Ally alternative formats for students

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Ally is a tool that integrates with Canvas courses to provide instructors with insight into their course's accessibility and students quick access to alternative formats for course content items. You can download an alternative format of content anywhere the Download Alternative Formats icon is present. It may look like any of the following:

Three possible alternative format icons

From the pop-up menu, select your preferred format, and then press download. You can try as many alternative formats as you would like to see which one best fits your learning needs.

You will not see a Download Alternative Formats button if a content type is not supported. Also, instructors and administrators can turn off the alternative formats for an individual content item within a course. If this is done and you select Alternative formats, you'll see a message saying the alternative formats are disabled.

Ally alternative formats

Ally provides alternative formats for these content types:

  • PDF files
  • Microsoft Word files
  • Microsoft PowerPoint files
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice files
  • Uploaded HTML files
  • Content created in the Canvas Rich Content Editor

These alternative formats can be generated:

  • OCR'd version (for scanned documents)
  • Tagged PDF (currently for Word, PowerPoint, and OpenOffice/LibreOffice files)
  • Mobile-friendly HTML
  • Audio
  • ePub
  • Electronic braille
  • BeeLine Reader
  • Immersive Reader
  • Translated Version
    • Translated Version is disabled by default. Administrators can submit a support case to have it enabled.
Each alternative format is currently converting math into an image with LaTeX alt text or omitting it entirely in the case of braille. If you need math made accessible in alternative formats, discuss this need with your campus Accessible Educational Services (AES) office.

When alternative formats are generated

When someone requests an alternative format for a content item for the first time, Ally generates the format on demand. In most cases, it generates within one to two minutes.

As soon as it is generated, the alternative format is downloaded. Ally then caches the result, so any additional requests for the same alternative format can be served and downloaded from the cache immediately.

Alternative formats for student content

Ally currently processes only instructional content (for example, content added by someone with edit permissions in the course, such as the instructor or instructional designer). Ally currently doesn't process student content or student submissions.

More on each alternative format


The audio alternative reads aloud the text in the original content. This also includes alternative descriptions for images, if they are provided.

The audio format is saved as an MP3. MP3s are compressed, high-quality sound files that can be played on any computer or mobile device.

Audio formats fail if the original document contains more than 200,000 characters.

BeeLine Reader

BeeLine Reader makes reading on screen easier and faster. Instead of using plain black text, BeeLine Reader displays text using a subtle color gradient that helps pull your eye through your readings. This new display format has been honored by the United Nations and is used by readers in 120 countries around the world.

More on the BeeLine Reader website

Braille Ready File

Ally uses Braille Ready File (.brf) as the electronic braille format. The braille code used depends on the document's language. For English documents, Ally uses Grade 2 Unified English Braille (contracted).

The .brf format can be used for both electronic braille displays and braille embossers (printers).


The ePub alternative creates a digital publishing file that can be viewed on mobile devices. ePub files are reflowable. Reflowable means that the content displayed automatically adapts to the device it is viewed on.

Here are a few suggested apps for ePubs:

  • Apple: EasyReader, iBooks, Voice Dream, NaturalReader, and Thorium Reader
  • Android: EasyReader, Lithium, and Voice Aloud Reader
  • Windows: Calibre, Icecream Ebook Reader, NaturalReader, and Thorium Reader
  • Linux: Thorium Reader

Immersive Reader

Immersive Reader is an alternative format that provides multiple ways to increase the readability of the material. Learners can change font size and text spacing, convert the text into speech, translate content into multiple languages, and more.

More about Immersive Reader


OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition. The OCR PDF alternative format is created when the original content is a PDF of an image. OCR technology analyses the content and converts the image into searchable text.

The conversion is only as good as the quality of the original content. If the content is difficult to analyze, there may be mistakes.

Semantic HTML

In semantic HTML, tags and elements — such as blockquote, paragraph, and headings — are added to add meaning to a page. These tags and elements aid screen reader users with good content structure.

Semantic HTML is viewed in a browser and adapts to the device you are viewing it on.

Semantic HTML is available offline on your mobile device if you don't close your browser.

Tagged PDF

A Tagged PDF alternative uses tags and elements — such as blockquote, paragraph, and headings — to add meaning to a page. It aids screen reader users with good content structure.

Translated Version alternative format

This alternative format provides a machine-translated version of the original content into a total of 50 different languages. PDF, Word, PowerPoint, and HTML documents are supported.

Accuracy varies and depends on the type of language being used in the document. For example, significant amounts of technical language, complex sentence structure, or local colloquialisms can affect the accuracy.

Library reference

If your instructor provides library reference information for their content, you can see it when viewing alternative formats.

From the Alternative formats panel, select Library reference.

If there is no library reference information provided, you won't see the option.

This is document bhdi in the Knowledge Base.
Last modified on 2023-08-23 11:55:06.