity to download course resources in other formats and by providing to staff feedback and reports on accessibility of all course materials so that improvements can be made where they are needed most. Most resources uploaded to Moodle courses will have an Ally icon next to them.

Read on to find out how to make your course materials accessible to students and how the Alternative Formats Ally helps you do that. 

If you want to share information on Alternative Formats Ally with students, please share this guidance for students.

Staff Guide: Getting Started with Alternative Formats Ally

For more information or individual support, please contact: digitalservices@brookes.ac.uk.

Using the Alternative Formats Ally

Which icon is for Alternative Formats?

The Stylised ‘A’ Icon with a downward facing arrow to the right is for Alternative Formats.

Document with the Ally Alternative Format Icon indicated by with the words 'Alternative Formats' written above in a speech bubble. The icon is a stylised capital A with a down arrow in black.
Figure 1. When you upload a file resource, like a Document, the Ally ‘A’ icon appears automatically.

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This is the icon that both students and staff can see. Clicking on this icon allows you to download alternative versions of a file resource. For example, if a member of staff uploads a Word document to Moodle, Alternative Formats Ally provides the opportunity to download it in other formats from the course screen.

Pro Tip: To get the most out of alternative formats use the Accessibility Checklist and follow the Accessibility Guidelines to make the original resource as accessible as possible.

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What types of Alternative Formats are available using Ally?

Ally Alternative Format Icon

When you click on the Alternative Formats icon for a valid resource, a list of available formats will appear.

Screenshot of the dropdown menu that will appear once you click on the Alternative Formats 'A' icon.
Figure 2. When you click on the Alternative Formats Ally ‘A’ icon, a list of available alternative formats will appear based on the original file type.

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Quoted below is the Blackboard Ally guidance on Alternative Formats, including the types of files that Ally reads and what types can be requested.

Alternative Formats Ally provides alternative formats for these file types:

  • PDF files
  • Microsoft Word files
  • Microsoft Powerpoint files
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice files
  • Uploaded HTML files

These alternative formats can be generated:

  • Optical Character Recognition (OCR) version – this allows screen readers to ‘see’ scanned documents.
  • Tagged PDF (currently for Word, Powerpoint and OpenOffice/LibreOffice files) – this is a structured PDF for improved use with assistive technology.
  • Mobile-friendly HTML – for viewing in a browser and on mobile devices.
  • Audio – an MP3 file for listening.
  • ePub (ePublication) – this creates an ebook for reading on an iPad or other ebook reader.
  • Electronic Braille – this is compatible with electronic Braille displays.
  • BeeLine Reader – adds a colour gradient to text to help you read faster and more accurately.

Pro Tip: Remember the alternative format will be better if the original source has already been created using the Accessibility Checklist and following the Accessibility Guidelines.

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How do I access Accessibility Feedback and Reports?

Staff have more options to view accessibility scores and reports. There are ‘gauges’ icons that appear next to resources that link to feedback resources and a full report available in the Navigation Tray.

How do I use the ‘gauges’ icons?

Try this video

Screenshot of course showing gauges next to an image and two PowerPoints.
Figure 3. The Ally icons are subtle, and only appear next to certain resources.

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These icons, in the shape of a fuel gauge, show you at a glance whether a file or other resource is accessible. These gauges also appear next to any images you include on the course. An accessible resource will have a green ‘full’ gauge and a resource that needs more work will be either orange or red and show as less ‘full’.

You can access further guidance on accessibility scores, an except is included below.

Low Gauge reading in red.

Low (0-33%): Needs help! There are severe accessibility issues.

Medium gauge reading in gold

Medium (34-66%): A little better. The file is somewhat accessibile and needs improvement.

High gauge reading in green.

High (67-99%): Almost there. The file is accessibile but more improvements are possible.

Perfect score gauge reading in green.

Perfect (100%): Perfect! Ally didn’t identify any accessibility issues but further improvements may still be possible.

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What happens when I click on the ‘gauges’ icons?

Clicking on this icon will open a side panel that explains the score, gives guidance on how to increase your score, and if possible will allow you to apply a fix directly from the panel.

These two panels will show the accessibility gauge, an explanation of the score, a copy of the original document to follow along with, links to suggestions for how to apply a fix, and a space to edit it directly on the Ally Panel.
Figure 4. When you click on an Ally ‘gauge’ Accessibility Feedback can be viewed and some fixes can be applied.

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What is the Accessibility Report?

In the Navigation Tray (opened using the pink ‘hamburger’ icon in the top left corner) near the bottom there is a new ‘Accessibility Report’ button. Clicking on this will pull up the full report for the whole module. This report has a more detailed view of what issues you may need to fix and offers the opportunity to do so directly from the screen. If the fix needs to be applied on Moodle rather than on Ally, clicking on the links will take you to the relevant section on the course.

Screenshot of Accessibility Report showing Overview tab including the Course Accessibility Score, the breadown chart of all course content, and the list of content with the easiest issues to fix.
Figure 5. Sample Accessibility Report

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Updated on April 6, 2022

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