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Blackboard Learn Certified for Accessibility by National Federation of the Blind

The National Federation of the Blind has certified the latest version of Blackboard's learning management system (LMS), which means that blind users can more fully interact with the application's functionality. Blackboard Learn version 9.1 received "Nonvisual Accessibility Gold Certification." The company said this was the only LMS to achieve this level of approval from the federation.

Improvements of use to blind users include faster navigation and better form interaction that make it easier to submit assignments, participate in discussion forums, submit responses to tests, upload files, and create content.

"Online learning empowers student achievement, and Blackboard Learn Release 9.1 represents a significant advancement in access for students and educators, said Marc Maurer, president of the federation, which acts as an advocate for equal education for the blind. "It is clear to us that Blackboard is seriously committed to improving the accessibility of its product."

The federation was in the news recently, along with the American Council of the Blind, when the Department of Education issued a reminder to colleges and universities that the devices they used in the classroom needed to comply with accessibility laws.

The federation's certification program teams vendors with experts on blindness and accessibility to put Web sites or applications through an evaluation and testing procedure to ensure they're accessible to and usable by blind people employing screen access software. "Gold" certification requires two levels of accessibility:

  1. The top 100 URLs for the product are "completely accessible--all content and all Web content controlled by organization are compliant"; and
  2. The 20 most frequently accessed documents (in Microsoft Office or PDF formats) and resources (such as Flash, video, or audio) are compliant.

Blackboard also has a unique source of feedback about the accessibility of its products--its own Blackboard Accessibility Interest Group, with which it meets regularly, the company said.

"I am wholly convinced that accessibility across the product line is a priority at Blackboard," said Ed Garay, assistant director for academic computing at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "Blackboard spends quality time and extensive resources working with a number of schools to make significant improvements. I have no doubts about Blackboard's commitment to accessibility."

Around the same time that Blackboard was undergoing its certification process for Learn version 9.1, the company also launched a grant program, announced at the foundation's annual convention. The new program, supported by a $10,000 foundation award and $15,000 from Blackboard, will issue five grants to fund projects that help further access to education for students with disabilities.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.