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AEM for SEAs & LEAs


Accessible educational materials (AEM) are designed or converted in a way that makes them usable across the widest range of student variability regardless of media type (e.g., print, digital, graphic, audio, or video). In this Quick Start you will find answers to questions that frequently arise for State and Local Education Agencies (SEAs/LEAs) about the provision of services related to AEM as well as links to additional AEM Center resources.

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

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Local Education Agency (LEA)

Agency legally authorized to provide administrative control or direction of publically funded schools.

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Quick Start for SEAs & LEAs: Questions


Quick Start for SEAs & LEAs: Answers

What are accessible educational materials or AEM?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (see 34 CFR § 300.172: Access to Instructional Materials) specifically focuses on specialized formats of print instructional materials.  Given that the  language in the statute applies only to printed materials, OSEP has put forth the term “accessible educational materials” to address the need to help SEAs and LEAs understand that accessibility is not limited to specialized formats of printed materials but also includes accessibility features in digital materials. Accessible educational materials (AEM) as defined by OSEP are print- and technology-based educational materials including print and electronic textbooks and related core materials that are required by SEAs and LEAs for use by all students, produced or rendered in accessible media, written and published primarily for use in early learning programs, elementary, or secondary schools to support teaching and learning (Footnote 10, Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 90 / Friday, May 9, 2014 / Notices, page 26728). For more information about specialized formats, see the Specialized Formats section of our Selection of AEM FAQ.

Learn the basics about AEM

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Federal law governing rights of children with disabilities to receive free and appropriate public education in least restrictive environment.

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

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What legal issues are important to know about in relation to AEM?

IDEA requires that states and districts ensure timely provision of AIM to elementary and secondary students with disabilities who need these materials. This means that SEAs and LEAs must take reasonable steps to provide AEM to eligible students with disabilities without delay, typically at the same time as other students receive educational materials. For students who do not receive special education services under IDEA, the disability civil rights laws (Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act) may require the provision of AEM. There are also copyright issues that may impact the sources that can be used to acquire AEM for students.

Learn more about the legal issues related to AEM

Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)

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

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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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What does NIMAS have to do with AIM?

NIMAS stands for the "National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard." It is a technical standard used by publishers to produce electronic source files that can be used to create student-ready specialized formats (braille, large print, audio or digital text) for students with print disabilities.  Although not the only source of AEM, NIMAS compliant files that are housed in the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) provide a robust way for SEAs and LEAs to provide accessible materials in a timely manner to students with disabilities who are served under IDEA and meet copyright criteria.

Learn more about NIMAS

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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Digital Text

Published material retrieved and read via a computer.

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Print Disability

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

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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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Our agency is developing a set of coordinated procedures related to the provision of AEM.  What can we use as a guide?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires SEAs and LEAs to ensure the provision of accessible instructional materials (AIM) in a timely manner to students with print disabilities who require them. The Quality Indicators for the Provision of AIM describes the critical attributes of a comprehensive set of supports, guidelines, policies, and practices that are aligned across agencies to address this requirement. These indicators, along with the critical components and actions for local agencies can help with analysis of current status and support planning for growth at all organizational levels.

What process can be used to facilitate teams in making decisions about AEM for a student?

The AEM Navigator is an interactive tool designed to help families and educators work through the AEM decision-making process for an individual student. Basically, there are four major decision points: determination of need, selection of specialized formats, acquisition of materials, and determination of supports for effective use. The AEM Navigator provides an overview of the decision options, a robust set of frequently asked questions, AEM Center resources, and other references and resources which are specifically related to the decision point.  The AEM Navigator is available in both online and print versions. The AIM Explorer is a simulation tool where students can try out features found in reading software (e.g., magnification, text and background colors, layout options, text-to-speech settings) so they can decide what settings work best for them as they read text. Both tools can be invaluable to families and educators as they grapple with important decisions regarding the appropriate and timely provision and use of AEM.

Text-to-Speech (TTS)

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

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Once the decision-making team has determined that a student needs AEM, where can we get the materials?

There are a variety of sources for acquiring AEM; however, not all students are eligible to receive materials from each of the different sources. Keep in mind that many students may need more than one specialized format and may need materials from more than one source.

Learn more about the five basic sources of AEM

What actions can our agency take to ensure that educational materials being purchased can be used by all students?

IDEA includes important provisions related to the purchase of print instructional materials.  Educational agencies comply with these requirements by including appropriate language in contracts and purchase orders that requires publishers to submit NIMAS-conformant files to the NIMAC, or provide assurances that they have already done so. Agencies may also purchase educational materials in accessible formats directly from the publisher.

As SEAs and LEAs increasingly include digital technology and online learning materials in their purchases of educational media, there are additional actions they can take to ensure that materials are accessible at the time of purchase. Text, images, audio, and video all need to be accessible.  There is a common misconception that if content is digital, it is automatically accessible. This, however, is not always the case. Some digital materials pose major accessibility challenges, and it is difficult or impossible to retrofit accessibility.  It is important that both the digital content and the technology used to deliver the content are accessible. Sample purchase order and contract language for the purchase of accessible print and accessible digital materials is also available.

NIMAS-conformant files

XML files valid to the NIMAS technical specification used to create accessible specialized formats of print-based instructional materials.

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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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What supports may be needed for students to use AEM effectively?

Educators and families play a critical role in helping students succeed in using AEM.  In order for a student to effectively use accessible learning materials for educational participation and achievement, it is likely that additional supports and services will be needed for teaching and learning.  Supports typically fall into the following categories:

  • Technology to deliver the content
  • Training for the student, educators, and family
  • Instructional strategies
  • Support services
  • Accommodations and/or modifications

Learn more about supporting effective use of AEM

What does assistive technology have to do with AEM?

Other than embossed braille and large print (which is hard copy by definition), specialized formats require technology to deliver accessible content to the student. The delivery technology, whether an item that is commonly used by others or something different, falls under the definition of Assistive Technology (AT) for students served under IDEA.  When a student needs AT devices and/or services to access the curriculum, educational agencies are required to provide them. IDEA defines an AT device as “any item, piece of equipment, or product whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with disabilities.”  An AT service is defined as any service that assists a student in the selection, acquisition, or use of an AT device. AT services include, for example, training or technical assistance for the student, family, or education professionals.

What resources are available on the AEM Center website to support educational agencies in providing learning opportunities and technical assistance about AEM?

The AEM Center offers interactive learning opportunities and resources for a variety of AEM-related topics in several formats, including webinars, videos, online materials and print—all available on the AEM Center web site. The differences between the selection, acquisition, and use of "typical" printed text and specialized formats are significant. When specialized formats are introduced educators, learners and families have many adjustments to make. It is likely that they will need to develop decision-making skills and also have to gain proficiency with new or unfamiliar technology, as well as using different strategies, and supports to teach and learn. The AEM Center web site is rich in resources that are available to assist in the acquisition of knowledge and skills needed.

Learn more about supports for learning opportunities

Where can we learn more about AEM practices and resources in each state?

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

What AEM resources are available to share with educators and families?

Educators, families, and students often have many questions about AEM and whether the student might need accessible materials.  It is important that educators and families understand the issues related to AEM and the role that AEM might play in students’ participation in the curriculum and academic achievement.  Educators and parents as members of the child’s decision-making team will decide together about need, selection, acquisition and use of AEM.  The AEM Center has a number of resources that address some of the questions that they may have.

Learn more about resources for educators and families

How can I become more involved in AEM issues?

Check out the PALM Initiative (Purchase Accessible Learning Materials) to find out about an important initiative that encourages school systems to purchase digital learning materials that are designed to be accessible from the outset. Unfortunately, not all digital materials are designed and developed with features that make them automatically accessible to all students. Promoting accessibility in digital materials is becoming more and more important as school systems begin to move away from traditional print-based text. Attend AEM Center Events. Visit the AEM Center website often. We're always updating and adding resources, so you're sure to find something new. Sign up to receive the AEM Connector e-newsletter. You can also contact the AEM Center staff via email at