Blackboard Learning System Screen Reader Tutorial

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Login to Blackboard
  3. Portal Layout
    1. User Tools
  4. Course Web Sites
    1. Frame Layout
    2. Coursecontent Frame
  5. Discussion Boards
  6. Collaboration Tool


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. Currently, the tutorial includes information on logging in, the portal layout, and course Web sites.

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Login to Blackboard

When you first connect to the Blackboard Learning System you are given a page with 2 frames: a nav or navigation frame and a content frame. Actually all that needs concern you is a link that says login. Go to that link with your mouse or by the tab key. It should be the first link after the address bar in the tab sequence. Click on it and then you get a new page.

You have 2 edit fields. You are automatically in the first one requesting your username. Input it and tab to the next edit field which asks for your password. Input that and then tab to the "login" button and press the enter key. This will then log you in to the Blackboard Learning System.

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Portal Layout

The next screen has 2 frames: a standard navigation frame and a content frame. The page is formatted in columns and you may need to have your screen reader reformat the page. The navigation frame is standard throughout the rest of your time in the Blackboard Learning System. It lets you 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 links:

When the Blackboard Community Portal System is licensed, the following links also appear as default. Remember that the administrator can add, remove, and change these links and their content.

These links cause content to load in the "content" frame. The Content Frame's default content is My Institution or the web portal. (Please note that these links may be renamed or disabled by your system administrator.)

User Tools

The content frame has a number of links that are specialized to meet the individual user's needs and interests. They are divided up into a list of links to Tools, a search tool, and "modules". Your school may add other content to this page as well. The Tools list allows you to link to:

After the Tools, there is a Search the Web tool that allows you to access a web search engine. Note that the tools are customizable by the Administrator. Tools may be added and default tools may be disabled.

Next on the page is the customizable section that contains portal modules. You can change the modules that appear on your page by selecting the "Modify Portal Content" link. Blackboard Learning System installations have modules like 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. The My Courses module contains links to your courses. Click on a link in the My Courses module to open a course Web site.

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Course Web Sites

Frame Layout

Once you select a course you will get a screen with four frames: the navigation frame that appears on every screen, a course frame, a header frame, and a coursecontent frame. The frame setup is a little complicated, but here's a summary. There's a frameset that contains the nav frame and the course frame. The course frame contains a nested frameset that has 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. Your teacher can change which links appear in this list, so it will likely be different from class to class. The main frame contains the actual content.

Coursecontent Frame

The coursecontent frame has two frames inside of its frame. JAWS does not give you a second layer frames list, but tabbing will take you through them. The frames are called "toc" and "main", and the real content is in the main frame.

The links in the standard TOC frame are:

Please note that Teachers may delete some links they will not use or rename some links.

Most of these links function simply like standard web pages so far as navigating them and reading them.

Discussion Boards

In the Discussion Board tool, you can choose a forum, find a specific message in a message list, read a message, or write a message.

Choosing a Forum

The first page in the Discussion Board tool is a list of all available forums for this class or organization.

When using the Discussion Board with a screen reader, you will hear the page title bar, "Discussion Board." Multiple discussion boards (also called forums) may be created by the instructor, and this page contains a table listing the different discussion boards that are available. In the table, the title of the discussion board is a link, and it is followed by a description. Also listed, in brackets, are the number of messages in the forum, and the number of new messages in the forum. Go to a discussion board forum by selecting the title link. At the very bottom of the page there is a link to return to the previous page (like a "back" button), with the alt text "Back to previous screen".

Once a forum has been accessed a new Discussion Board page that lists messages and available features appears.

Important notes about using this page:

Finding a message

Once you have entered a Forum (Discussion Board), you will be on the central discussion page that lists all the messages in that Forum.

Title Bar:

At the top of the page, you will hear the page title bar, "Discussion Board." Then there is a link "Create a new message thread" which allows you to create a new discussion board thread. (Do not worry about this if you are trying to read or respond to an existing message.)

Navigation Controls:

Below the title bar is a section of links that control how the discussion board messages are displayed. The Navigation Control links are listed below, with the link text in quotations:

Advanced (Optional) Navigation Controls:

There are two links that give you additional functions for selecting messages and marking them as read. They are: "Show Options" and "Expand Option Menu Down." Selecting those links will reload the page to show the additional (optional) link menu:

List of Messages:

Below the navigational controls are the links to the messages. They are displayed in rows in a table as follows:

Sorting messages

At the bottom of the page, there is a select box to allow you to sort the messages by Author, Date, and Subject. (If you wish to use this functionality, it's probably best to go to the bottom of the page and work your way up.) Changing the settings in this select box will automatically reload the sorted page.

Navigate Back to Previous Screen

The last link on the page is "Back to previous screen." In the Discussion Board, it is important never to use the browser's "Back" or "Forward" buttons. Use these back links instead.

Reading a Message

When you have navigated to a message page you will be able to read the content of a message, reply to the message, and navigate to other messages in the thread.

The first thing on the message page is the title bar, which is "Discussion Board". Below the title bar are links that allow you to move to the next message in the thread or the previous message in the thread. If there are no other messages in this thread, you will hear the text "There are no previous messages" or "There are no next messages". The body of the message is available below this navigation.

The message header has the fields "Current Forum", "Date", "Author", and "Subject", which give you information about the item you are reading. Directly below the subject is the body of the message. The body may include plain text or HTML. After the message is the "Post Response" button, which you can select if you want to reply to this message.

At the end of the message are additional thread navigation controls. The links to previous and following messages is repeated (appearing just the same as at the top of the page). Then there is the "Current Thread Detail" section of the page. The "Current Thread Detail" is very similar to the list of messages in the main forum page, but it only contains information on the messages in the current thread. This table contains the message subject (linked to the detailed view of the message), the author's name (select the link to email directly to the author), and the message posting date. If you have not read a message in the list before, the last column of this table will say "New".

The final link on this page is "Back to previous screen"-remember that you should use this link instead of the back button in your browser.

Writing a Message

You can write a message in the discussion board by selecting the "Add New Thread" button at the top of the Discussion Board page, or by selecting the "Post Response" button at the bottom of an existing message.

If you select "Create a new message thread" from the main message list page, you go to the "Create New Message" page.

On this page you will hear the title bar "Discussion Board", then "Create New Message". The header of the message will already be filled out, listing the "Current Forum", the "Date", and the "Author" (your name).

The first form field is for the "Subject" of the message. Then enter the text of your message into the "Message" field. Below the message field is a set of radio buttons labeled "Options". You can choose to submit the message as "Smart Text" (which will automatically link any URL's in your message), "Plain Text" (which does not hyperlink your URL's or retain any paragraph breaks in your message), or "HTML" (which you should use if you have typed any HTML into the message body that you want to use for display). Then there is a checkbox you can check if you want your message to be posted anonymously. Finally, there is a file upload field, labeled "Attachment", which you can use to upload any attachments that should be displayed with your message. Once you have composed your message, you can choose to "Preview", "Cancel", or "Submit" the message. Selecting the Preview link will display the header and body of the text as you wrote it, so you can check for mistakes. From the Preview page, you can select "Back" to return to the message and edit it, "Cancel" to cancel the message and return to the main message page, or "Submit", to submit the message and return to the main message list page.

If you are responding to an existing message instead of creating a new thread, the message page looks the same as for a new message, except that below the "Preview Message", "Cancel", and "Submit" buttons there is a section for "The Message To Which You Are Responding", which contains the header and message body for the original message. (You can refer to it to refresh your memory about the original message.)

You must have both a subject and message body in your message. (If you are replying to an existing message, the subject will default to "Re: Subject of old message".) If you try to submit the message without a subject and message body, you will be prompted to add them. This is done with JavaScript alerts, which will read "You must supply a subject" or "You must supply a message". If you get these prompts, select the "OK" button on the pop-up box, and then fill in the missing information before resubmitting.

Collaboration Tool

Blackboard’s Accessible Chat tool uses the Java Accessibility API to provide keyboard shortcuts and descriptive ToolTips (alt tags), which screen readers can use to help you navigate through the chat. Some screenreaders 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


To start chatting in the accessible chat, use the shortcut key ALT+I to go directly to the text input field. Type your message, then hit the Enter key to submit it.

To read private messages, tab (or shift-tab) to the chat panel (tooltip is “Displays chat text.”) or the private chat panel (tooltip is “Displays private chat text.”)

Menu Bar

View Button

The View button is announced with the ToolTip Allows for the Customization of Chat Display, and uses the shortcut key ALT+V. Selecting ALT+V opens a dialog box that allows you to show private messages inline (in the main display), or in a separate frame (separate display). Once in the window, use the TAB key to navigate between these two options, and press the space bar to select one.

Controls Button

The Controls button is announced with the ToolTip “Allows the moderator to change the session mode and end the session.” (ALT+O)

Clear Button

The Clear button is announced with the ToolTip “Allows moderator to clear either local display or display for all users.” (ALT+L) The Instructor can select Clear local display to clear the display on their personal chat window or Clear all users’ display to clear the chat window for all of the participants. When everyone’s chat display is cleared messages that were on the screen are still captured in the archive.

End Button

The End button is announced with the ToolTip “Ends the current session”. (ALT+E)

Participant Area

The Participant Area displays the names of all of the participants in the Chat session and allows the Instructor to manage their participation. This area also displays which participants have requested to speak and which have been recognized.

To use keyboard shortcuts in the Participant area, tab to the participant’s name in the list, then use the shortcut keys to manage that user:

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