It's easier than ever to be an Ally

Proactively working on accessibility

Ally helps you quickly identify and resolve issues.

Ally is available in Canvas now, but a few instructors were already piloting Ally in fall 2022. One of those instructors was Forrest Brem, a biologist and lecturer in the IUPUI biology department. (Read our previous feature on Chera LaForge's experiences with Ally.)

In the fall 2022 semester, Brem received an accommodation notice for his Anatomy for Healthcare Management course. The notice stated he would need to meet the minimum digital accessibility standard of having his course fully screen-reader accessible and potentially submit his recorded lectures to the Assistive Technology and Accessibility Center (ATAC) for audio description services. Having received a similar accommodation notice the previous semester (before Ally was available), Brem was especially happy to have a tool like Ally to aid in the effort.

"I've had some accommodations for people with visual and hearing [impairments]," Brem said. "And it was just really nice to be able to see these things that I didn't even know about, like adding image descriptions to your images for visually impaired people. Even if you're not aware of an accessibility issue, it'll make you aware of it. If you forget about something, Ally is going to remind you."

Ally gauges range from red (needs immediate attention) to dark green (no issues found), with opportunities for improvement in between

Brem said the accessibility score gauges that appear on pages and page elements are a particular favorite of his. "I really love how when you click that little [gauge] button, it gives you specifics on the accessibility issue," he said. "It really makes it pretty easy to come in and fix accessibility issues, or at least makes you aware of them so that when you have time for a course revision, you've got a list."

Ally enables instructors to not only see an overview of accessibility issues, but also a detailed view of each problem and steps to address it, sometimes even right in the sidebar panel that Ally uses to introduce the issue. When you select the accessibility gauges in your Canvas course, this panel appears.

"It's really intuitive," Brem said. "The box that pulls up tells you exactly why it's accessible or tells you exactly why it's not. It makes it really easy to target the things that you need to fix and tells you exactly what you need to do to fix them. And sometimes if it's just an image description, boom, you can do it right there."

When comparing Ally's guided approach to what he has experienced in Word and other tools that have accessibility checkers, Brem found Ally even more intuitive to use. "I have used the ones that are built into Word. Ally is way better because it gives you specifics," he said.

Brem also achieved Ally's greatest goal: learning good accessibility habits so you won't need its guides and features. He said his approach to course design changed. "It just makes me more aware when I'm creating new material to keep accessibility in mind," he said. For example, when creating a new assignment, he makes sure the headings are in the appropriate places.

"I think it brings such a good awareness to the things that you do well and don't do well related to accessibility, and then it allows you to keep that in the forefront when you're creating new material so that you don't have to go back in [retroactively] and fix things," Brem said.

For those who are new to Ally, Brem suggested they play around with the tool a bit and get comfortable with it. "Play with it! Don't ignore it. If you see a little red or orange there, click it and check it out. You might be able to fix it really quickly, and you might find a way to help your students succeed in your class."

Five concluding tips from the ATAC team

  1. Images are the biggest blocker for visually impaired students. Start there.
  2. If you don't use it, lose it. Why clutter your report with unused items?
  3. Ally only checks what's in Canvas. Take a second look at anything external you link to from Canvas.
  4. Access-ability means providing access, which can often be accomplished multiple ways.
  5. Don't let perfection be the enemy of the good: You might not be able to do everything at once, but you can make gradual improvements.