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FAQ: Considering the Full Learning Context

Checkpoint 1 of selecting accessible formats is to consider the full learning context of the learner who needs them. Thinking about the studentenvironments, and tasks helps the team understand how materials are used across relevant contexts. With this comprehensive understanding, the team decides which accessible format, or combination of formats, will work for the student under various circumstances.

In this FAQ, we address questions related to each in turn:

  • Student
  • Environment
  • Tasks

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About the Student

What aspects of a student's current skills should the team consider?

  • Vision and visual skills: Students who are blind or visually impaired who cannot read text-based materials will need alternative ways to access educational materials. Additionally, some students who are not visually impaired as defined by IDEA may have visual field or visual tracking deficits which affect their ability to use printed text. 
  • Reading skills: Students with reading disabilities, such as dyslexia, experience barriers to reading text-based materials without supports or alternative means for accessing the content.
  • Motor skills and physical stamina: A student's ability to hold books and turn pages should be considered, as well as strength and physical stamina to read for long periods of time.
  • Expressive and receptive language skills: A student's language skills affect his/her ability to understand text-based materials and should be considered.
  • Listening skills: A student's ability to listen and remember what is heard through listening should be considered. Formal and informal tests of listening comprehension, auditory memory, and other listening skills may be used.
  • English skills: Considerations for a student with a disability who is learning English include the extent to which the student comprehends information through varied formats and media.
  • Memory: A student's short-term and long-term memory abilities should be considered by the team. 

What aspects of a student's current performance should the team consider?

In reviewing information about a student, the team should review past student performance and address questions such as "What aspects of the student's performance will change as a result of the use of accessible formats in the curriculum?" All areas of the curriculum should be considered. For example, the team may want the student to access information more quickly, to understand the information with more accuracy, or to gain information more independently.

What aspects of a student's previous experience should the team consider?

If the student has a history of using one or more accessible formats, performance data related to that use can help the team decide if the same or different formats are needed. Additionally, the student's background knowledge of the content should be considered. If the content is complex or entirely new to the student, it may present multiple learning challenges.

What aspects of the student's preferences should the team consider?

Students should always be consulted about their preferences. Whenever feasible, the team selects formats that the student prefers. In some cases, students should be required to try a new format for an extended trial period in order to determine whether it has benefits that the preferred format does not offer. Students often need to have experience with a variety of accessible formats before they can make an informed decision about the one(s) they most prefer.

Does the age of a student impact the format(s) that the team should consider? At what age can a child start using talking books?

Children who are blind, visually impaired, and/or have physical disabilities develop an interest in reading the same way all children do. Rich experiences and explorations of a variety of reading materials are essential to early literacy development. There is no set minimum age at which children should begin using accessible formats.

What specific aspects of a student's ability to listen should be assessed when considering accessible formats?

A listening assessment may include factors such as the student's level of understanding and comprehension when text is read aloud, the student's ability to repeat specific words or phrases heard, and the length of time the student can listen with understanding.

About the Environments

How does the way that instruction is delivered in various environments impact the selection of accessible format(s) for a student?

The team considers the following variables:

  • Materials that will be needed in more than one environment (e.g., home, school, community, multiple classes)
  • Portability and flexibility of various formats and the technology the student will need to access them
  • Types of required reading tasks (e.g., independent and shared reading in various environments at school, reading at home, reading for community activities)
  • Types of visual representations in the content (e.g., maps, charts, diagrams, and math notation)

What aspects of the environments in which accessible formats will be used should the team consider?

The team considers the following variables:

  • Environments where the student will need access to the curricular content (e.g., school, home, or community-based educational programs or apprenticeships)
  • Lighting in the environment
  • Noise in the environment
  • Availability of needed technology and power sources

About the Tasks

What aspects of the tasks for which accessible formats will be used should the team consider?

The team considers the following variables:

  • Nature of the task
  • Complexity of the task
  • Length of the task
  • Type of response expected (e.g., annotation, multiple choice, fill in the blank, written response)

What aspects of the educational materials for which accessible formats will be used should the team consider?

The team considers the following variables:

  • Length and complexity
  • Genre (e.g., fiction or nonfiction, math, science)
  • Visual representations (e.g., photos, charts, or other graphics)
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