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AEM for K–12 Educators

Accessible educational materials (AEM) include both print-based and digital learning materials and technologies that are designed or enhanced in a way that makes them usable across the widest range of learner variability regardless of format (e.g., print, digital, graphic, audio, or video). In this Quick Start you will find answers to questions that often arise for K-12 educators about AEM as well as links to additional AEM Center resources.

Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)

Print- and technology-based educational materials designed to be usable across the widest range of individual variability.

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Technology

Equipment or system where principal function is creation, conversion, duplication, control, display, interchange, transmission, reception, or broadcast of data.

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Audio

Digital form or representation of a sound which may be used for non-visual access to text and images.

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Quick Start for Educators: Questions

Quick Start for Educators: Answers

What are accessible educational materials or AEM? Why are they important?

AEM include print- and technology-based educational materials designed to be usable across the widest range of individual variability. You might also hear about AIM, or accessible instructional materials. Whatever they’re called, the basic concept is the same: any materials or technologies used in a classroom or other learning environment need to be usable by everyone. If we’re talking about print materials like books or worksheets, sometimes that means those materials have to be converted into specialized formats like braille, large print, audio or digital text. If we’re talking about digital materials like e-books, websites, or apps, those materials and technologies need to be created and presented so that all learners can interact with them. In other words, materials and technologies used in any learning environment need to be accessible.

Accessibility is a moving target to the extent that each individual learner has particular reasons for needing AEM and accessible technologies. For example, accessible materials and accessible technologies may mean one thing to a person who has a visual impairment and a very different thing to a person who has a hearing impairment. That’s why there are accessibility guidelines and regulations to let content creators, publishers, schools, organizations and institutions know what’s expected.

Learn the basics about AEM

I work with students in early learning services. What accessibility issues should I be considering?

Young children who are receiving early learning services have been identified as having visual, hearing, physical, or developmental disabilities. For these young children to meaningfully participate in their daily activities, they will require accessible learning materials, technologies and assistive technology appropriate to their needs. Although very young children are not expected to be reading, the development of skills related to literacy, socialization, communication and self-help are critical.  Families and educators work together to create developmentally appropriate, individualized programs based on the children’s specific needs.

Learn more about the role of AEM in early learning services

A student I work with is having difficulty with the format of the educational materials and technologies used in the classroom. What should I do to help?

There are several questions that, when explored, could indicate that the student might need AEM. For example:

  • Is the student able to understand text when it is read aloud but has trouble reading on their own?
  • Does the student have a visual disability that makes it difficult to see text in print or on a screen?
  • Does the student have a physical disability that makes it difficult to hold a book, turn pages, or use a keyboard?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” AEM might be able to help.

In any case, the best thing you can do to help is to learn more about AEM—what they are, how they’re used, what’s required by law, and where you can find them. We’re here to help answer those questions and more.

Resources to help get you started with considering a student’s need for AEM

How can I work with others to make decisions about AEM for a student? Do you have any tools to help with making decisions?

We have two free online, interactive tools that can help you, family members, and others make decisions about AEM as related to print materials: the AEM Navigator and the AIM Explorer.

The AEM Navigator is an interactive tool designed to help families and educators collaboratively work through the AEM decision-making process related to print-based materials for an individual student. Basically, there are four major decision points: determination of need, selection of specialized formats, acquisition of materials, and determination of supports for effective use. Guiding questions, rich resources, and helpful scaffolds are built-in to assist your team in making informed decisions about print-based materials. The AEM Navigator is available in both online and print versions.

The AIM Explorer simulates some of the features found in e-books, online programs, web browsers, and digital text. You can try out things like text magnification, different text and background colors, different layout options, and text-to-speech settings to see what works best for the student when reading in a digital environment.

We hope you find these tools useful as you’re thinking about AEM for students who need different formats of print materials.

Learn more about the steps in making AEM related decisions

If our materials and technologies are already accessible, will some students still need assistive technology?

When the educational materials and technologies used in classrooms meet accessibility standards, the majority of students will be able to access the curriculum. However, there are instances when some students will additionally need the use of assistive technology (AT) to be able to perceive, respond to and interact with the curriculum. IDEA defines an AT device as "any item, piece of equipment, or product whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with disabilities." So, examples of AT that might be needed are when a student with a visual impairment needs a screen reader to voice the menus and text on a computer or a refreshable braille device to take notes or read text. Or, when students with motor disabilities have trouble using the regular keyboard or a mouse, they may need AT such as modified keyboards and mouse controls. It is essential that the materials and technologies purchased for a curriculum are accessible, so that the students’ assistive technologies will be usable.

Learn more about assistive technology

What can I do as an educator to support students in using AEM?

Educators play a critical role in helping students achieve in using AEM and accessible technologies in the classroom. For a student to use AEM to achieve independence, participation and progress, it is likely that additional supports and services will be needed for teaching and learning. Supports typically fall into the following categories:

  • Training for the student, educators, and family
  • Instructional strategies
  • Support services
  • Accommodations and/or modifications

Accessible materials do not take the place of high quality reading instruction but rather provide a different method of accessing content to facilitate a student’s participation and achievement. The type of ongoing reading instruction required depends upon the student’s needs and abilities and on the content and technology being used.

Learn more about supporting effective uses of AEM

What resources are available to help educators, students, and families learn about using AEM?

When new formats, media and technology are introduced, teachers, learners and families have many adjustments to make. It is likely that they will need to develop proficiency with new or unfamiliar technology, use different strategies, and need different supports to teach and learn.

Learn more about resources for teaching and training

Do you have resources that would be good to share with families?

Families, caregivers, and students often have many questions about AEM and whether the student might need accessible materials. It is important that families understand the issues related to AEM and the role that AEM and accessible technologies might play in their child’s participation in the curriculum and academic achievement. Parents and the other members of the child’s decision-making team will decide together about need, selection, acquisition and use of AEM. The AEM Center has a number of resources that address some of the questions that families may have.

Learn more about resources for families

Where can I find out about AEM contacts and resources in my state?

Visit AEM State Contacts and SEA Information to find information about what’s happening in your state concerning AEM issues.

How can I stay connected to the AEM Center?

Visit the AEM Center website often. We're always updating and adding resources, so you're sure to find something new. Attend AEM Center Events. Sign up to receive the AEM Connector e-newsletter. Join us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube. You can also contact the AEM Center staff via email at aem@cast.org. We are here to help you.

Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)

Print-based educational materials converted into specialized formats, related to the requirements of the IDEA statute.

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Print Instructional Materials

Printed materials written and published for use in elementary and secondary school instruction, required by a SEA or LEA for use by students in classroom.

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Digital Text

Published material retrieved and read via a computer.

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e-book

Electronic version of a book.

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Accessibility

Access for all people, including people with disabilities, to web environments.

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Accessible Technology

Technology that can be used by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. Incorporates the principles of universal design.

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Text-to-Speech (TTS)

Artificial production of human speech, using special software and/or hardware.

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Accessibility Standards

Current or revised electronic and information technology accessibility standards developed under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Federal law governing rights of children with disabilities to receive free and appropriate public education in least restrictive environment.

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Refreshable Braille

Provided by an electronic device display or terminal by raising dots or pins through holes in a flat surface, and displaying 40 to 80 braille cells at one time.

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