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AEM and the Digital Shift


Simply Said: Understanding Accessibility in Digital Learning Materials

As technology has evolved, so have accessible educational materials (AEM). Today, AEM encompasses both print and tech-based materials such as websites, ebooks, podcasts, and videos. Regardless of the format, educational materials are accessible when they have been designed or enhanced in a way that makes them usable to the greatest range of learner variability. For more information about this definitiion of AEM, see What are AEM and Accessible Technologies?

A fully accessible experience also requires that the tools and systems used to deliver AEM are accessible. The two sides of the accessibility coin need to work in concert for learners to enjoy the level of access they need to make progress in the learning experience. 


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

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

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AEM from Print

Print-based educational materials are those that have been converted into specialized formats. The four specialized formats for print materials are braille, large print, audio and digital text. The AEM Center has developed decision-making tools to guide you in the determination of need, selection, acquisition and use of print-based educational materials:

  • AEM Navigator: facilitates the decision-making process for specialized formats by collecting all decisions and supporting information entered by a team and creating a summary that can be printed or saved to a local computer.
  • AEM Guide to AMPs: in-depth information about Accessible Media Producers (AMPs), entities that are authorized to produce materials in specialized formats (braille, large print, audio and digital text) for students who are dually qualified (meet copyright criteria and are served under IDEA).

While these resources were developed with print in mind, the decision-making process (determination of need, selection, procurement, and use) can be helpful for digital materials as well. 

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

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Digital Text

Published material retrieved and read via a computer.

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Accessible Media Producers (AMPs)

Produced specialized formats of instructional materials for use by blind or other persons with print disabilities.

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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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AEM Born Digital

In addition to print-based textbooks and other related printed core materials, educators and instructors can now use websites, ebooks, podcasts, and videos as tech-based resources to support learning. These are all media-rich digital sources of content that can incorporate not just text, but graphics, audio and video. With a rich palette to choose from, educators and instructors can not only present information in a visually appealing and engaging way, they can also provide the options diverse learners need to process information in the way that works best for each of them.  The following resources will guide you through the procurement and use of high quality digital accessible educational materials:

  • Acquisition of AEM: learn about best practices for buying accessible, and the top questions to ask publishers when considering accessibility for procurement. 
  • Use of AEM:  information about the reading tools and strategies (such as audio-supported reading) that can help learners get the most benefit from high quality digital accessible educational materials. 


Electronic version of a book.

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Audio-Supported Reading (ASR)

Technique used to support the rapid reading of digital text by displaying portions of text with synthesized speech.

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AEM Born Accessible

While digital materials tend to be more flexible than printed ones, if accessibility is not considered from the start, these materials can present many of the same barriers as their print-based counterparts. To put it another way, born digital does not necessarily mean born accessible. 

Retrofitting digital resources to make them accessible is difficult or next to impossible. For this reason, it is important that accessibility be considered from the start when digital materials are developed. The following AEM Center resources will help you develop more accessible digital educational materials:

Accessibility Standards

Current or revised electronic and information technology accessibility standards developed under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

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