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AEM Connector for Winter 2017/2018


Skip Stahl, AEM Center Co-Director and Pioneer of Accessible Learning Materials, Retiring

After three decades of making groundbreaking contributions to the field of special education policy and practice, AEM Center Co-Director Skip Stahl is retiring at the end of the year. One of  CAST's  five founding staff members, Skip's career has made an indelible mark on our understanding of the connection between learner variability and learning environments that are universally designed. A pioneer of the national adoption of the NIMAS standard, Skip was a leader in transforming access to learning for students with disabilities. His talent for convening experts from wide-ranging fields that impact student learning, from parents to policymakers, has resulted in enduring changes in how educational consumers vet, and publishers and ed tech developers design, accessible learning materials and technologies. Although he has decided to retire, Skip will continue to support the work of CAST, including the AEM Center, through a focus on sustainable strategies. Like all of you and the learners in your care, we at CAST are indebted to Skip for showing us how limitless learning can be made possible.

AEM Center Happenings

New Staff at the AEM Center

The AEM Center has been looking for new talent! We've found two tremendously knowledgeable and skilled individuals to join our team as Technical Assistance (TA) Specialists: 

Steve Nordmark provides TA for curriculum developers, standards organizations, and industry groups to increase the availability of accessible materials and technologies for consumers. He joins our staff after having been an AEM Center independent consultant since 2015. Steve has extensive and wide-ranging experience with state-level and corporate educational initiatives, including UDL, digital learning, open education resources (OERs), competency-based learning, and micro-credentialing. 



Luis PĂ©rez provides TA to increase the use of accessible materials and technologies by consumers across the AEM Center's stakeholders in early learning, K-12, higher education, and workforce development sectors. Known to many as a member of CAST's UDL Cadre, Luis is an internationally recognized author and public speaker. He has extensive instructional and technical assistance experience in university, K-12, and business settings. 

The broad range of experience and expertise that Steve and Luis bring to the AEM Center are terrific assets for our team and stakeholders!

Critical Components of the Quality Indicators for the Provision of 
AEM for K-12 and Higher Education Finalized

The AEM Center's Quality Indicators describe the essential elements of systems used to provide accessible materials and technologies for learners, including compliance, guidelines, professional development, data procedures, and resources. The indicators can be used by decision makers in K-12, higher education and workforce development agencies to develop new guidelines, procurement systems or to self-evaluate an existing system that may be absent best practices for accessibility. The AEM Center is pleased to announce that Critical Components of the Quality Indicators for K-12 and Higher Education have been finalized. These components offer actionable items for continuous improvement. To access the new Critical Components, please follow this link to our website. 

CAST & Partners Awarded $5 Million to Develop System for Customizing Digital Materials 

CAST has been selected to lead the development of the Center on Inclusive Software for Learning (CISL) with a 5-year award from the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education ProgramsSRI International and the Inclusive Design Research Centre will partner with CAST on the project. CISL will ensure that K-12 students with disabilities get engaging, high-quality accessible digital learning materials, especially open education resources (OERs). The software will enable teachers to customize instruction for the diverse needs of children with disabilities. Read more about CAST's award.

From Our Partners

Benetech Secures U.S. Department of Education Award to Enable All Students to Read

With a 5-year award from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, Benetech has announced that Bookshare, the largest online library of accessible books, along with training and support, will remain free for all U.S. school districts, schools, educators, and their qualified students. Benetech will use the award funding to reach an additional 200,000+ students and work directly with publishers to ensure accessibility features are present in over 50 percent of educational books by 2022. Read more about Benetech's award. 

SETDA Refreshing and Expanding DMAPS

The State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) is in the process of refreshing and expanding the Digital Instructional Materials Acquisition Policies for States (DMAPS) web portal. Many AEM State Contacts supported the effort to include state accessibility policy information in the development of the DMAPS in 2016. The AEM Center and SETDA are continuing to partner to ensure that accessibility in state procurement guidance and policy, where present, is reported in the updated DMAPS. AEM State contacts are working with their state SETDA members in the process of verifying and adding information to the DMAPs data set.  Many thanks to our AEM State Contacts for their contributions to the DMAPS refresh!

State Spotlight on AEM

PATINS and OCALI Host Successful Conferences 

In November, AEM Best Practices Cohort state leaders in Indiana and Ohio hosted conferences focused on improving outcomes for learners with disabilities. Indiana's PATINS conference, Access to Education 2017 , and Ohio's OCALICON included numerous sessions related to the use and availability of accessible materials and technologies. At Access to Education, AEM Center Co-Director, Cynthia Curry, and PATINS Project Director, Daniel McNulty, co-presented on accessibility of open educational resources (OERs). At OCALICON, Cynthia was joined by AEM Center Special Projects Coordinator, Diana Carl, to present on AEM in the IEP, UDL for Learners with Significant Disabilities, and to participate on expert panels.  Congratulations to PATINS and OCALI for another year of successful conferences! 

Ed Tech Developers

VPAT 1.0 Updated

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), developed to assist Federal Government contracting officials and other buyers in making preliminary assessments regarding the commercial availability of technology products and services with features that support accessibility, has been updated to VPAT 2.0. The updated version addresses changes to Section 508 that were finalized earlier this year. VPAT 2.0 includes new features, such as instructions covering essential requirements and best practices, a product description field, and a field to describe methods used to test the product's accessibility. When stakeholders are considering the procurement of new products and materials, it is wise to ask the developer for a VPAT in order to gauge the product's accessibility features. Learn more about VPAT 2.0.

TA Tips

The past two editions of the AEM Connector have informed you of significant changes at the AEM Center, namely staff transitions. In the Fall Connector, we shared that Joy has reduced her time on the Center to pursue additional projects at CAST, and in this edition we announce Skip's retirement. These extraordinarily consequential leaders, along with former co-director Chuck Hitchcock, remain deeply rooted and invested in the work of the AEM Center. As we approach the holidays and the beginning of a new year, our team is grateful for their guidance and inspiration as the Center moves into a new era.

We wish you happy holidays and look forward to connecting with you often in 2018!

Cynthia Curry 

Co-Director, National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning


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

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

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Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)

Provides leadership and financial support to assist states and local districts in improving results for children and youth with disabilities.

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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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