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Alaska State Story

At the early stages of adopting AEM, Alaska learned a key lesson: a sit-and-wait, bottom-down approach to school districts would not have any impact on system effectiveness even with large purchases of assistive technologies. To improve, "Alaska now strives to create a unique strategic plan for each district, with obtainable goals," said Mystie Rail, the executive director at ATLA, the state’s only comprehensive assistive technology (AT) resource center.  After the Alaska Department of Education contracted it to do the AEM work, ATLA modeled the original AIM cohort and selected five to seven districts for a two-year commitment, with specific guidelines and expectations for their participation. This accountability has had the most impact in moving AEM efforts in the state forward, according to Mystie.  Once districts were selected, ATLA provided direct intensive support, including technical assistance and professional learning opportunities (Quality Indicator 4) related to the determination of need, selection, acquisition and use of AEM.

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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Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)

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

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Student Success Story

As a 5th grader, Ellie was only able to be in general education classroom ten percent of the time. She really wanted to be in the same class with her friends. Within 1 semester of being exposed to AEM her reading and comprehension went up 2.5 grade levels, and by the end of the 2nd semester she was 100% in general education classes.

Acquisition and Use of AEM

Bookshare serves as Alaska’s accessible media producer (AMP), and Mystie gave it credit for not only helping to streamline the process for acquiring AEM in the state, but also for going above and beyond to respond to Alaska’s many unique requests. Teachers also have access to Don Johnston’s uPAR as well as TextHelp’s Read and Write for Google. The latter has proved helpful because much of the curriculum in Alaska is available online, and the many tools built into Read and Write can help customize the experience with online resources for individual students.  

Recommendations for Other States

According to Mystie, implementing AEM in Alaska has been like “eating a whale one tiny bite at a time,” a process that requires a lot of patience and sustained effort. However, she added that  "it is always worth doing so."

Accessible Media Producers (AMPs)

Produced specialized formats of instructional materials for use by blind or other persons with print disabilities.

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