Ally: Accessibility training, and remediation, and tracking. Oh my!

Bios & Handouts Videos

Scheduled at 3:30pm in Cotton Creek I on Wednesday, November 15 (2017).



  • Nicolaas Matthijs, Product Manager, Ally, Blackboard
  • Jess Thompson, Program Administrator, Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges
  • Zach Lattin, IT Accessibility Specialist, Clark College

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: Beginner
  • Type of session: General Conference


Ally seamlessly integrates into various Learning Management Systems to improve accessibility of digital course content and track progress over time. Ally promotes accessible design at the start by flagging inaccessible content, providing instructions for remediation, in addition to providing alternative formats that meet students’ individual needs.


In response to recent state and local policies, the Washington State community and technical college system has been working to improve accessibility in all areas, but specifically in the area of online instruction. To help with this effort, seven schools from the community college system ventured into the land of Oz and piloted Blackboard Ally.

Ally was integrated in Canvas, allowing faculty to scan their courses for accessibility problem areas. Using Ally’s feedback feature, faculty were given the guidance on how to make their materials more accessible. Additionally, Ally enabled faculty and students to download alternative formats for various course materials. From an institutional standpoint, Ally was able to track the improvements and progress made over the time of the pilot.

In this presentation, we’ll put on our ruby slippers in order to demonstrate Ally’s feature set in Canvas and discuss the feedback and experience from faculty, staff, and students involved in the pilot.


  1. Ally meets the needs of faculty by providing immediate evaluation and guidance on making accessible content.
  2. Ally meets the needs of students by allowing them to download the alternative format of their choice.
  3. Ally meets the needs of administration by tracking institutional progress made towards accessibility.

Disability Areas

Cognitive/Learning, Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Vision

Topic Areas

Alternate Format, Faculty Instruction/Accessible Course Design, Uncategorized

Speaker Bio(s)

Nicolaas Matthijs

Nicolaas Matthijs is an entrepreneur and product creator with over 10 years of experience in Educational Technology. Nicolaas has worked at several leading R1 institutions such as Cambridge University, UC Berkeley and Georgia Tech, where he developed Learning Management Systems, Academic Collaboration Tools, Learning Analytics solutions and other learning tools. He has contributed to numerous Open Source projects and communities and is internationally recognized for bringing technical and user experience innovation to these communities, for which he has received several awards.

Nicolaas was also the co-founder and CEO of Fronteer, resulting in Ally, a tool that helps institutions make their course materials more accessible. Following the acquisition of Fronteer by Blackboard, Nicolaas now acts as the Product Manager for Ally at Blackboard.

Jess Thompson

Jess Thompson is a Program Administrator in eLearning & Open Education at the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges. Her work focuses on accessibility in online learning and supporting the 34 community and technical colleges in developing policies and practices that support accessibility both in instruction and campus wide. Jess has be active in exploring and implementing systemwide accessibility solutions, one of which includes a systemwide captioning hub. Jess came to the State Board from one of the state's community colleges where she taught Sociology and Criminology, in addition to serving as faculty lead for the Center for Teaching and Learning. Her goal is to better connect and engage faculty in the process of designing and implementing accessibility initiatives.

Zach Lattin

Zach Lattin is Clark Community College’s IT Accessibility specialist. He trains students in the use of assistive technologies, serves as Clark’s Accessible IT coordinator, and is involved with numerous in-depth campus-wide accessibility testing projects. He brings a user-centered approach to all he does. Zach has a passion for math accessibility in particular; he has taught math and braille Throughout Washington state in various capacities, and spent two years teaching braille and assistive technology in South America. He holds a B.S. in pure mathematics and a B.S. in Spanish language and literature from the University of Washington.