Ally makes Canvas content more accessible

Ally, a digital accessibility tool for students and faculty, will be available for all Canvas courses beginning Jan. 3. It guides instructors on how to improve the accessibility of course content, making it available to more students in alternative formats.

Ally trainings

  • Jan. 10: 10 a.m.-11 a.m., Ally basics (in person Durham 116 in the Digital Accessibility Lab and virtual. Will be recorded)

  • Feb. 14: 10 a.m.-11 a.m., Ally dashboard and reporting in-depth (in person Durham 116 in the Digital Accessibility Lab and virtual. Will be recorded)

  • March 7: 10 a.m.-11 a.m., Ally refresher and FAQs (in person Durham 116 in the Digital Accessibility Lab and virtual. Will be recorded)

When instructors upload content to Canvas, it's automatically scanned to determine accessibility and alternative file formats are created:

  • Tagged PDF: Structured PDF for improved use with assistive technology
  • OCRed PDF: Makes scanned documents searchable and more readable while reducing file size
  • ePUB: Content readable on a tablet device as an e-book on an iPad and other e-book readers
  • Audio: MP3 version for listening on personal devices. Reads like a screen reader, not a book narrated by a person
  • HTML: Strips out style code to focus on text for viewing in the browser and on mobile devices
  • Immersive reader: Aids reading comprehension and grammar skills
  • Beeline reader: Enhanced version for faster and more focused on-screen reading
  • HTML: Strips out style code to focus on text for viewing in the browser and on mobile devices
  • Electronic braille: Version for consumption on electronic braille displays. Hardware that features a line of braille cells, and pins in each cell move up and down to allow users to read a line of braille text. It can be connected to computers, smartphones and tablets.
  • Translated version formats: A machine translated version of the original document

Instructors see what content is and is not accessible through the tool's dashboard, and it recommends fixes to inaccessible content.

"It will not fix it for you, but it will guide you," said digital accessibility lead Cyndi Wiley. "Instructors can do the easy fixes first because that will immediately boost accessibility, and they can get help for bigger issues. It really customizes a student's learning experience."

Some of the easier fixes include repairing broken links or ensuring PDFs are navigable with assistive technology like screen readers. The dashboard displays an accessibility score from zero to 100. ISU's goal of 85 for all course content by 2026 would match the industry standard.

"It is not meant to be punitive. It just gives instructors an idea of what it might take to have their content be most accessible to students," Wiley said. "It will be working in Canvas, but they choose how much they want to engage with it."

The addition of Ally is a significant step in complying with the university's digital accessibility policy. The policy takes effect July 1, 2026, to ensure individuals with disabilities can independently acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions and enjoy the same services within the same timeframe as individuals without disabilities.


Ally is being tested in 30 courses this fall, including large lecture, studio, science and lab courses to get a varied sample. Wiley monitors how many students take advantage of the different formats, which are most popular and how much time they spend with the content. The tool also supplies a report to instructors to see how students are interacting.

Wiley said most of the feedback in the test has been positive because of the ease of use for instructors, and it helps put them in an accessibility mindset when preparing new content.

"This is something we want instructors to focus on going forward and not worry about going back to previous content they have created," Wiley said.

Choosing Ally

Prior to the pilot test, Wiley put Ally through numerous tests acting as a graphic design faculty member teaching graduate courses in human computer interaction. Wiley added it to courses that included a syllabus, numerous modules, course content, assignments, videos and PDFs. One of Ally's biggest strengths is the ability to upload large files quickly and scan each piece of content for accessibility.

Iowa State's request for proposal process for this tool will help other regent universities by using ISU's procurement processes.

"It is really good when that can happen because it shows collaboration between regent universities," Wiley said. "It leads to better pricing and more support for the students."

The first year of Ally is funded by the Committee on the Advancement of Student Technology for Learning Enhancement, which advises President Wendy Wintersteen on how to use the student technology fee.

Other Canvas updates

  • Data storage

    OneDrive was installed in Canvas on Dec. 1 in conjunction with the university's move from Google data storage to Microsoft.

    "Google is putting a data cap on the university Jan. 3, and if we exceed the cap, everything will become read-only," said Angi Beau-Karthik, CELT instructional technology specialist.

    Instructors, especially those teaching during the winter session, are encouraged to begin moving content from Google to Microsoft. Any content shared in Canvas courses should be the highest priority to avoid issues during winter session.

    Instructors using Canvas collaborations with Google will retain the option in Microsoft. Turnitin Draft Coach -- which helps students improve their academic writing and research skills -- will switch to Microsoft after the fall semester, Beau-Karthik said. Microsoft Teams classes and meetings also were added to Canvas.

    Canvas no longer will sunset Classic Quizzes in June 2024. Instructors can choose to use Classic or New Quizzes with all quiz creation. The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) will continue to offer New Quizzes training, and Canvas will determine a new deadline for the switch.
  • The Class Climate platform where students' rating of teaching surveys are found is under the "My Surveys" tab in any of the course navigation menus. Surveys for all courses are there. Instructors are encouraged to remind students to fill out the surveys, and can find the response rate by clicking on "My Surveys."
  • A new integration of the app Top Hat, which increases in-class engagement and allows for real-time feedback, is being piloted during the fall semester and became available to all courses on Dec. 1. Roster syncing occurs automatically when the students click the Top Hat link in Canvas, and instructors have the option to automatically sync their gradebook with Canvas. The current integration of Top Hat will remain active until Jan. 3, ensuring fall semester courses are complete.
  • The fall Gradescope pilot is nearly complete and a decision on its future will be made soon. It is an assessment, feedback and analytics tool that enables instructors to administer, grade and provide students feedback on pen-and-paper, bubblesheet and computer programming assignments.

Questions on any Canvas updates can be emailed to