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AEM for Parents & Families

Do you have someone in your family who needs extra help using textbooks, online learning programs, or other educational materials or technologies? You have come to the right place. We’re a national technical assistance center that helps people interested in knowing more about accessible educational materials and technologies. We can help answer your questions and find resources so that your family member gets what they need to do their best learning.

AEM for Parents & Families: Key Questions

AEM for Parents & Families: Answers

How do I know if someone in my family needs AEM?

The first step in exploring the answer to this question is to answer a few questions for yourself. For example, does your family member have difficulty:

  • Reading independently but understand text when read aloud?
  • Getting information from textbooks and other educational materials?
  • Seeing print or digital materials because of a visual disability?
  • Holding a book, turning pages, or manipulating a tablet or computer because of physical disability?
  • Reading or using a tablet, computer, online program, or app independently?
  • Understanding the content of online assignments?
  • Using the technology for online assignments and communication?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” AEM might help. If a learner has difficulty with reading or using digital technologies for learning, a school or program may suggest accessible materials and technologies. You and your learner can also start these conversations with the school or program yourselves if you feel that AEM might help.

If your family member is in an early learning or K-12 environment, a good place to start is to talk to the teacher about your concerns. In higher education and workforce development situations, your family member may need to contact disability services or human resources to begin these conversations.

Either way, 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.

Resources to help get you started

What does “accessibility” mean?

This is a question we are frequently asked by family members and educators. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Education provided a functional definition of “accessibility” in a joint communication.  The letter stated that students with disabilities are to be provided the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions and enjoy the same services as students without disabilities with substantially equivalent ease of use.

Accessibility is a simple concept in theory, but it can be very complicated in practice. For example, what is accessible to a student with a visual disability is not necessarily accessible to a student who is hard-of-hearing or a student with a learning disability.

At the AEM Center, we take the approach of asking some additional questions: to whom is it accessible? under what conditions? for which tasks? This recognizes that accessibility can be “a moving target,” because it is shaped by what we need to do, our interactions with the environment and with personal preferences. From this perspective, a disability can be temporary (e.g., a broken arm, an eye infection) as well as situational (e.g., a new parent holding a child who only has use of one hand, or someone reading on a tablet on a bright sunny day). To be considered accessible, a material or technology needs to have a flexible design that supports the needs of people with and without disabilities - what we typically call universal design. Universally designed materials and technologies are those that can be customized to meet the needs and preferences of a wide range of learners.

Resources to help get you started

What are AEM? Why are they important?

AEM refers to accessible educational materials. You might also hear about AIM, or accessible instructional materials. Whatever they’re called, the basic idea is the same – regardless of format, any materials or technology used in a classroom or other learning environment needs to be usable across the widest possible range of individual variability. That means the content is designed in a way that can be adjusted so that it can be perceived and used by all learners. If we’re talking about print materials like books or worksheets, that means those materials have to be converted into specialized formats like braille, large print, audio or digital text to meet the needs of different individuals. If we’re talking about digital materials like e-books or digital learning environments like Google Apps for Education, 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 provide options for accessing, perceiving and engaging with the materials.

If you’d like to learn more about AEM and what it looks like, we have lots of resources you may find useful. The links below are a great start!

Learn the basics about AEM

Are there legal issues related to AEM that I should know about?

Depending on whether your family member is in early learning, K-12, higher education, or workforce development, different legal issues are important.

In early learning and K-12 education environments, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that states and districts ensure timely provision of accessible materials to elementary and secondary students with disabilities who need them. This means that school districts must take reasonable steps to provide accessible materials to eligible students with disabilities without delay, typically at the same time as other students receive educational materials.

For students served under IDEA, accessible materials and technologies are considered as a part of the development, review and revision of the IEP. To learn more about how and where they might be included in the IEP, see Accessible Educational Materials and Technologies in the IEP. Or you can watch the archived webinar, AEM in the IEP: Where do Accessible Materials and Technologies Fit?

The question is often asked – “does a student need to have an IEP to receive AEM?” For students who do not receive special education services under IDEA, the disability civil rights laws—Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—may require the provision of AEM to ensure an equal educational opportunity. So, a student does not necessarily have to have an IEP to receive AEM and other accommodations.

If your family member is in higher education or workforce development, there is a different process for acquiring accessible materials and technology. The higher education institution or employer has no obligation to seek out a person with disabilities and offer accommodations.  The person with the disability, or sometimes an advocate, must go to the disability services or appropriate employment personnel services to self-identify and discuss what the needs are.

Learn more about the legal issues related to AEM

Do you have any tools that can help make decisions about AEM?

The AEM Center has two free interactive tools that can help you, your family member, and others make decisions about AEM: the AEM Navigator and the AEM Explorer.

The AEM Navigator is designed to help families and educators walk through the AEM decision-making process for print-based materials. It includes a 4-step guide to help make decisions about AEM for an individual learner. Guiding questions, rich resources, and helpful scaffolds are built-in to assist your team in making informed decisions about print-based materials. You can also download and print the AEM Navigator.

The AEM Explorer simulates some of the features found in e-books, online programs, web browsers, and digital text. You and your learner can try out things like text magnification, different text and background colors, different layout options, and text-to-speech settings to find out what works best for reading in a digital environment. Many of the features demonstrated in the AEM Explorer are now available as built-in options on the devices many learners already own. To learn more about these features, visit Personalizing the Reading Experience.

We hope you find these tools useful as you’re thinking about AEM and your family member’s needs. They’re also great tools to help start the conversation with schools, institutions, and organizations about AEM. Be sure to check them out!

Are there things I can do to help at home?

Absolutely! Accessible books, materials, and technologies are available from lots of places. You will find many resources on our Digital Content & Media Sources page. Bookshare, Learning Ally, and American Printing House for the Blind (APH) are major libraries of accessible formats (i.e., braille, large print, audio, digital text) of all types of printed reading materials for academic, informational and pleasure reading. If your family member meets the criteria for membership in these libraries, sign up for individual accounts so that accessible books can be downloaded or read online. You might want to start with books to read for pleasure.

Positive reading experiences are important for everyone, but especially for people who have struggled with reading in the past. The more your family member becomes successful with reading materials that are interesting, engaging, and usable, the more likely it is that complex reading assignments will become less daunting.

To support your learner in educational participation and achievement, not only is accessible content needed but also accessible technologies to deliver and interact with the content. You can learn more about technologies that are available with specific features that might support for your family member’s needs in our Use of AEM section.

Just remember to start small and build on successes. Check out the AEM in Action stories and the AEM Center’s YouTube channel to see others who have found success with AEM.

I’d like more information specific to my situation. Do you have resources that can help me?

If your family member is in an early learning program, elementary, middle, or high school, you might also want to visit the AEM State Contacts and SEA Information to find out what’s happening in your state and who to contact about AEM issues. These pages list parent information and advocacy resources for each state, and you can also find Parent Training and Information Centers and Community Parent Resource Centers for each state by visiting the Center for Parent Information and Resources.

Our Supporting Learners section also provides information for specific audiences, including those in higher education or workforce development.

I’m ready to keep learning more. How can I stay connected?

We’d love to stay connected with you, and there are lots of ways to do it:

We’re here to help and look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for visiting!

Technology

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

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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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Department of Justice (DOJ)

Part of the federal government, to enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States.

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Accessibility

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

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Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)

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

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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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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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Audio

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

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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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Individual Education Program (IEP)

Written plan individually developed for students identified as having a disability under IDEA.

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Section 504

Prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. Written 504 plan used to guide provision of instructional services.

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Employment

Work performed for compensation, at location, and with opportunities for advancement similar to those who are not individuals with disabilities.

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Text-to-Speech (TTS)

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

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American Printing House for the Blind (APH)

Largest non-profit organization creating products and services for people who are visually impaired.

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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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CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology)

Non-profit organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals through research and development.

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