Ally: supporting inclusive education
Early in the development of the Flexible Education model it was decided to enhance our offering to students by improving the accessibility of content in Moodle. This not only aimed to mitigate some of the issues raised by online learning (digital divide, diverse student population, inaccessible materials) but to capitalise on the advantages of digital content (flexibility, portability, reusability). The Ally plug-in for Moodle was identified as key to achieving both of these broad aims.
What does Ally do?
- Ally automatically checks Moodle course materials against international standards as part of the accessibility requirements for public sector bodies
- Provides guidance to teaching & professional services staff on how to improve accessibility of their Moodle course content
- Ally provides students with Moodle course content in downloadable, portable alternative formats, to increase accessibility and provide choice
- Provides College with institution- and course-wide accessibility and engagement data.
Is Ally available now?
- Yes. Ally was launched on March 16
- Ally is enabled on all 22/23 and 21/22 Moodle modules/courses
- Learners will be able to access some learning content in alternative formats
- Teachers will be able to access and act upon accessibility reports of their modules/courses.
What drives our use of Ally?
The social model of disability suggests that the society or environment is disabling the individual rather than their impairment or difference - or situation.
Accessibility is about designing out any unnecessary barriers that make it harder to engage and take part in everyday activities. Being inclusive is about giving equal access and opportunities to everyone wherever possible.
In education this involves reducing and overcoming the barriers that might occur in digital content, teaching & learning activities, and assessments. For example:
- Students with a visual impairment can benefit from converting textual content to audio files or braille
- Students with a specific learning difficulty can benefit from the range of alternative formats that can integrate with Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) funded assistive technology software.
Providing accessible learning content can benefit all learners. Examples include:
- Providing Closed Captions for recorded lectures not only benefits those with aural impairments, but can assist all students - both home and international - with their comprehension of lecture content
- Supporting text-to-audio conversion on demand while benefitting those with visual impairments can also support students with dyslexia, and the growing body of commuting students who may wish to listen to content en route to College.
Disability can be described in three timeframes: permanent, temporary and situational. Examples of permanent disability include loss of vision or a limb, whereas temporary disability covers conditions such as a broken limb, or recovery from an eye operation.
Situational disabilities are where Ally can make a difference for all our students. Examples of this include:
- Trying to comprehend a lengthy PDF text in a noisy home or transit environment: an audio version may be a more suitable alternative format
- Preparing for an exam while caring for a relative: an HTML versions of texts are designed to work with smart-phones, which are easier to access and use than laptops or large text books.
Ally can help College meet various strategic aims, including the following:
- Developing an inclusive education strategy to support the College Three Year Plan
- Raising awareness of accessibility and build towards a sustainable change in behaviour regarding inclusivity and accessibility across the College
- Responding to the current and future student demographic - improved support for disabled students, flexible, increased flexibility of learning materials, e.g. for commuting students.
As an institution we are bound by numerous legal frameworks including the accessibility requirements for public bodies, the Equality Act (2010), and EU directives.
The Equality Act
In relation to disabled people, the Equality Act (2010) institutes a duty for public and private sector organisations (including HEPs) to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ in order to make sure that disabled people are not being disadvantaged.
This includes making changes to the organisation’s provisions or practices, its physical features, or providing auxiliary aids, if a disabled person would be disadvantaged without these adaptations or provisions. It also includes an anticipatory duty on organisations, meaning that some of these changes or provisions should be made in advance of a disabled person needing them, rather than as a reaction to someone having been disadvantaged.
EU Directive on Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications 2018
Requires all EU member states to make sure their websites and mobile apps meet common accessibility standards. The directive was transposed into the laws of each EU member state on 23 September 2018 and will continue within UK law.
Office for Students
In order to charge higher level tuition fees, providers must submit plans to the OfS outlining how they will improve equality of opportunity for underrepresented groups – including disabled students – to access, succeed and progress from higher education.
The OfS monitors access and participations plans to make sure that the providers honour the commitments they make to students in these plans, and take action if they do not.
Disability does not feature directly in our APP targets but it is a category which we are supposed to monitor.
How does Ally support inclusive education?
Ally allows College to improve the accessibility of learning materials at RHUL to benefit a wide range of students and support academic and professional staff in meeting our legal duties.
Ally creates on-demand alternative formats from your original course files, and makes them available for download so that students can engage with course content in a way that works best for them.
Find out more about alternative formats in this short video.
The alternative formats provided by Ally, and their benefits to students (including examples created on-demand from this Word document.
| Format / description|| Advantages|
Structured PDF for improved use with assistive technology.
|Improved structure for navigation.
Essential for screen readers.
For viewing in the browser and on mobile devices.
|Adapts content such as PDFs and PowerPoints to mobile screen sizes.
Personalise content: font, size, colour, contrast.
For reading as an e-book on an iPad and other e-book readers.
Annotate, bookmark & highlight text
Personalise font, size and contrast.
BRF version for consumption on electronic braille displays.
|Read more quickly.
Essential for visual impairments.
MP3 version for listening (< 100,000 characters).
|Listen and learn anywhere.
Engage different modalities.
Enhanced version for easier and faster on-screen reading.
|Read more effectively and maintain focus.
Adds an eye-guiding color gradient to guide readers' eyes through long blocks of text.
Ally provides guidance to teachers on how to improve the accessibility of their Moodle course content.
Find out more about file accessibility in this short video.
Traffic light indicators of accessibility for each file in a Moodle course
Each file is awarded an 'Accessibility score'
Detailed feedback & support
Clicking on the accessibility icon for a file helps identify and correct accessibility issues. Ally will:
- Display all the file's accessibility issues
- Describe of the most important accessibility issue
- Explain how the issue affects inclusive learning
- Offer step-by-step assistance on how to fix the issue
- Allow for editing of exisiting files and uploading of replacement files.
Course-wide accessibility reports
- Ally provides an overall course score and ways to quickly address course files at scale
Ally provides an accessibility overview report which shows how digital course content in Moodle is performing by month, term, or academic year. This can inform annual review, equality and diversity audits and compliance with the Access & Participation Plan (APP).
Reports include the following information:
- Overall Moodle accessibility score
- Departmental accessibility score
- Course accessibility score
- Total number of courses and content created
- All accessibility issues found - sorted by severity
- Which alternative formats are being used in Moodle - how often and in which courses
- Engagement with course accessibility reports - and action arising from these.
A non-exhaustive collection of FAQs. We will add to this list as College develops its experience of using Ally to provide inclusive education.
Staff and students should contact the E-Learning Team (firstname.lastname@example.org) to request advice and assistance with Ally.
Now. Ally was made available to staff and students on March 16.
Please contact the E-Learning Team (email@example.com) to find out more about the service and to arrange a demonstration and support.
Ally checks, reports and advises on the following content types when uploaded to Moodle
- Microsoft Word
- Open Office
Ally does not check:
- Content hosted externally
- Panopto content
- Work submitted by students.
Moodle-wide content accessibility reports flag up the following issues as widespread and either severe or major:
- Documents with contrast issues
- Images without alternative-text
- Documents with no headings
- PDF documents that have been scanned as images rather than text
- Videos without closed captions.
Yes. The E-Learning Team has curated a YouTube playlist of short videos.
Yes. The Design Studio have worked alongside the E-Learning Team and IT Services to create Ally-checked Powerpoint templates.
Yes. Most players allow you to adjust playback speed. For example, Windows Media player, VIC, Audacity, and iTunes/Music.
The ePub alternative creates a digital publishing file that can be viewed on mobile devices. ePub files are reflowable. Reflowable means that the content displayed automatically adapts to the device it is viewed on.
Here are a few suggested apps for ePubs:
The Poet tool is a great resource to learn about and practice writing effective alt-text for images.
There is also a useful decision chart to learn when to use alt-text.
Here are those we already know about:
- The range and quality of the alternative formats can depend on the original file; and not all files can be transformed
- Ally does not recognise or report on every example of inaccessible content. For example, it may flag up the false positive of an image with an alternative description - but will not report on the quality of the description (see section above on how to write effective alt-text)
- Audio files (MP3 format) can be created only for documents with fewer than 100 000 characters.
- There are no credible research articles that confirm the claims made regarding the efficacy of the Beeline reader format
- LaTeX PDFs score very lowly in the accessibility report because these are not tagged in such a way that screen readers can assist with them. Additionally, the HTML alternative format may struggle to accurately reproduce some content, e.g., mathematical formulae.