Blackboard Community System

Blackboard Community System

Blackboard had an amazing booth at the NASPA/ACPA Joint Meeting in Orlando. It was the size of small house and it looked like one too! Inside their mini-mansion, the folks from Blackboard were demoing their portal solution, the Blackboard Community System.

My first question to the Blackboard representative, upon seeing that the demo utilized frames, was whether or not the system was accessible for users with visual impairments. His response was, “What are frames?” I said that that was not a good answer.

I think I had his attention at this point in our conversation. I quickly took hold of the mouse and hovered over the area where there were two frames. I informed him that sometimes frames cause access issues for folks with visual impairments who use screen readers. After giving him a synopsis regarding what a screenreader was and what it does for people with visual impairments, I left feeling like the guy from Blackboard got it. He seemed to realize that this was something that he should know about. Hopefully he will take what I taught him back to headquarters.

The big portal players, companies like SCT (makers of Luminis) and Blackboard, need to realize that accessibility needs to be at the core of their products. It is time to create web-based applications that utilize web standards. Frames and table-based interfaces are no longer acceptable parts of a successful web application.

9 thoughts on “Blackboard Community System”

  1. Does Moodle allow for screen readers? A quick Google seems to say they do, but I’ve never tried it…nor am I very adept at screen readers.

    Back in the day Frames were implimented so poorly I think *everyone* knew about them!

    Glad you asked the Bb person.


  2. Just thought I’d point out that Scholar360 does NOT use frames and has created their LMS using Section 508 compaliance standards. Usability by anyone (even those who speak other languages) is a core component of Scholar360’s vision and software.

    Their website is:, if you are interested in checking them out.

    -Cathy Garland

  3. Cathy-

    Thanks for the info and link. It is great to know there are folks out there addressing this need.

    Looking at their site I did notice a few things that I think are incorrect. The comparison chart says Blackboard does not have Student/Faculty file sharing, Personal Home site, and RSS…when I think Blackboard does have these features (But I have not run scholar360, so can’t really compare.)

    Further, their page on Open Source includes a good bit of FUD (spreading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) about Open Source. I won’t address those issues here…don’t want to take up Eric’s space… but they are not necessarily correct.

    I do thank you for pointing out an alternative ‘tho.


  4. The general statement that frames are not accessible is false. Used properly frames can aid in navigation as it can help to quickly understand the layout of the page and allow for quick jumps to content areas. In the case of Blackboard I believe they use a 3 frame layout; banner, navigation, content. They are titled correctly and do not impede AT devices. I’ve looked at some random HTML output from moodle and it is wrought with as many accessibility no-no’s as any of the other LMS systems out there.

    It is great that you challenged the Bb people concerning accessibility but it should be no surprise that the person giving the presentation is not the person building the product and as such probably has no idea what HTML is, nevermind frames.

  5. Hi John – Are you saying that frames aid with navigation for users with visual impairments?

    It looks like the latest versions of JAWS and Window Eyes support frames. However, these applications are incredibly expensive. They both retail for about $900.00. Older versions of these applications do not offer the same type of support for frames. Blackboard is essentially relying on third party applications to make their products accessible.

    In my opinion, this means that Blackboards use of frames is inaccessible and that only the latest versions of assistive technology (AT) applications are making Blackboard accessible for users with visual impairments.

    The big picture issue here is that almost all of the learning management systems (LMS) that currently exist have accessibility issues. The majority of application developers did not “grow up” with accessibility on their minds.

    I respectfully disagree with you regarding the knowledge of the Blackboard booth representative. Blackboard was running a product demo and as such, should have had staff on hand who were informed of the major issues surrounding their products. Or are you saying that accessibility is not a big issue at Blackboard?

    The link for accessibility information at Blackboard is presented in a small font on the Blackboard homepage at the very bottom of the page.

    Furthermore, your email address might be from Yahoo but your IP address says a lot about your identity: WebCT used to be one of the most inaccessible learning management systems on the planet. Blackboard and WebCT merged a few years ago so essentially you are officially affiliated with Blackboard which means that your comments might be misconstrued as being a little biased. I would appreciate a little transparency from those who are employed by the corporations that I blog about…


  6. Blackboard lists 4 frames in the ScreenReader Tutorial:

    “There’s a frameset that contains the nav frame and the course frame. The course frame contains a nested frameset that includes the header frame (which contains the “breadcrumbs”, or links inside the course environment) and a coursecontent frame. The coursecontent frame is the frameset that you will interact with most when in the course environment. It contains a table of contents frame, named “toc”, and a main frame. The toc frame contains a list of links to the different areas in the course, such as announcements, course documents, and communication.” (Accessed 4/17/07)

    Someone adept with JAWS would probably be able to navigate this stuff pretty easily, but I really can’t judge. It is a very powerful application.

    Could it Bb be made easier? I don’t know. Should the person at the demo booth know what frames are? If it is important enough for the ScreenReader Tutorial address it, I would think that the demo person should have some notion of the issue.

    -John N.

  7. John N. – Thanks for looking up the link on the Blackboard site.

    A major issue regarding Blackboard and accessibilty is the availability of the latest screen reader applications. A lot of the older versions did not work with frames. Blackboard is saying that their applications are frame accessible if you have the latest screenreader software.

    The Blackboard representative seemed to know absolutely nothing about the subject of website accessibility. It was both sad and frustrating .

  8. Hi Eric,
    Wow, fancy stuff you looking at my ip like that :) However, I can ensure you that your implication that I am an employee of either Blackboard or WebCT is not the case.

    Ironically, I am a big advocate of accessible design. I was only pointing out that frames are not intrinsically inaccessible…albeit they are a bit of a vestigial organ of the internet.

    I think we should definitely continue to push the LMS community (although that community is shrinking with the grab of WebCT by Blackboard as you mentioned) to create accessible standards-based learning systems…AND push the AT companies to catch up with technology.

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