ACCESSIBLE EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS
By: Carmen Willings
“Accessible Educational Materials, or Accessible Instructional Materials, are print and technology-based educational materials that include printed and electronic textbooks and related core materials that are designed or converted in a way that makes them usable across the widest range of student variability regardless of format (print, digital, graphical, audio, video). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) specifically focuses on accessible formats of print instructional materials.” ~ National Center on Accessible Educational Materials
Who needs AEM?
Print textbooks and instructional materials used in classrooms are not always accessible to students and can present barriers to learning. Students must be provided with materials in a format that they can access in order to participate and achieve in the general curriculum. Many students with visual impairments may require one or more specialized formats including braille, large print, audio and/or digital. When specialized formats, paired with support for proper use, are matched to a student's unique learning needs and combined with effective instruction in reading, the result can mean the difference between exclusion and achievement across the curriculum. For students who are blind or visually impaired, the Learning Media Assessment will indicate the student’s primary and secondary modes of learning and the media instructional material should be presented in.
How are decisions made?
If a student is able to understand content presented in textbooks and related core instructional materials that are used by other students across the curriculum, but is unable to read or use them, that student will need another way to obtain the information contained in the print materials. In this case, the student may need one or more specialized formats of the curricular materials.
The National Center on Accessible Educational Materials uses the following indicators to use when determining if the student may need AEM.
Large print provides the same content as standard print in a larger font size. Large print is typically defined as 16pt or 18 pt font size or larger. Large print refers to paper and is either printed on the same size page or more frequently, is presented on larger size pages. Students should participate in a Low Vision Assessment to determine if they have the best optics in place and if optical devices such as magnifiers will allow the student to access standard print sizes.
Braille is a tactile system of reading and writing that is made up of a series of raised-dots that is read by using one’s fingers to read from left to right over a line of braille. Tactile perception and discrimination skills are necessary for efficient braille reading. Frequently, braille users will need a combination of formats to access the curriculum as reading rates are typically significantly slower in braille readers.
The audio format provides content as speech to which the student listens. Audio format may be presented as recorded human speech or synthesized electronic speech. If the audio format is created in a flexible way — for example aligned to NIMAS or DAISY standards — there are many ways in which the speech output can be adjusted. Depending on the technology used, changes in the pitch, volume and speed at which the speech is presented can be made. Depending on the tool the student uses to access the recording, they must learn how to navigate. The student must learn how to go forward and backwards, and jump to page numbers, chapters, titles etc.
Digital text is presented on a computer or another device and is adjustable, depending on the technology and/or the software that is used. Depending on the tool used, the user can control how the content is presented in relation to size, fonts, colors, and contrast to accommodate the needs of the user. Supported reading software with text-to-speech can provide audio and visual components either separately or simultaneously as well as other scaffolded supports like highlighting, dictionaries, and thesauruses. Students who are visually impaired or blind may need the digital text content delivered via the computer as enlarged text on the screen or as refreshable braille.
Additional AME Resources
The National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials features the AIM Navigator. The AIM Navigator is an interactive tool that facilitates the process of decision-making around accessible instructional materials for an individual student. The tool helps teams determine the need of AT; select the format; consider the acquisition of formats; and select the supports for use.
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Due to the nationwide shortage of vision professionals, it can be challenging to locate personnel. Announce a job vacancy on the Job Exchange of Teaching Students with Visual Impairments, an online listing of jobs specific to the visual impairment field.