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Selection of AEM FAQ


The following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) provide detailed information related to the process of selecting accessible educational materials to meet the needs of a student. For more information about other steps of the decision-making process, please visit the related pages within Navigating AEM. Additionally, the AEM Navigator is an online process facilitator which contains in-depth information, scaffolded supports, and extensive resources to guide the decision-making process.

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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Print Materials

Instructional Context

Specialized Formats Needed


Large Print


Digital Text

Match Formats to Materials

Answers: Print Materials

After a decision-making team has determined that their student needs specialized formats of print-based instructional materials, the team gathers information about the print instructional materials used across the curriculum in which the student will participate and makes a list.

What are print instructional materials?

IDEA defines "print instructional materials" as printed "textbooks and related printed core materials that are written and published primarily for use in elementary school and secondary school instruction and are required by a state education agency or local education agency for use by students in a classroom" (IDEA [674(e)(3)(C)]).

What is meant by the term "related printed core materials"?

As stated above, these materials are "written and published primarily for use in elementary and secondary school instruction and are required by a sate education agency or local education agency for use by students in a classroom" (IDEA [674(e)(3)(C)]). They are generally thought to be materials that are published and packaged as accompaniments to a textbook (e.g., workbooks; reproducible supplementary materials) and included in a contract with a publisher.

What are some examples of print instructional materials that might be listed in this section?

Textbooks and related printed core materials that are used in each of the student's classes should be listed by title and publisher. It is also very helpful to have the ISBN, as that will be needed to search for the material in the format(s) needed by the student.

What would not be considered a textbook or related printed core instructional material?

Books and other materials published for public consumption such as trade books, magazines, and newspapers are not considered instructional materials under the definition included in IDEA. For example, The Red Badge of Courage may be required reading in a literature class, but the book was not written and published primarily for use in elementary and secondary instruction. There is, however, an exception. If an educational publisher included The Red Badge of Courage in a literature series that was written and published primarily for use in secondary instruction, then that series would meet the criteria for "textbook and related printed core materials."

Are news magazines and other periodicals which are produced by a publisher for elementary and secondary education and required by an SEA or LEA for use in a classroom considered related printed core instructional materials?

Yes, if, as part of the curriculum, the state education agency (SEA) or local education agency (LEA) requires the use of such material(s) which are published primarily for use in elementary and secondary school instruction, they would be considered part of related printed core instructional materials.

If a school district's foreign language classes use literature and other works published in other countries as a part of the core curriculum, are these works considered related printed core instructional materials? Does U. S. copyright law apply to these works?

U. S. copyright law applies to works published in another country and used as part of the curriculum. However, unless these works are published primarily for use in education, they would not fall under the definition of related core print instructional materials. While it would be an effective practice to provide such materials to the student, there is no requirement to do so in IDEA.

SEAs and LEAs are increasingly requiring digital materials for use in early learning programs, elementary and secondary schools to support learning. Must digital and online resources for students be provided in accessible formats?

The mandate in IDEA to provide textbooks and related core instructional materials in specialized formats only applies to materials which have a print-based source and are provided in the form of print on paper.  However, two federal civil rights acts, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Tittle II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability and speak to the obligation of public schools to provide accessible educational materials to students with disabilities who need them.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity that receives financial assistance from any federal agency.  This means recipients of federal financial assistance must provide individuals with disabilities an opportunity to participate in and benefit from aids, benefits and services that are equal to and as effective as that provided to individuals without disabilities.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to public entities (regardless of whether they receive federal funding) and prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in a manner similar to Section 504. Title II also requires that communication with individuals with disabilities is as effective as that with individuals without disabilities. OCR has interpreted the term “communication” to include but not be limited to verbal presentations, the printed text of a book and the resources of the Internet.

Under the recent Department of Education Priority, Educational Technology, Media, and Materials for Individuals with Disabilities—National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning, the definition of educational materials was expanded to include both print and digital learning materials.

Footnote 10, Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 90 / Friday, May 9, 2014 / Notices, page 26728, indicates that "accessible educational materials" means print- and technology-based educational materials, including printed 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 7, Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 90 / Friday, May 9, 2014 / Notices, page 26727, indicates that "technology" means any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem for which the principal function is the creation, conversion, duplication, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, reception, or broadcast of data or information. It includes, but is not limited to, electronic content; telecommunication products; computers and ancillary equipment; software; information kiosks; transaction machines; videos; information technology services; and multifunction office machines that copy, scan, and fax documents.

If otherwise qualified students attend post-secondary classes at a community college or university as a part of their K–12 program, (e.g., foreign languages, vocational classes, advanced English or writing courses) what is the school district's responsibility to provide AEM for these curricula?

State educational agencies (SEAs) and local educational agencies (LEAs) have the responsibility under IDEA [612(a)(23) and 613(a)(6)] (C.F.R. 300.172 and 300.210) to provide specialized formats of print instructional materials to students served under the Act who need them in a timely manner. This responsibility would extend to all courses which the SEA and LEA offer for elementary school or secondary school credit, even if they are provided by another entity through a contract or other arrangement. The SEA or LEA could, as a part of its contract with the other entity, require that entity to provide specialized formats of materials to students who need them.

Some publishers provide CDs with their textbooks. Are these CDs accessible? Not all CDs are accessible; in fact, most CDs provided by publishers are locked and contain non-editable PDF files that are not accessible. It should be noted that the requirement to provide specialized formats to students with print disabilities included in IDEA only applies to printed materials.

Can a CD that comes with a textbook for students be copied? What if there is one CD provided for the teacher and there are multiple students with print disabilities who need the text in a digital format?

U. S. copyright law applies to these materials. They cannot be freely reproduced. Teams should refer to the licensing agreement between the school district and the publisher to determine whether or not CDs can be copied. They can also request permission to copy directly from the publisher.

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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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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Local Education Agency (LEA)

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

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International Standard Book Number (ISBN)

Unique book identifier used to identify particular book title, edition, publisher, and geographic group of origin.

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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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Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

Software scans images and translates content into live text.

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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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PDF (Portable Document Format)

Universal computer file type used to exchange and view documents on any computer with Adobe Acrobat or Foxit Reader software installed.

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Print Disability

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

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Answers: Instructional Context

In order to decide which specialized formats are needed, a team considers a student's skills, needs, and preferences; the environments in which the student will be working; and the tasks for which specialized formats will be needed. Thinking about the student, environments, and tasks helps the team understand how materials are used so that the team can make a good decision about which specialized formats, or combination thereof (braille, large print, audio, and digital text) will work for the student.

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

Some of the common student skills that relate to a student's need for specialized formats include—

  • Cognitive skills: Since specialized formats are made up of exactly the same content as traditional print instructional materials presented in different ways, it is important to revisit a student's ability to understand the content and gain information from presentation of the content in a specialized format. If the information is too dense, modified content or alternative materials may be needed.
  • Vision and visual skills: Students who are blind or visually impaired who cannot read standard print materials will need alternative ways to access instructional materials such as via braille or large print. 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. When students have visual tracking deficits, their team may institute a trial period with one or more specialized formats to determine an appropriate format.
  • Motor skills and physical stamina: A student's ability to hold textbooks and turn pages will impact the need for AEM. Additionally, limited strength and physical stamina may indicate the need for AEM.
  • Expressive and receptive language skills: A student's language skills affect his/her ability to understand print materials.
  • Listening ability: A student's ability to listen and remember what is heard will have an impact on the format(s) that their team selects. Formal and informal tests of listening comprehension, auditory memory, and other listening skills may be used to help the team determine the appropriate specialized format(s) a student might need.
  • English language learners: Students with disabilities who are also English language learners (ELL) may have difficulty listening to auditory text and may also need supported text as a specialized format.
  • Memory: A student's short-term and long-term memory abilities should be considered when choosing specialized format(s).

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 specialized formats in this course of study?" There are a variety of possible responses to this question. 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 previously has used specialized formats, performance data that relates to the previous use would help the team decide if the same or different formats are needed.

Additionally the student's familiarity with the content should be considered. If the content is complex or entirely new to the student, it may present multiple learning challenges. This should be addressed by the team and may have an impact on the selection of the specific specialized format(s) that the student will use.

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

Students should always be consulted about their preferences for a particular specialized format. Whenever feasible, the team selects formats that the student prefers. However, 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 specialized formats before they can make an educated decision about the one they prefer.

What aspects of the student's performance during trials should the team consider?

Teams can evaluate a student's performance during trial periods and instruction in the use of a specialized format. Information collected during these times can help a team decide which specialized formats are most effective for student use in a particular reading task. Data that might be collected during instruction in the use of a format or during trial periods might include the following: the amount of time it takes the student to use each format option and the student's level of independence in the use of each format.

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 physically impaired develop an interest in reading the same way nondisabled children do through experience and exploration of the material. There is no set minimum age at which a child should begin to use a specialized format. There are many variables which impact the team's decision about which format(s) a student should use, including the student's developmental level, interest in the topic, ability to understand the material, as well as skills and abilities.

What specific aspects of a student's ability to listen should be assessed when considering specialized 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.

How does the way that instruction is delivered effect the selection of the specialized format(s) that a student will use?

When considering the instructional context in which specialized formats will be used, the team considers issues such as the following:

  • Content may be needed in more than one environment (e.g., home, school, community, two classes)
  • Portability and flexibility of format and needed technology
  • Types of required reading tasks (e.g., independent reading during class, shared reading in class, reading outside of class)
  • Types of visual representations in the content such as maps, charts, diagrams, or math equations

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

When considering the environments in which the specialized formats will be used, the team considers questions such as the following:

  • Environments where the student will need access to this curricular content (e.g., school, home, or community-based educational programs or apprenticeships)
  • Lighting in the environment which affects the student's ability to see print
  • Noise in the environment that affects the student's ability to hear auditory information
  • Availability of needed technology and power sources

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

When considering the tasks for which the specialized formats will be used, the team considers issues such as the following:

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

What aspects of the instructional materials for which specialized formats will be used should the team consider?

When considering the instructional materials for which the specialized formats will be used, the team considers questions about the student's use of instructional materials such as the following:

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

What if the team does not have the answers to some of the questions about a student?

At any point in the consideration of a student's need for AEM, the team may discover that more information is needed to make a decision. In some cases, it may be necessary for the team to collect this information before making a decision about one or more formats that will be used for a particular task. This activity may involve strategies such as collecting more specific information from general education teachers, implementing additional trial periods with a particular technology application, or recruiting the assistance of a person knowledgeable about the technology who is not normally a team member.


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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Answers: Specialized Formats Needed

Next, the team determines which specialized format(s) will be most useful to the student. They select the format(s) needed for this student based on matching the student's needs and the instructional context needs with the features that can be manipulated in the specialized format(s). More than one may be needed and selected.

What is braille?

Braille is a tactile system of reading and writing made up of raised dot patterns for letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. This format is used almost exclusively by people with visual impairments. Braille may be either embossed (a permanent printed document) or refreshable (electronically generated and accessed via a braille display device).

What is large print?

Large print is generally defined as print that is larger than the print sizes commonly used by the general population (8 to 12 points in size). Some use a guideline for defining large print as 18 point or larger. A document rendered in large print format usually has more white space and may or may not look like the original document but contains the same information. Large print may be printed on pages that are the same size as a standard textbook page or on pages of a larger size.

What is audio?

Audio formats render content as speech to which a student listens. Audio formats include recorded human voice and synthesized electronic speech.

What is digital text?

Digital text is an electronic format that can be delivered via a computer or another device.Digital text is malleable and can be easily transformed in many different ways depending upon student needs and the technology being used to display the content. To accommodate the needs and preferences of a user, various features of the technology which control how the content is presented can be manipulated such as size, fonts, colors, contrast, highlighting, and text-to-speech, etc. The digital text format may contain both audio and visual output depending upon the way the content is developed and the technology that is being used.

What is meant by the term output as it applies to the selection of specialized formats?

Output means the way that materials are presented to the user. For example, a NIMAS source file can be converted to several different types of output such as hard copy braille, refreshable braille, large print, audio materials that have only sound, or digital text that can be manipulated to provide simultaneous text and speech, enlarged text, and other options depending upon the technology being used.

What is meant by the term navigation as it applies to the selection of specialized formats?

Navigation means the ability to move about in the content and locate specific places such as by the table of contents, page number, unit, chapter, or section within the instructional materials.

Text-to-Speech (TTS)

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

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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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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.

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Answers: Braille

What is braille and how do people read braille?

Braille is an tactile reading system for people who are unable to effectively and efficiently read and write print due to a visual impairment. Braille is commonly described as a system of touch reading and writing for people who are blind. Braille uses embossed or raised dots arranged in a six dot cell to represent print characters. A multitude of different characters can be systematically formed in the six dot cell to create letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and combinations of letters and words called contractions. Braille is considered a code rather than a language; any language can be conveyed in braille.

The process of learning to read in braille is similar to learning to read and write print, yet people use the fingers of both hands to read from left to write over a line of braille using very little pressure with their fingers to touch the braille dots. Tactile perception and discrimination skills are important for efficient braille reading. So, too, are smooth, coordinated hand tracking motions.

Why would decision-makers consider the braille format for a student?

When braille provides a student with a visual impairment with the best means to develop literacy skills in order to access information, communicate efficiently and independently, and participate in all educational activities, then their IEP team chooses braille as the student's primary learning medium. This decision is based on a systematic and objective evaluation process.

This evaluation process includes information from a variety of sources, such as a clinical low vision evaluation, a functional vision assessment, a learning media assessment, and the student's progress in the educational program. The IEP team analyzes and considers the information in a variety of contexts, including the student's current and future needs.

What characteristics of the braille format should decision-makers think about when considering this format for a student?

Once an IEP team determines that braille is the primary learning medium for a student, the team needs to consider all aspects of providing access to textbooks and other instructional materials. For example, with a beginning braille reader it must be determined if the student will initially learn braille in an uncontracted form (letter-by-letter representation) or in contracted form (use of special characters to make words shorter). The IEP team must also take into account changes in the braille code itself.

On January 4, 2016, the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) adopted Unified English Briaille (UEB) as the official braille code for the US. Similar to English Braille, American Edition (EBAE), UEB offers significant advantages over the long standing traditional EBAE code, among which are more consistency, less ambiguity, and fewer exceptions to braille rules. Expectations are that the adoption of UEB will make braille easier to produce and may reduce some of the barriers people encounter while learning braille. Accordingly, IEP teams will want to keep pace with the national transition from EBAE to UEB braille code, particularly when making decision about the teaching and learning of mathematics and other content of a technical nature.

Traditionally students accessed math in Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation. With the adoption of a Unified English Braille Code (UEB) in which mathematical and scientific notation can also be accommodated without reference to Nemeth Code, many states in the US will soon be transitioning to producing technical material exclusively in UEB. In UEB, literary, mathematics, and computer science text elements can all be represented within a single code. Unlike EBAE, the technical code for math and science is part of the UEB and is appropriate for use in all grade levels.  Historically in the US, braille users have had to learn a separate braille code for math and science notation (Nemeth Code) in addition to the standard EBAE. This will no longer be necessary with UEB adoption but BANA has recommended that the separate states be permitted to retain Nemeth Code for teaching and learning at the discretion of IEP team. BANA acknowledges that there are many pros and cons over the retention or suspension of Nemeth Code. However, potential confusion over the blending of codes (code switching) in the production of technical material has been addressed by BANA through guidance on the placement of braille indicators where Nemeth is inserted within UEB text.

Beyond, UEB and Nemeth Code, students progressing in the curriculum will need to learn about other braille codes such as the music code and foreign language codes that are not represented in UEB. The Braille Authority of North America's web site is a resource that promotes literacy for tactile readers through standardization of braille and/or tactile graphics.

Students also need to develop proficiency in interpreting tactile graphics in order to understand visual illustrations used in teaching and learning activities. Tactile graphics are images, such as maps, charts, and graphs that are designed to be interpreted by touch. The Tactile Graphics web site provides extensive resource information on the design and production of braille graphics.

With the recent adoption of the Unified Braille Code in the US,  conventions for inserting and appending braille labels will need to be updated to include use of UEB. Currently, BANA offers Guidellines and Standards for Tactile Graphics, 2010, which is now under revision to address UEB conventions.

What output features of the braille format are important?

Students usually begin reading embossed braille. This is commonly referred to as "paper braille" (also "hard copy braille") versus "refreshable braille." Refreshable braille is an electronic or digital braille output. As students become proficient in reading textbooks and other materials in paper braille, refreshable braille is frequently included as another effective way to read braille.

Refreshable braille displays represent what is visually displayed on a computer screen one line at a time. Braille output is created with small plastic pins in the shape of a typical braille cell that move up and down from a flat surface to display the braille characters. Refreshable braille displays can be attached to computers, tablets and smartphones. They are also integrated with dedicated note taking devices and portable multi-function computers.

What characteristics of the braille format influence which outputs are selected?

Both paper and refreshable braille formats have benefits to students. Paper braille is an excellent format for representing graphic materials, math content, and assisting in the student's comprehension of spatial concepts. Refreshable braille provides the student with increased access to information and independence in a variety of environments such as school, home, work, and community because of greater flexibility and portability. Students usually learn to choose a preferred braille format depending on the literacy task and the environment. For example, a student may prefer a geography textbook in hard copy embossed braille to access maps and related tactile graphics, but prefer reading literature using a refreshable braille format.

Another feature of refreshable braille formats that may influence student choice is the additional output of speech available in electronic formats. Speech access can work in combination with refreshable braille access to increase a student's efficiency. For example, students may increase their reading rate and comprehension through the combined outputs of refreshable braille and speech.

How does the braille format lend itself to use in multiple environments and for multiple tasks?

It is important to consider braille formats in the context of multiple purposes in order to provide access to a variety of tasks. For example, both paper and refreshable braille can be used for tasks such as reading books and using additional braille codes. With a portable electronic braille device, a student can easily use braille in multiple environments such as school, home, and community events to engage in additional tasks such as word processing, calculating, web browsing, using email, and checking spelling.

How do people who use braille communicate with others who do not read braille?

Because braille is not widely known or used by the general population, communication between people who use braille and people who use print for literacy tasks needs special consideration when braille is selected as a student's primary learning medium. To facilitate this communication, braille formats which contribute to independent communication and access are important to consider, such as the use of electronic braille tools with refreshable braille access. Features of electronic braille tools that integrate and interface with other access devices and "mainstream" devices can give print readers access to braille and braille readers access to print.

Individual Education Program (IEP)

Written plan individually developed for students identified as having a disability under IDEA.

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Braille Authority of North America (BANA)

Promotes and facilitates the uses, teaching, and production of Braille.

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Nemeth Braille Code

Specialized braille code used for conveying mathematical and scientific notation.

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Tactile Graphics

Images designed to be touched rather than seen.

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BRF (Digital Braille)

File type using Grade II Braille. May also be used with common Braille devices or printers.

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Answers: Large Print

What is important to understand about this specialized format and how people use large print?

Large print can be an effective reading medium for students with low vision, who are unable to use typical print size for efficient reading, to access textbooks and other instructional materials. Large print is generally defined as print that is larger than the print sizes commonly used by the general population, which is 8 to12 points in size. Some use a guideline for defining large print as 18 point or larger.

It is important to know that educational practice and the use of large print is affected by many factors. Conditions such as state policy, local educational practices, use of technology, availability of medical evaluations, availability of services, and resources affect how a student with low vision will access the general education curriculum.

It is also important to understand that many students who have low vision use typical print formats with greater efficiency than large print. Medical conditions that cause low vision in children are varied and affect how a person uses vision in many different ways. The evaluation process is essential to assist an IEP team in making appropriate decisions about print media for students with low vision.

Why would decision-makers consider the large print format for a student?

For a student with low vision who uses print for reading and writing, the IEP team considers the use of large print through an evaluation process to determine the print media the student will use to develop literacy skills. This objective evaluation process (which is similar to the process used to determine the use of braille) includes information from a variety of sources, such as a clinical low vision evaluation, a functional vision assessment, and a learning media assessment emphasizing print media and efficient reading skills. A variety of factors are included in the decision-making process such as eye condition, type of vision loss, reading speed, comprehension, print size, and individual student goals.

When large print will provide the student with the best means to develop literacy skills and to access a variety of print materials, then the IEP team chooses large print as the student's learning medium. It may be the student's primary or secondary learning medium depending on task and context. For example, large print may be most appropriate for a print textbook, but not necessary for access to electronic text where many print features can be adjusted and customized to student preferences.

The research regarding print characteristics affecting reading speed and reading efficiency for people with low vision is ongoing. The professional literature suggests that in addition to print size, factors such as type of vision loss, visual skills, print layout, cognitive demands, and processing demands influence reading speed.

What characteristics of the large print format should decision-makers think about when considering this format for a student?

When an IEP team determines that large print is the most appropriate method for a student to read, the team needs to consider all aspects of providing access to textbooks and other instructional materials. For example, in the early grades, print material in educational materials is generally provided in a larger print size, which may be sufficient for the student's access. As a student progresses through the grades, ongoing monitoring of print characteristics and reading efficiency needs to occur to ensure appropriate use of large print materials.

In addition to large print, other factors affecting visual access need to be considered for a student using large print. For example, variables such as contrast, clutter, and spacing in print presentation of text may affect a student's ability to read efficiently.

Students also need to be proficient in using a variety of visual illustrations such as photos, maps, graphs, and charts used in teaching and learning activities. They need to know how visual illustrations should be presented for efficient visual access and the most effective way to access graphic information.

What output features of the large print format are important?

In today's learning environments, students are reading printed text on paper and displayed text on computer screens and a variety of other electronic tools and devices. Some people refer to text on paper as large print and text displayed on electronic tools as large text. Students requiring large print or enlarged text are likely to need to become proficient in reading textbooks and learning materials in a variety of media and output features.

It is also important to understand the role of magnification devices and tools to provide access to print as a magnified output. It is common and supported in the research and professional literature that accessing typical print through devices and tools that magnify print and text is an efficient and effective way for many students with low vision to read and write. These devices and tools may be prescribed low vision devices such as magnifiers or non-prescription devices such as additional lighting. There are computer-based tools such as software and hardware solutions that enable large text and other electronic tools such as electronic magnifiers, both portable and desktop (commonly referred to as CCTVs or video magnifiers) that enlarge print. In addition, the accessibility features built into computer platforms have many options that students can use to increase the size of visual presentation and readability of the text.

What characteristics of large print and large text formats influence which outputs are selected?

There are benefits to using a variety of outputs when large print is used. Using large print in textbooks gives the student immediate access to the same materials classmates are using and allows the student to participate in teaching and learning activities in the same manner as all students. Viewing print through the use of magnification devices and tools can provide additional visual access to materials, such as maps that contain detailed and embedded graphics.

Viewing text on a computer screen gives a student with low vision the ability to customize text size and other features of text to personal preferences using specialized software programs or accessibility features available in the computer's platform. Research also suggests that a person's subjective preferences influence the outputs they may want to use for access to print and text.

Another benefit to using electronic tools for viewing text is the ability of some specialized software programs to provide the additional output of speech. Similar to using speech with braille, speech access with large print can work in combination to increase a student's reading efficiency.

What are the considerations for large print for use in multiple environments and for multiple tasks?

Similar to braille, the need to use large print in many contexts and for specific purposes influences a student's choices and methods of use. Typical large print textbooks have a history of being criticized for their size and weight. However, many current large print textbooks are produced in a size typical of all textbooks so they are portable and student "friendly."

Viewing print with hand-held portable magnification devices gives students the flexibility and independence to access print in an enlarged format in multiple environments, such as school, home, and in the community. The use of electronic methods to enlarge print also provides the flexibility to view print for multiple tasks, such as word processing and use of a variety of electronic media. When considering learning tasks such as conducting research and using reference tools, using electronic tools with access to the Internet gives students access to content in a preferred print size.


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

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Answers: Audio

What is the audio format and how do people use it as an alternative to print?

People who use this format receive information by listening. Audio formats have no visual component. For information on the use of audio used in combination with visual text, please see our resources on Audio-Supported Reading.

Why would decision-makers consider an audio format for a student?

Students who are blind and individuals who have difficulty with reading text or who spend a great deal of time trying to decode text may benefit from the use of auditory text. By listening to content, students can reduce the cognitive load of trying to read text or braille and can focus on comprehension of the information. Decisions are made based on a student's needs, the environments in which tasks will be completed, and the nature of tasks the student needs to accomplish.

What output features of audio formats are important?

The major features that decision makers should focus on are voice, navigation within a file, and supported study skills. For audio format, output means how the voice sounds to the listener. Output features describe the ways that speech can be adjusted or modified when using audio format. Audio output may be a recorded human voice or synthesized speech. There are many ways in which the speech output can be adjusted, whether the speech is recorded human voice or synthesized speech. Adjustments can be made in the pitch, the volume, and the speed at which speech is presented.

What characteristics of audio formats influence which outputs are selected?

Decision-makers think about whether the student needs or prefers the audio to be recorded human voice or whether a synthesized or computer-generated voice is acceptable. Output is selected depending on the personal characteristics of the student, such as age, level of experience with the format, and tasks to be completed with the instructional materials.

Although natural human speech may sound better, many users prefer the flexibility of synthesized speech for some tasks. While both recorded human voice and text-to-speech may be set to read faster or slower, some text-to-speech voices have the advantage of maintaining clarity when set to higher rates. Even though modern DAISY readers have the ability to maintain pitch when the rate is adjusted, it still may be difficult to understand at rates higher than 150%. Some individuals can understand certain sounds at a higher pitch than others. Audio can be changed to make such adjustments when it is provided in a synthesized format.

What navigation features of audio formats are important?

Audio books that conform to the DAISY (Digital Access Information SYstem) standard for digital talking books (DTBs) have important navigation features that allow users to move around the recorded speech files easily. Navigation is similar to a table of contents and allows users to jump to elements such as chapters, sections, pages, paragraphs, and sentences. The ability to navigate DTBs easily provides many benefits compared to regular audio books without navigation.

What other features are important to consider with audio formats?

Bookmarking and highlighting of audio text and the ability to label sections with text and/or audio notes are important to consider for some students.

How does audio lend itself to use in multiple environments and for multiple tasks?

Some students may actually use different audio formats for different reading tasks. For example, it may be perfectly acceptable for a science book to be read with a synthesized voice but when a literary work is studied for a literature class a human voice may be more useful.

Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY)

Technical standard for producing accessible and navigable multimedia documents.

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Digital Talking Book (DTB)

Digitally encoded files containing audio portions and full text to increase quality and availability of information to print-disabled persons.

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Answers: Digital Text

What are digital text formats and how do people use them as an alternative to print?

When a file is created that meets the NIMAS or DAISY standard for structure and accessibility, that source file can be converted into student-ready accessible formats. Digital text formats are electronic text that, depending on the technology being used to convert and display the file, may have both audio and visual components. Audio content (what is heard) can be aligned to or separated from visual content (what is seen) which makes it very flexible. Although there are other ways to render digital text, probably the most common way is on a computer screen. Images may also accompany the digital text.

There are three main categories of digital text. The first is computer software and some stand-alone hardware devices that read text aloud using synthetic speech or text-to-speech. The second category is digital talking books (DTBs) that conform to the DAISY standard or Digital Audio Information SYstem. Depending on how the DTB is created, text-to-speech, human recorded audio, or both may be available to the user. The third category consists of commercial digital texts or e-books (electronic books), some of which may offer embedded read-aloud functionality.

Why would decision-makers consider a digital text format for a student?

Digital text or electronic text is often displayed on computers with text-to-speech software that has the ability to easily provide text and audio simultaneously or separately. This format not only provides flexible access to the information contained in printed materials, but many text-to-speech software programs also have built-in learning supports than can increase learning and literacy for some students.

What output features of digital text formats are important?

Output is what a user hears and sees on the computer screen and the available features are related to the technology being used. The following are some of the features that may be manipulated:

  • Font size/type/color
  • Background color
  • Synchronized highlighting as text is read
  • Text-to-speech
  • Voice speed
  • Navigation

What is supported reading software?

When learning supports are designed into a program that renders digital text, the software is often referred to as supported reading software. Learning support features may include—

  • Find/search
  • Bookmarking
  • Note taking
  • Text highlighter
  • Generation of an outline from highlighted text
  • Audio notes
  • Dictionary/thesaurus
  • Links to multimedia

How does a digital text format lend itself to use in multiple environments and for multiple tasks?

When digital materials are created that meet the NIMAS or DAISY standard for accessibility, the converted student-ready digital files can be manipulated to meet the student's multiple needs depending on the technology that is used.


Electronic version of a book.

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Answers: Match Formats to Materials

The decision-making team uses the information gathered about a student, instructional context, and specialized formats to select which materials are needed in which specialized formats. Note that more than one format may be needed for different materials and more than one specialized format may be needed for a specific material.

Under what circumstances might a student need AEM in two or more formats?

Students may need one primary specialized format for many tasks, but a variety of factors—including environments and tasks—may indicate a need for the same material in more than one specialized format. For instance, a student may need one format for use in classrooms and another for homework at home. While a student may be able to use an audio file to listen to a novel while traveling in the community, the student may also need a digital format to use on a computer to see and hear text simultaneously while working on a specific chapter and writing answers to chapter questions.

In addition, if a student is in the initial stages of learning how to use a format such as braille or supported text, the student may need to use the newly learned format for some tasks while using a more familiar format for other tasks.

What should a team do if there is a disagreement about which format(s) should be used? For example, what if a student prefers an MP3 audio file but the team feels that supported digital text would be more beneficial?

As with any other educational decision, the best means to determine which educational strategy is most beneficial for a student is to try both and collect data about the results of its use. Data-based decisions about AEM should take into account the specific tasks a student needs to perform and the change in student performance that the team hopes to see as a result of the use of AEM. Also, it may be that a student needs different formats for different tasks.

What should a team do if the materials that a student needs were published prior to July 19, 2006, when the IDEA regulations regarding NIMAS went into effect?

The U. S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has taken the position that textbooks and related core print materials sold by K–12 publishers (i.e., works still "in print" as opposed to "out of print") after July 19, 2006 are subject to a request for conversion to NIMAS filesets and subsequent submission to the NIMAC. If an LEA or SEA is purchasing a text, they should require the publisher to provide a NIMAS source file to the NIMAC as a part of the purchase contract.

For more information on NIMAS, the NIMAC, and the process of acquiring accessible materials, see the AEM Navigator and our Acquisition of AEM resources, among many others.

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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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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