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What Are AEM & Accessible Technologies?

People with disabilities frequently experience barriers to the use of printed materials, digital materials, and technologies. Examples where barriers might occur include textbooks, digital documents, websites, apps, learning delivery systems, and electronic devices. Ideally, these are designed from the start for a wide range of users with diverse abilities and disabilities.  Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.

Accessible educational materials, or AEM, are print- and technology-based educational materials, including printed and electronic textbooks and related core materials 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, video).

Examples of AEM and Accessible Technologies

When learners have accessible materials and technologies in a timely manner, they are more likely to be independent, to participate, and to make progress in the curriculum. Examples of AEM include:

  • Printed materials in specialized formats
  • Accessible digital materials and technologies

Printed materials, such as textbooks, manuals, workbooks, paper assessments, and handouts, may be converted to make them accessible to learners with disabilities related to blindness, reading, and mobility. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) specifically focuses on accessible formats of printed instructional materials and includes timely provision of specialized formats to students who need them.  The four specialized formats included in IDEA are braille, large print, audio and digital text.

Digital materials and technologies are accessible when they can be used by people with and without disabilities. From the start, they are designed to be directly usable without assistive technology or made usable with assistive technology (adapted from AccessibleTech.org). Digital materials, such as websites, ebooks, podcasts, and videos, are media-rich sources of course content, meaning that they may include text, audio, video, graphics, and require interaction. Technologies include any hardware devices or software programs that provide learners with access to the content contained in digital materials. In other words, technology can be both the learning materials and the systems that deliver them. Web-based applications, social media, video players, simulation programs, adaptive learning platforms, learning management systems, tablets, smartphones, and computer stations are all examples of technology-based delivery systems.

While many educational materials and technologies available today are not designed to be accessible from the start, progress is being made. With information, resources, and technical assistance provided by the AEM Center and other national centers, best practices in both production and acquisition are expected to increase the availability and use of accessible educational materials and technologies.

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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Audio

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

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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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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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LMS (Learning Management System)

Software application or system that provides educational programs and their components.

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