The Los Rios Community College District (Sacramento City College, American River College, Cosumnes River College, and Folsom College) uses Blackboard as the delivery system for online distance education courses.
For quite a while, the accessibility of online courses at Sacramento City College has been discouraging to some of our students with disabilities. In addition to several of Blackboard’s tools not being usable to screenreaders, the underlying structure of the system was confusing and wrought with roadblocks for people who do not access the Internet with a standard keyboard, mouse, and monitor. For this reason, faculty and staff on this campus have discouraged our blind students from taking online courses in Blackboard.
June 29, 2006: After conducting user testing with several DRC students, we've concluded that Blackboard can be quite accessible and usable by visually impaired people who use screenreaders!
Keys To Success
The following are “keys to success” for SCC students who use screenreaders and want to take an online class:
- The student must have at least an intermediate working knowledge of their screen reader (usually JAWS).
- The online instructor’s content must be “accessible.” Some potential problem areas are PowerPoint files, pdfs, and multimedia. For instructors who need help to ensure accessible content, please contact Janelle Pettler to have the site checked.
- The online instructor’s course must be well generally organized, consistent, and have clear directions for students. This will help all students, not just students with disabilities.
- Instructors should be flexible with the use of certain Blackboard features. For example:
- If students cannot use synchronous Chat (requires Java plug-ins for use with JAWS), a good alternative is Yahoo i.m. or another instant messaging client; they tend to work better with screenreaders.
- Quizzes and testing utilities may be difficult to access with a screenreader. An option is to have students copy and paste quizzes from Blackboard into Microsoft Word, complete the quiz, and email the Word file to the instructor.
- Be flexible with how students do group work. The Collaboration tool in Blackboard utilizes the same previously mentioned chat feature. Allowing students to work with email, instant messaging, or other methods as an alternative will be helpful.
>>For more information on Blackboard accessibility, please visit Blackboard's Accessibility Resource.