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Tips for students using JAWS with Blackboard(WebCT) CE6/Vista 4

The following describes steps to be taken by a student using the JAWS screenreader with a campus's Blackboard (formerly WebCT) Campus Edition 6 or Vista 4 learning management system to access online course materials. These setup tasks may be accomplished easier with one-time assistance from a sighted user, for instance from an assistive technology support office. 

Initial Configuration Steps 

Remove all unnecessary channels from the "My Courses" 

Explanation: The My Courses page has numerous information channels such as Calendar Day, To Do List, Personal Bookmarks, etc. These channels complicate the page and make it difficult for the student to navigate to his/her course list. Remove all extraneous channels by clicking the "Channels" link and then un-check every optional box - leaving only the "Course List" and "Campus Announcements" channels. Click "Save".

Change Paging and Who's Online Default Settings

Explanation: Numerous places in WebCT/Vista, when there are more than 10 items in a list (emails, discussion messages, announcements in a list, etc) then the user will need to navigate a drop-down box and a button in order to access the next 10 items. This limit of ten can be set much higher to facilitate the user's web page listing more items at once. The Who's Online status default is "Visible/Available" which means that a student could at any time receive an intrusive invitation via pop-up window to an inaccessible live chat session with another user. The user can be set to be "Invisible" so that the user will not be bothered by these intrusions. To change both of these settings, from the MyVista page click the "My Settings" link in the top header row. Now click on the tab which says "My Tool Options" which will bring up a list of default preferences. Change the "Paging" preference from 10 to 100 (recommendation). Now use the drop-down box for the item marked "Who's Online" and change it from "Visible/Available" to "Invisible". Be sure to click "Save" at the bottom of the page. You can click on "My Courses" to return to the course list.

Add campus website to trusted sites in Internet Explorer's Security Options

To avoid problems when downloading files, it's a good idea to put your entire campus domain in the "Trusted Sites" security zone so that the security settings of Internet Explorer are automatically set to "low" when using WebCT/Vista. Contact your student computer support desk who can guide you through the process of adding the domain (such as or as a trusted site in the Internet Explorer security settings.

Set JAWS to ignore inline frames

To improve the browsing experience of JAWS users, Blackboard recommends changing the configuration of JAWS.  This involves setting JAWS to ignore inline frames, which reduces the number of frames that JAWS reads. The process for this is: From JAWS > Utilities > Configuration Manager > Set Option > HTML Options > Headings and Frames tab > Ignore Inline Frames.

Tips for Working with WebCT/Vista

Check your course mail for all classes at once with the Global Mail Icon in My Courses

A student with multiple classes which use the built-in email tool may find it cumbersome to enter each online course to check for new email. An easier way to check for new email in all WebCT/Vista courses is to select the "mail" link on the My Courses page. This takes the user to a screen that has an inbox listed for each online course (including hidden courses and courses from previous terms). If there are new messages, the second number after each folder name will indicate the number of new, unread mail messages.

Send email to instructors and classmates by typing in their names directly - don't use the "Browse for Recipients" window

When sending course mail, a student using JAWS will find that the "Browse for Recipients" window which is used to select addressees is extremely cumbersome, reading each user's name four times because of the three checkboxes associated with each name (To, CC, and BCC checkboxes). Instead, JAWS users will find it much easier to type either usernames or complete proper names (such as "jsmith1" "Jane Smith") into the To: field of the Create Message window.  Multiple names or user names can be separated in the "To" field of the Create Message window with a comma. However, in order to ensure that the student who uses JAWS knows the correct spelling of each name or user name, the student should request a full roster listing in text format from his or her instructor, which can be copied and pasted from Peoplesoft or from the Grade Book. This way, the JAWS user can keep a text file of these names handy and can refer to this list to ensure that the name is spelled correctly.

Be aware of how new course content affects the way Jaws reads the Course Tools Menu

Normally the Course Tools are listed in alphabetical order in the menu frame. So it's easy for a JAWS user to listen for "Assignments" right after "Assessments", for example. However, if the faculty member has created a new Assignment, then JAWS will read the "Assignments" tool link name as "New Content Available Assignments" which could be very confusing since many JAWS users skip through menu navigation links after listening to the first word. It's important to know that this "New Content Available" alt-text will occur for almost all of the Vista tools when a faculty member adds or reveals parts of the course material.

Ask for extended time on major quizzes

JAWS can be an unstable program, as many users will agree. It does occasionally crash when working with a web site like WebCT/Vista which makes heavy use of the Java plugin and pop-up windows. So JAWS users may wish to ask their faculty member for a separate version of any for-credit quizzes which allow the JAWS user to take more time to complete the quiz so that in case there is a JAWS crash or the student needs more time to re-read complicated questions (such as the matching or multiple-correct types), the user has adequate time to use the technology to complete the quiz. Faculty members should be reminded that they can create a new quiz "based on" another quiz, which basically copied the entire quiz. Faculty can then use the "Selective Release" tool to ensure that only certain students (such as the JAWS user) can see the quiz, and not the rest of the class.

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