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AEM for Higher Education Faculty


Accessible educational materials include both print-based and digital learning materials and technologies 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, or video). In this Quick Start you will find answers to questions that often arise for postsecondary faculty about AEM as well as links to additional AEM Center resources.

Quick Start for Higher Ed Faculty: Questions

Quick Start for Higher Ed Faculty: Answers

What are accessible educational materials and accessible technologies? Why are they important?

AEM include print- and technology-based educational materials designed to be usable across the widest range of individual variability. Any materials or technologies used in postsecondary education programs and services need to be usable by everyone. If we’re talking about print materials like books or course packets, sometimes that means those materials have to be converted into specialized formats like braille, large print, audio or digital text. If we’re talking about digital materials and technologies like e-books, learning management systems, or clickers, those need to be selected and provided so that all learners can interact with them. In other words, materials and technologies used in any learning environment need to be accessible.

Accessibility is a moving target to the extent that each individual learner has particular reasons for needing AEM and accessible technologies. For example, accessible materials and accessible technologies may mean one thing to a person who has a visual impairment and a very different thing to a person who has a hearing impairment. That’s why there are accessibility guidelines and regulations to let content creators, publishers, schools, organizations and institutions know what’s expected.

Learn the basics about AEM

What steps can I take to make sure my materials will be accessible to all students at the time my course begins?

First, faculty can learn how to select, create, and use accessible materials and technologies. Ideally, your institution has developed an Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) accessibility policy and has taken steps to implement it across all levels, including training for faculty and staff. If not, a good model is California State University’s Accessible Technology Initiative. Consider sharing this with those at your institution who can effect change in procurement and other policies related to the provision of accessible materials and technologies. Disability services staff can be helpful collaborators in this and other accessibility efforts.

CAST’s UDL on Campus website has multiple resources that faculty can use to prioritize accessibility when selecting and acquiring materials and technologies for courses. Please see links to these resources below.

Second, faculty need to know that it can take several weeks or longer for disability services staff to provide a book in alternative format for a student who requires it due to a disability. Faculty can facilitate this process by including textbook information with course descriptions in class registration materials for any given academic term. Not only is this best practice for ensuring access for students with disabilities, it is a requirement under the Textbook Information provision of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008.

Resources for providing accessible materials and technologies

A student is having difficulty with the format of my course’s educational materials. What can I do to help?

Although it’s not the role of college or university faculty to identify students who need AEM, there are several indicators to be aware of if a student presents you with related difficulties. Signs include that the student:

  • is able to learn from audiobooks and understand text when it is read aloud but has trouble reading materials in print format.
  • has difficulty seeing text in print or on a screen.
  • has difficulty holding a book, turning pages, or using a keyboard.
  • fatigues easily when trying to complete required course reading.

If a student brings these concerns to your attention, whether in an online or in-person course, refer them to your campus disability services office. Postsecondary students must self-disclose a disability in order to receive accommodations, and your campus disability services staff is there to provide this service.

A statement about your institution’s services for students with disabilities should be clearly presented in your course syllabus, including location and contact information for disability services staff. Reach out to them for information about this and other ways you can proactively support students with disabilities enrolled in your courses.

Resources to help get you started with understanding a student’s need for AEM

I received a letter of accommodations from a student. It includes “alternative format of course materials.” What does this mean? What is my role in providing this accommodation?

Alternative formats refer to textbooks and other course materials that are converted in a way that makes them accessible to students with disabilities. Commonly used formats are digital text, audio, large print, and braille. A student may need an alternative format for a number of reasons, such as blindness or low vision, a reading disability, or a physical disability that interferes with using standard print books and related materials. Your campus disability services personnel have determined that your student needs one or more alternative formats to access your curriculum. Collaborate directly with the disability services office to make sure the student has materials in the format needed in a timely manner, including documents that you may create.

In future semesters, follow the guidance for making sure your materials and technologies are accessible to all students at the outset of your course.

Learn more about providing accessible materials to postsecondary students with disabilities

Are there legal issues that are important to know about in relation to AEM in higher ed?

Two disability civil rights laws apply to the provision of AEM and accessible technologies in postsecondary education. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) prohibits the discrimination of individuals with disabilities under any program receiving federal financial assistance. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires both public and private colleges and universities to provide equal access to postsecondary education for students with disabilities.

These civil rights mandates require postsecondary institutions to provide equitable access to all learning materials and activities, digital or otherwise. This extends to textbooks, courseware, learning management systems, instructional software programs—in short, any and all curriculum resources required for use in academic programs. This is demonstrated by a 2010 Office for Civil Rights joint letter to all United States college and university presidents.

Learn more about the legal issues related to AEM in postsecondary education

Where can I find out about AEM contacts and resources in my state?

Visit AEM State Contacts and SEA Information to find information about what’s happening in your state concerning AEM issues.

How can I stay connected to the AEM Center?

Visit the AEM Center website often. We're always updating and adding resources, so you're sure to find something new. Attend AEM Center Events. Sign up to receive the AEM Connector e-newsletter. Join us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube. You can also contact the AEM Center staff via email at We are here to help you.

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

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

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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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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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Section 504

Prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. Written 504 plan used to guide provision of instructional services.

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