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Texas State Story

Districts in Texas can range from one that has over two hundred thousand  students to one that only has six. In addition to being geographically immense, there are mixes of urban, suburban, and rural settings (sometimes in the same school district!). There are about 1200 districts and more than 650 charter schools that in total serve about 5.4 million students. Along with this diversity, there is a high level of local control at different levels, from the district level to individual campuses. These challenges make it difficult to get information about AEM disseminated broadly and in a consistent way to all stakeholders. Despite the challenges that come from being such a large and diverse state, Texas has made significant progress with its provision system development.

Acquisition and Use of AEM

Through its contracts with Bookshare and Learning Ally, Texas is working hard to make sure all students who need AEM have the services they need. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) provides free access to Learning Ally for students with print disabilities, and Bookshare is also available to qualifying students. TEA contracts with  both Bookshare and Learning Ally for significant outreach and technical assistance efforts. Currently, Texas has three Outreach Coordinators from Bookshare/ Accessible Books for Texas (Benetech) and one Account Manager and one Engagement Manager from Learning Ally. More than 700 out of 1,200 districts in the state have registered for Bookshare and about 700 have memberships in Learning Ally as of October 2017.

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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Print Disability

Blindness or other disability that prevents the effective use of printed materials.

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Students Visit Learning Ally Studios

A group of students with dyslexia from San Marcos CISD took a field trip to Learning Ally’s recording studios in Austin. While at Learning Ally, the students were able to record personal stories that were then provided to them on a thumb drive. The students won a contest called “The Great Reading Games” by using audio books to read more than 146,000 pages.

AEM are also provided through the NIMAC for qualifying students, as well as through contracts with braille and large-print producers. Braille and large-print versions of all state-adopted materials are free to districts. While districts can choose materials that are not on the state-adopted list, there is a strong incentive for them not to do so. In addition to being responsible for ensuring the accessibility of these materials, districts must ensure alignment with the state standards. 

Texas had made progress toward developing a coordinated system for the provision of high quality accessible materials and technologies (Quality Indicator 1). This effort involves a number of systems working together to meet the needs of students who require access to AEM. The state continues to provide training to ensure the majority of people are aware of the resources available and know how to take advantage of them. In addition to NIMAS-sourced files and others available through the Bookshare and Learning Ally contracts, the state’s Instructional Materials Division helps districts find information about accessible materials that are not on the state-adopted list when this is appropriate.

National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC)

Central national repository established at American Printing House for the Blind to store, validate, maintain and disseminate NIMAS filesets.

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Accessibility

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

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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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National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS)

A technical standard used to produce XML-based source files for print-based educational materials.

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Lexi's Story

In August 2017, the Accessible Books for Texas team traveled to Ennis, TX to film a video about Lexi, a young woman with a visual impairment, just days before she started her freshman year in college at Texas Tech University. Lexi joined Bookshare in middle school and found it quickly helped her improve in reading to where she was reading above grade level. She loves how she can read Bookshare books anywhere! Lexi's advice to other students is to set goals and know you can do whatever anyone else can do with supports such as Bookshare!

Availability of AEM

Texas also has worked to increase the availability of AEM through its requirement that publishers ensure their materials are accessible if they wish to be on the state adopted list. Initially there was a state-financed audit with information regarding accessibility. Publishers are now required by state rule (Proclamations 2019 and 2020) to provide an independent audit to demonstrate that their materials are accessible. Despite these state regulations, the Texas team still encounters misconceptions from publishers, the biggest one being that digital or online materials are automatically accessible. Texas is one of the biggest purchaser of  instructional materials in the country, and the Texas team feels their efforts with publishers will eventually help other states. The Texas team’s vision is to have both printed and digital materials available to all students, whether or not they have a print disability.

In addition to its system for providing access to textbooks and other core instructional materials, Texas has adopted open educational resources (OERs) and provides no-cost online professional development courses for teachers through the Texas Gateway—a primary platform that delivers state-developed online resources and professional development courses. Student courses are delivered through the Texas Virtual School Network (TXVSN). Content providers are required to meet accessibility requirements for digital content and learning online.

Technical Assistance

There are also 20 Education Service Centers (ESCs) spread throughout Texas. The ESCs have consultants that provide technical support for AT/AEM. Region 4 in Houston has supported the state as the Texas Assistive Technology Network Lead for the past 20 years and will continue through 2018-2019. In 2019-2020, new projects will be put in place at the state level.

Recommendations to Other States

Texas’ recommendations for other states include

  • Continue to bring people together to support collaboration and ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Take strategic steps toward making all materials accessible. An audit as required under Proclamations 2019 and 2020 is a good place to start, and Texas is willing to share information with other states that want to follow a similar path.
  • Continue to raise publisher awareness that making materials accessible from the start is both easier and less expensive than trying to retrofit materials so that they are accessible. Texas has created a Purchasing Accessible Instructional Materials Quick Reference Guide that includes a series of questions for publishers. It is based on guidance from the PALM Initiative at the National AEM Center.
  • There are many areas in Texas that are susceptible to natural disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, and tornadoes. It is beneficial to have supports in place to anticipate disasters and crisis response protocols in place for when disasters do occur The 20 ESCs in Texas are  valuable resources for districts during these times. They provide physical assistance as well as links for both state and federal assistance.

PALM Initiative (Purchase Accessible Learning Materials)

Create demand for, promote, and encourage development of accessible digital materials and technology to be used by all students.

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