Ally accessibility tool for Canvas

Last updated: August 15, 2022


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About Ally

Ally integrates seamlessly with the UW’s Canvas learning management system to automatically check course content and files uploaded by instructors for accessibility issues. Using advanced machine learning algorithms, Ally generates alternative formats—such as text that is readable by a screen reader, electronic braille, or audio—that students can download and use to support their learning.

Alternative formats aren’t just for a select group of students. Alternative formats benefit everyone. For example, a student may have a lot of course material to read and experience eye strain, or prefers to listen while on the train. With the audio alternate version of a document, students can listen to an audio format of a course file.

After files are attached to a course, Ally creates alternative formats of the file based on the original document. For example, if the original file is a PDF, Ally creates audio, electronic braille, ePub, and other formats of the same content. These formats are made available with the original file so everything is in one convenient location.


What is an Ally alternative format?

Canvas course instructors typically upload digital course content in file formats such as Microsoft Word or PDF, among others. Not every student can easily read or use these file formats. To make course content easily accessible to all students, Ally converts files to formats that work better for everyone, not just those with particular learning requirements. For example, some students may prefer to listen rather than read. Ally provides audio conversions of text-based files. Or some students may need an electronic braille format or a format that is more easily used by a screen reader. Ally alternative formats are designed to make course content more accessible to everyone.

Why should I use an alternative format?

Ally alternative formats provide several additional ways to consume content and more opportunities for students to learn based on their needs. This flexibility benefits everyone. For example, maybe you have a lot of course material to read and experience eye strain, or you want to study while you’re on the bus. Ally’s audio formats of the files your instructor uploaded allow you to listen instead of (or in addition to) reading.

What file types are supported for conversion to alternative formats?

Currently, Ally checks files uploaded by instructors (not students) in these formats:

  • PDF files
  • Microsoft® Word files
  • Microsoft® Powerpoint® files
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice files
  • Uploaded HTML files

Additional information about alternative formats

What alternative formats are available?

Ally currently provides the following alternative formats:

  • HTML for viewing content in a web browser and on mobile devices
  • ePub format for reading content as an e-book on iPad and other e-book readers. ePub format allows students to take notes, highlight content, copy, paste, and search text, adjust text and background, and, in some cases, use text-to-speech.
  • Electronic braille
  • Audio: MP3 versions

Which alternative format should I use?

View this comparison table of alternative formats

What can I expect from alternative formats?

While alternative formats are a valuable supplement to standard course file formats for students, the formats have their limits. For example, it can take several minutes for Blackboard Ally to convert a file to an audio format, particularly if the file is large. (Audio formats fail if the original document contains more than 100,000 characters.) The conversion is only as good as the quality of the original file. If the file is difficult to analyze, there may be errors.

Disability Resources for Students

Students with disabilities who need more access than the file output Ally generates can receive additional document conversion services from the Disability Resources for Students office. Please contact them to learn more: