Skip to main content

Who Needs AEM and Accessible Technologies?


The Importance of Accessible Materials in Higher Education

Accessible educational materials and technologies are essential for learning by students with a range of disabilities. At the same time, materials and technologies designed to be accessible for people with disabilities include options that increase flexibility and make them more usable for everyone. Knowing who requires and who may benefit from AEM is a matter of understanding the functional abilities required to use printed materials, digital materials, and technologies.

Printed textbooks and instructional materials may not effectively provide access to the curriculum for many learners. In addition to students with identified disabilities, print can be a barrier for general education students, such as those whose decoding abilities are considerably below grade level. Students with visual impairments may not be able to see the material; students with physical disabilities may not be able to hold a book or turn its pages; students with learning disabilities, as well as general education students with limited decoding abilities, may have difficulty making meaning from printed text. These and other barriers presented by printed materials may be addressed by providing the identical information in one or more specialized formats. More information about providing specialized formats for students who need them is at Access to Printed Materials.

Digital materials and technologies may present barriers to learners with a wide range of disabilities. Consider the functional abilities required to interact with media-rich content delivered by devices and software programs, such as computers, tablets, learning management systems and video players. Students with low vision may not be able to see the text, graphics, menus, navigational tools or video. Physical disabilities may interfere with students’ abilities to use standard input and navigational methods, such as the keyboard, mouse or trackpad on computers or touchscreens on tablets. Students with hearing loss may not benefit from audio-only output, including alerts, cues, narration, or video. And students with learning disabilities and communication needs may need options for reading formats, the rate at which audio is played, or the appearance and features of a program.

Fortunately, these access barriers may be prevented when digital materials and technologies are designed from the start to be accessible. In some cases, access features are built into the design of products and media, giving all learners the option to use them. Examples include:

  • Text that can be read aloud by text-to-speech or recorded human speech for learners who may have low vision, reading disabilities, or fatigue easily
  • Alt text added to graphics on web pages and digital documents to describe visuals for learners who may be blind
  • Closed captions on video for learners who may be deaf or hard of hearing
  • Audio descriptions on video for learners who may not be able to see onscreen actions due to low vision or blindness
  • Voice control that supports opening and closing programs, dictating documents, or navigating the web by learners who may not be able to use a keyboard or mouse due to a physical disability

In some cases, technologies are designed to be used with assistive technology, making them accessible to learners who use alternatives to the keyboard, mouse and trackpad on computers, or touchscreens on tablets. Examples of alternative access methods include refreshable braille displays that may be used by learners with low vision or speech recognition that may be used by learners with physical disabilities.

Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)

Print- and technology-based educational materials designed to be usable across the widest range of individual variability.

View in glossary


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

View in glossary

LMS (Learning Management System)

Software application or system that provides educational programs and their components.

View in glossary


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

View in glossary

Text-to-Speech (TTS)

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

View in glossary

Alt Tag (alternative text)

Brief description of a single image designed to be read by a screenreader as an alternative to the image.

View in glossary

Video Description

Inclusion of verbal or auditory descriptions of on-screen visuals intended to describe important details not contained from main audio output.

View in glossary

Refreshable Braille

Provided by an electronic device display or terminal by raising dots or pins through holes in a flat surface, and displaying 40 to 80 braille cells at one time.

View in glossary