About Blackboard open in new window
Universal Design Universal Design Icon

When you design your course strategies and materials with accessibility in mind you are enhancing the learning experience of students with different learning styles and abilities. You can achieve this by adopting Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as your design principle is to create equal and flexible plans and learning materials. Taking advantage of the accessibility features in your most frequently used software will help to publish the materials in a universal way.

Who benefits from Universal Design for Learning?



The Blackboard application itself is accessible (http://blackboard.com/company/accessfaqs.htm), but the files that are added by faculty and students are most likely are not. The course layout, settings and content added should also be usable, easy to read, and find.

For additional information on creating accessible Word, PowerPoint, Web Pages, and PDF files, please review our online tutorials [coming soon].

Pictures, Graphics, Movies & Animations

Media can be added into the course via the Browse button or via the HTML Editor.
Note: Currently the HTML Editor only works within Internet Explorer on a PC computer.

The Content Area / Add Item tool (Browse) allows you to upload media. Examples such as; .jpg, .gif, .swf, .aiff, .mp3, .wav, .avi, .mov or .wmp.

Must have Alt Text and in some cases a Long Description (Image Target URL). The Alt Text can provide a short description of the image. For example this image's Alt Text is "Screen image of the Add Item / Embedded Media Information window".

Screen image of the Add Item / Embedded Media Information window

The Long Description is not needed if you provide descriptive information supporting the image within the text body. For example, the Add Item tutorial describes step-by-step how to use the Add Item tool with some screen images to support the users visual learning needs. The Embedded Media Information form and other forms within Blackboard are accessible to users via multiple browsers and adaptive technologies.

Image Optimization:
In general, use .gif format for graphics that have few colors, graphics that contain text or type, or graphics that have large areas of a single color. Use .jpg format for graphics that have many colors and lots of fine detail, such as photos. You should not use .bmp graphics with Blackboard. These files are very large and are slow to load, especially for modem users. Many scanners create .bmp files on their default settings, so check this setting if you scan photos or images. Blackboard also uploads all graphics in their original size. Make sure you have appropriately sized your graphics for your course site.

Movies & Audio:
Media that provides users with sound must be captioned. Please review additional information about Captioning Services. The Embedded Media Information window will allow for a short description within the Alt Text box, but adding Alt Text does not make a video or audio file accessible.

Video Item Media Screem image  Media Screen Image

Your students will need the appropriate software and plug-ins to view the media files. Make sure that you provide links and instructions on how to install the plug-ins.
Note: large audio or video files should be placed on the MDS streaming server. Placing large audio or video files into the Blackboard course can take an extreme amount of time for the student to download the full file before being able to view it. Streaming the file allows the student to view while it is downloading.

Styled and Coloured Text

While designing your course navigation, titles, and content materials, keep your users in mind. Not all browsers and computers will display the colors and text style the same.

Instructional design is very important when developing online tools. "Materials themselves do not teach but provide a medium that with appropriate use can support learning." (Oliver, Herrington, and Omari, 1996). To read more about instructional design, go to the Instructional Design Tips provided by Blackboard.

Navigation / Menu:
The Blackboard navigation on the left of the course screen should be easy to read and have a high contrast between the text and background color.

Screen image showing good contrast of navigational buttons  Screen image of the Course Design options

Choosing dark text (Menu Style) and a light background is recommended for best readability. Many of the button styles are very textured and make it very hard to read.

Content Materials:
The WYSIWYG / HTML Editor within Blackboard (IE/ Firefox only), allows you to create web pages within your Bb course. While using the HTML Editor make sure:

  • the text color is dark and easy to read on the white background page
  • use sans serif font types such as Helvetica, Arial and Verdana rather than font types like ‘Times New Roman’, because it is very difficult to read font types with serifs on computer screens
  • use headings in a proper, hierarchical way - not simply making bold or large text
  • break up long pages by use of appropriate sections
  • do not use the color red or green to emphasize a needed action, such as: click on the red button, important information is in red, or green means go., etc.

screen image of Internet Explorer text box

For more information about creating usable, organized and accessible HTML pages, please see our online tutorials [coming soon].

Files & Documents

Blackboard allows faculty and students to easily share files, but not all users have the applications that the files were created by. For example, if the instructor only provides the syllabus as a Microsoft Word (DOC) file and the student doesn't own Microsoft Word, then the student will not be able to view the syllabus.

It is better to provide multiple alternatives for a file. A syllabus could be viewed in Blackboard as HTML and a link to the PDF can be added for a more print friendly version. For more information about creating accessible PDF files, please view our online tutorials.

Screen image of HTML Syllabus with PDF link

Depending on the users browser and computer, a file will perform differently. One browser may open the file within the browser window, while another will try to download it to the desktop. Provide information for your students on how to access the file. You may want them to view it only and other times you will require them to download and modify it before returning it to you later.

Screen image showing multiple methods for accessing one file

This MOV presentation file can be downloaded via the instructions highlighted or watched within the window.

Screen image showing multiple methods for providing PPT files

Instructions can be provided on the course page. Text alternatives are also very helpful if the user is not able to access the file. For more information about creating accessible PowerPoint files, please view our online tutorials [coming soon]. In the mean time you can view the WebAIM tutorial on saving your PPT as HTML.

More Information

Q: Where do I find more information about accessibility at Cal Poly?
A: There are a couple of great resources you can view online. The Web Authoring Resource Center (WARC) and the Accessibility and Information Resources sites.

Q: Who can I turn to for help with Universal Design?
A: The Instructional Designers at the Center for Teaching and Learning are available for consultations. Please call the CTL 756-7002 for an appointment or stop by and visit (35-209).


SJSU (2007). Course Design for Accessibility, Center for Faculty Development.
Received from http://www.sjsu.edu/cfd/resources/instructional/accessibility.shtml

Kelly, K. & Ramsaran, C. (2007). Accessible Online Instructional and Learning Management Systems.
The California State University - Accessible Technology Initiative.

OSU (2007). ADA: Fast Facts for Faculty - Universal Design
Received from http://ada.osu.edu/resources/fastfacts/Universal_Design.htm

universalusability.com (2007). Universal Usability: A Universal Design Approach to Web Usability.
Received from http://universalusability.com/access_by_design/index.html




Adaptive Technology: equipment or software items designed or used to compensate for areas of disability or impairment. It allows students with disabilities the same access to information and production as their peers.

Alternate means: demonstrating mastery of course material in a substitute manner.

Auditory aids: equipment or software items designed or used to compensate for a person's total inability to hear or limited ability to hear. The auditory aid(s) used depends upon usable residual hearing and preference. Auditory aids allow students with hearing disabilities the same access to information and production as their peers.

Captioning: video / audio, needed by persons who are deaf, also helps students with learning disabilities by presenting text visually. It also assures that important information is clearly conveyed to all students, including those for whom English is a second language and those who are connecting to the Web over slow, telephone connections.

Contrast: the degree of difference between tones. Enhancement of the apparent brightness or clarity of a design provided by different colors or textures.

Cooperative Learning: students work together to accomplish shared learning goals.

Comprehensive syllabus: at a minimum, a comprehensive syllabus includes information on the following:

Group discussion: pooling ideas and experiences of the group on specific tasks or questions.

Guided Notes: skeleton outlines that contain the main idea and related concepts of lecture with designated spaces for students to complete during lecture. Guided notes use a consistent format and provide maximum student response.

Handout: paper announcement given to students to supplement oral presentation.

Illustration: a visual representation, comparison, or example that is used to make subject matter easier to understand.

Instructional methods: methods used by teachers to convey subject material to students. Every method a teacher uses has advantages, disadvantages, and requires some preliminary preparation. There is no one "right" method for teaching a particular lesson, but there are some criteria that pertain to each that can help a teacher make the best decision possible.

On-line: actively using a computer system, rather than paper or other medium, especially the Internet.

Peer mentoring: providing students with a peer they can trust, respect, and learn from who is knowledgeable, and interested.

Real-life: while teaching, using examples drawn from actual events or situations. Using real-life examples often makes it easier for a student to "grasp" a new concept.

Study guides: aid developed by instructor to direct or indicate material to be studied in preparation for test or quiz.

Varied Instructional Strategies: refers to different instructional techniques which when used often and effectively, usually address individual learning styles. Examples are small group discussion, videotapes, brainstorming, case studies, role-playing, worksheets/surveys, and lectures.

Visual aids: equipment or software items designed or used to compensate for a person's total lack of sight or limited sight. The visual aid(s) used by a student depends upon usable residual vision and preference. Visual aids allow students with visual disabilities the same access to information and production as their peers.