Screen Reader Tutorial for Blackboard Learning System 8.x


Blackboard would like to thank George Washington University for the use of their facilities for testing and meeting to complete this tutorial. Thank you to the faculty and staff, including Howie Southworth, the Instructional Developmental Specialist at the University for arranging plans for the project. Thank you to Denna Lambert, a GWU graduate student, who took the time to explain her successes and frustrations with Blackboard and JAWS. We appreciate all of the time that everyone put into this project. Without their help we would not have been able to create this document.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Login to Blackboard
  3. Portal Layout
  4. Course Web Sites
  5. Appendix


The Blackboard Learning System Screen Reader Tutorial provides users that access the Blackboard Learning System through a screen reader with information to help them use the Blackboard Learning System successfully.

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Login to Blackboard

When you first connect to the Blackboard Learning System you are given a page with two frames: a navigation frame and a content frame. Your only concern is a link that says Login. Go to that link. It should be the first link after the address bar in the tab sequence. After you select it, you are directed to a new page.

There are two edit fields. Your cursor is automatically placed in the first field requesting your username. Enter your username, the next edit field asks for your password. Enter your password and then select "Login".

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Portal Layout

Once you enter the Blackboard Learning System the screen has two frames: a standard navigation frame and a content frame. The navigation frame (called "Header Frame") is standard throughout the rest of your time in the Blackboard Learning System. The navigation frame allows you to move to the major areas in the Blackboard Learning System. The links in the navigation frame will likely vary in your Institution's system, but the default installation has the following tabs:

When the Blackboard Community Portal System is licensed, the following tabs also appear as a default.

Remember that the administrator can add, remove, and alter these links and their content.

These links load in the content frame. The content frame's default content is "My Institution" or the Web portal.

User Tools

The content frame, "My Institution", has a number of links that are customized to meet the individual user's needs and interests. They are divided into a list of links to Tools, modules and a search tool. You or your institution's administrator can add other content to this page as well. The heading for this module is Tools.

The Tools list links to the following:

Portal Modules

The following section on the "My Institution" page contains portal modules. You can change the modules that appear on your page by selecting the "Modify Content" link. The link is located in the "My Institution" tab of the content frame. Blackboard Learning System installations include My Announcements, My Calendar, My Courses, My Organizations, and My Tasks. Your school may have added other modules to this page by licensing the Blackboard Community Portal System, and you may be able to add modules to this page yourself.

Search the Web

The "Search the Web" module might need to be turned on. You have the privileges to do so by selecting "Modify Content" in the "My Institution" tab in the content frame. Scroll through the list of available modules (they are listed alphabetically) and select "Search the Web". Select the "Submit" button to confirm your selection. When you return to your "My Institution" page the "Search the Web" module will be read after your default modules.

Please be aware that the tools and modules are customizable by the Administrator. Tools may be added and default tools may be disabled.

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Portal Announcements

Portal Announcements are located on your "My Institution" home page once you login. There is table titled "My Announcements". If your Instructor has posted any announcements for your course the course name will be listed followed by the newest announcement. If you wish to read all the Portal Announcements, select the "more..." link to read all the previously posted announcements.

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The Calendar is set to the "Day View" when selected. To ease your use of this tool it is recommended to select the "Week View". This set-up allows you to read what events are coming up by reading down the week instead of every hour of every day. Weekdays appear in headings and events information appear in unordered list in chronological order. Select the title of the event to view the details. Select "OK" to return to the previous screen at any time.

Weekdays are read in the heading and the event information is read in an unordered list in chronological order.

How to... Add an Event

How to... Quick Jump

The Quick Jump tool is used to select a specific date and jump to it from the current date.

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Personal Information

The following areas are available for you to edit under personal information.

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Edit Personal Information

Change Password

Set Privacy Options

The following Privacy Options are available for you to make publicly available or unavailable:

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Tasks are created by you or your Instructor to help you organize your assignments. You can edit the status of your task by either selecting the link that reads "Not Started" or by selecting "Modify". The available status changes are, "Not Started", "In Progress", or "Completed".

*Please be aware that after you select the link in the table, JAWS will only read that the page has updated, it will not read the new status automatically.

How to... Add a Task

After you create a task, you have the privilege to Modify or Remove it. If the Task was set by the Instructor, you will only have the ability to modify the status of the task.

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View Grades

After you select "View Grades" from the Tools menu on your My Institution page, a list of your courses and organizations will be listed. Select the course for the grades you wish to view. A table of all your class's assignments opens in the content frame. All assignments will be listed whether a grade has been filled in or not. The column names are: "Item Name", "Details" (a link that gives you a category and description for the item), "Due Date", "Last Submitted, Modified, or Graded", "Grade", "Points Possible", and "Comments". Select the "OK" button to return you to your My Institution page.

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Send Email

Selecting the "Send Email" link from the My Institution page lists your currently enrolled courses and organizations. Select the course for which you would like to send an email to. After choosing your course you are linked to the "Send Email" tool within the Course Tools. You have the option of sending an email to:

When sending an email to "All" users you only need to fill in the subject and message and Submit your email. If you you choose to send an email to a "Select" user, you will need to select the user from the "Available to Select" box and move the user to the "Selected" box. From there you can fill in your subject and message and Submit your email. A copy of your sent message will be sent to your Webmail.

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User Directory

The User Directory is a search function. You can search users by Last Name, Username, or Email. You can also begin a search in the "Starts With" tab and enter the first few letters of the User's name.

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Address Book

You can maintain your own list of contacts with the Address Book. The main address book page has an "Add a Contact" link as well as a search field to search your contacts. The search field operates the same way as the User Directory search.

How to... Add a Contact

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Course Web Sites

Frame Layout

Once you select a course you will enter a screen with four frames:

The frame setup is a little complicated. Here are the main points to help you navigate the page.

Course Content Frame

The Course Content Frame has two frames within it. JAWS does not give you a second layer frames list, but tabbing will take you through them. The frames are called Table of Contents and Main, and the content you need is in the Main Frame.

The links in the standard Table of Contents Frame are:

Please be aware that Instructors can delete the links they do not plan on using or they can rename links to fit their needs. For example, your Instructor could rename "Course Materials" and call it "Syllabus". Instructors can also change the order of the links.

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Course Announcements

The Announcement page is the default page in the content frame after entering a course. There are links to read the current day's announcements, the last seven days, the last 30 days or all of the announcements for that course.

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Course Information

Instructors can post any information pertaining to their course in this folder. They also have the ability to modify or delete the folder if they feel it does not fit their course model.

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Staff Information

Staff Information is used for Instructors to list their contact information and office hours.

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Course Materials

This link is most likely changed the most. This is the link that will contain the majority of the information you will need for your course. Such items could include PowerPoint lecture notes.

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Instructors can list many different kinds of assignments in this folder. Assignments could include a description of a homework reading assignment and response paper, a request to turn a writing assignment in online either through the Assignment tool or through the Digital Drop Box.

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Course Documents

Course Documents is similar to Course Information in that the items contained in this folder are at the complete discretion of the Instructor.

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The main communication tools that you will come in contact with include the Virtual Classroom, Chat, and Discussion Board. The Virtual Classroom and Chat are located under the Collaboration tool within Communication. The Discussion Board is located in the general Communications tool list.

Collaboration Tool

Blackboard’s Accessible Chat tool uses the Java Accessibility API to provide keyboard shortcuts and descriptive ToolTips (alt tags), that screen readers can use to help you navigate through the chat. Some screen readers may work directly with the Java Accessibility API. However, some, such as JAWS for Windows, require an additional utility, the Java Access Bridge.

Download the access bridge from (this link will open in a new window, or tab in Firefox)

*Please be aware that in some cases JAWS will not read the Chat tool as being viewed. Inform your Instructor if you encounter any problems entering or not being able to read the chat. It is recommended that you discuss alternate methods of communication with your Instructor if this becomes an issue.

Return to Course Content Frame

Discussion Board

In the Discussion Board tool, you can:

Read the suggestions below on how to interact with this page in the most efficient manner when using a screen reader.

Search for a Forum

You can search in the Discussion board two different ways. You can search in the "Current Discussion Board" or "All Forums in Course". The Search feature is located in the Main Frame on the main Discussion Board page. Enter in your Search criteria and select a search option from the menu. You have the option to select a specific date if you want to refine your search. Select "Go" when you are finished entering in your search criteria.

Choose a Forum

The first page in the Discussion Board tool lists all of the available forums for the class or organization. The Forums are organized into tables on the main page. The headings are: "Forum", "Total Posts", "Unread Posts", and "Total Participants". "Participants" is the number of students that have posted in response to the Forum or Thread. In the table, the title of the discussion board is a link, and it is followed by a description. You can enter a discussion board forum by selecting the title link. If you select a Forum that does not contain any posts you will hear, "There are no accessible items or items that match the search criteria to display". To return to the main Discussion Board page after hearing this message select the "OK" button.

Find a Message

Once you have entered a Forum, you will be in the central discussion page that lists all the Threads and available features in that Forum. Threads branch off from each Forum. Within each Thread there are individual Posts from the participants. The Thread is read as a link. Also listed is the total number of posts and the number of unread posts. Each reply post will be named as a response with the same title as the Thread. You can sort the list by selecting one of the following columns: "Date", "Thread" (alphabetical order), "Author" (alphabetical order), "Status" (published, draft, etc.), "Unread Posts", and "Total Posts".

For ease of use, you can read all of the unread posts in a thread by selecting the "Unread Posts" link. There is also a link, "Mark as Read" for when you have finished reading the post.

Read a Message

Once you enter a forum, select the thread of which messages you want to read. You can either select the link of the name of the thread or select the thread by "checking" the thread name and selecting the "Collect" link.

Reply to a Post

To reply to a post, select the "Reply" link in the same frame as the post that you would like to reply to. The "Reply to Post" page is read with the post that you are responding to. The subject of the message is a default reply with the subject of the original post. Enter your own message in the text box. Attach any necessary files. You have the option to save a draft of your message that you can return to later. When you are finished, select the Submit button.

Create a New Thread

To create a new Thread enter the Forum to which you want to respond to. Select the Create/ Add Thread link. Enter a subject to your message. The subject should be a subtopic of the Forum title/ instructions. Enter your message into the text box. Attach any necessary files. You have the option to save a draft of your message that you can return to later. When you are finished, select Submit.

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Course Tools

About the tools

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Course Address Book

The Course Address Book functions the same as the Address Book on your My Institution page.

Return to Course Tools

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Course Calendar

The Course Calendar functions the same as the Calendar that is available from your My Institution page.

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Digital Drop Box

The Digital Drop box is used to pass in digital copies of your work. The following instructions will explain how to use the Add File and Send File options from the main Drop Box page. For ease of use it is recommended to use only the Send File option which adds and sends the file together instead of in two separate steps.

How to... Submit a file to the Digital Drop Box

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The Glossary is made by your Instructor and contains a list of terms pertinent to your course.

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You can create your own Homepage for a course. Your Homepage is displayed when your classmates or Instructor search for you in the Roster and click on your name to view your information.

How to... Create a Homepage

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My Grades

Reading your grades through Course Tools is similar to "viewing your grades" from your My Institution page. The same page of grades is read; however, you do not need to select the specific course because you are already in the course for which grades you want to see.

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Personal Information

The Personal Information section is the same as the section from your my Institution page. Please reference those instructions on how to update your information from within the course.

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Course Tasks

The Course Tasks function the same way as the Tasks from your My Institution page. The only difference is that within a course, you do not have the ability to create your own task; the tasks are set by your Instructor. You can still update the status of your tasks within a course but you can only Add a Task from the My Institution Task page.

Return to Course Tools

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Course Map

The Course Map opens in a new window. It is a list of everything posted to your course as a hyperlink. When you select any of the links in the Course Map, the Content Frame will update to that page. The links are organized in the same way they appear in the Table of Contents Frame. The folders containing content are collapsible. To read the content, open the folder.

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JAWS Quick Keys

The following is a list of JAWS quick keys to use when Browsing the Internet. The information is provided by Freedom Scientific (link opens in a new window, or tab in Firefox). There are many other tables provided by the Freedom Scientific, please visit the Web site for more help if needed. JAWS also has its own help section if you cannot find what you are looking for.

Description Quick Key
Anchor A
Button B
Combo Box C
Different Type Element D
Edit Box E
Form Control F
Graphic G
Heading H
Item in a List I
Jump to Line J
Return to Previous Line SHIFT+J
Jump to Cell (Within Table) CTRL+WINDOWS Key+J
Return to Previous Table Cell CTRL+SHIFT+WINDOWS Key+J
Place Marker K
Temporary Placemarker CTRL+K
List L
Frame M
Non Link Text N
Object Tag O
Paragraph P
Block Quote Q
Radio Button R
Same Type Element S
Table T
Unvisited Link U
Visited Link V
Check Box X
Division Z
Heading at Level 1 through 6
Step Past Element SHIFT+PERIOD
Step Before Element SHIFT+COMMA
Move to Next Clickable Element SLASH
Move to Previous Clickable Element SHIFT+SLASH
Select Clickable Element INSERT+CTRL+SLASH
Move to Next Landmark (formerly next Mouse Over Element) SEMICOLON
Move to Prior Landmark (formerly next Mouse Over Element) SHIFT+SEMICOLON
Select Landmark (formerly Mouse Over Element) INSERT+CTRL+SEMICOLON
Forward a Page ALT+RIGHT ARROW
Go to Home Page ALT+HOME
Refresh Page and Cache CTRL+F5
Stop Downloading Page ESC
Turn Full Screen Mode On/Off F11
Zoom to 100% CTRL+0
Open Favorites TRL+I or ALT+A
Organize Favorites CTRL+B
Add Current Page to Favorites CTRL+D
Move to Address Bar ALT+D
Read Address Bar INSERT+A
List of Previously Typed Addresses F4
Move JAWS Cursor to Address Bar INSERT+A twice quickly
Virtual HTML Features INSERT+F3
Activate Mouse Over INSERT+CTRL+ENTER
Select Mouse Over Element INSERT+WINDOWS Key+SEMICOLON
View Basic Element Information INSERT+SHIFT+F1
View Advanced Element Information INSERT+CTRL+SHIFT+F1