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Why Provide AEM and Accessible Technologies?

The use of accessible educational materials and accessible technologies strengthens opportunities for learners to experience independence, participation and progress. Specialized formats of printed materials may mean the difference between learning barriers and learning opportunities. Choosing digital materials and technologies that are designed from the start to be accessible to diverse users is integral to Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. From a UDL perspective, AEM and accessible technologies may be customized and adjusted to meet individual needs, making them assets for all learners. To put this perspective into action, the availability and use of AEM and accessible technologies need to be increased. Based on these considerations, three distinct reasons for providing AEM emerge:

Ensuring Equitable Access to Learning

Consistent with federal guidance, accessible technology provides the student with a disability the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions and enjoy the same services provided by the technology to students without disabilities with substantially equivalent ease of use (Joint Letter US Department of Justice and US Department of Education, June 29, 2010).

When students have difficulty using educational materials and technologies due to a disability, they are at risk of falling behind their peers. Timely access to accessible materials and technologies for students with disabilities results in the same opportunities to fully and independently participate and make progress in the curriculum as students without disabilities.

Ensuring access for all learners is the right thing to do. Furthermore, the following federal laws and regulations are pertinent to the provision of AEM and accessible technologies in K-12, postsecondary, and workforce development programs:

Providing All Learners with Options

Learning to apply wide-ranging options for accessing, perceiving, and engaging with curriculum may help all students to identify and develop their own learning preferences as they prepare for continuing education or the workforce. Customization features are common in the design of accessible educational materials and accessible technologies, giving all learners wide-ranging options for how they engage with devices and digital content.

For example, many accessible ebooks have on-demand dictionaries, study skill features, and bookmarking tools. The use of text-to-speech under appropriate circumstances may be preferred by learners with strong auditory processing skills. Video with captions provides a text track of the audio, resulting in an additional way for all learners to perceive and understand language, vocabulary, and context. Accessible documents and web pages have consistent layouts and adjustable controls for text size and color contrast. Speech recognition, which may be a necessity for some students but an efficient alternative for others, is an option for controlling and navigating information on some computers, tablets, smartphones, and even more emerging devices. Visual alternatives to audio-only cues, such as screen flashes or icon displays, are necessary for students who are deaf or hard of hearing but optional for learners who prefer visual over audio outputs.

These examples demonstrate why AEM and accessible technologies are fundamental to the design of curriculum that can be adjusted and customized for individual needs.

Driving the Quality and Availability of AEM and Accessible Technologies

As teaching and learning across K-12 schools, higher education, and workforce development programs become increasingly dependent on the availability of high quality materials and technologies, now is the time for agencies to implement procurement procedures that include accessibility. When agencies notify publishers and developers of a requirement for accessible materials and technologies, they contribute to the evolution of a market model for AEM while simultaneously addressing the US Department of Labor’s commitment to equity (see Accessibility Policy for CareerOneStop Websites). As agencies demonstrate a commitment to accessibility by increasing purchases of accessible materials and technologies over time, the market will respond by increasing the availability. The AEM Center’s PALM Initiative (Procure Accessible Learning Materials) provides guidance, resources, and training materials to help agencies adjust current procurement practices and ensure that change happens as soon as possible.

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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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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Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Framework of learning and teaching, resisting one-size-fits-all approach. Encourages offering multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement.

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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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e-book

Electronic version of a book.

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Text-to-Speech (TTS)

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

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Video

Recording, reproducing, or broadcasting of moving visual images, made digitally or on videotape.

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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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Deaf and hard of hearing

People with little or no functional hearing, milder hearing loss, and those with an auditory processing disorder.

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Accessibility

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

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