Skip to main content

Use of Specialized Formats

Photo of a laptop with headphones

After a decision-making team has selected the specialized format(s) needed and determined where to acquire them, the team considers what types of supports are needed for a student to use the accessible materials for educational participation and achievement. Supports typically fall into the following categories discussed below:

  1. What technology may be needed for the student to use the materials effectively?
    Technology is frequently needed to deliver student-ready accessible materials. Other than hard copy braille and hard copy large print, all other specialized formats are based on the use of technology to deliver content to the student. After a team has selected what features and specialized format(s) a student will need, decisions are made regarding what type of technology will be the best match for the student to use the specialized format(s). The information already identified by the team about the student, the features and specialized formats needed by the student, along with how and where the student will use the accessible materials will be helpful in making decisions.
  2. What training for the student, educators, and family may be needed?
    Different levels of training will be needed depending on the complexity of the technology or tool selected to access the specialized format(s). For example, use of a large print book would not require much training. However, if a student is using text-to-speech software or a screen reader to access digital text, more advanced skills may need to be taught. Teachers, other school staff, and families may also need training in order to support the student at school and in the home. Students may also need additional types of training such as when to use a particular format or tool for a specific learning task or how to ask for needed supports when they are not readily available.
  3. What instructional strategies may be needed?
    Educators may need to use various instructional strategies to support students using specialized formats and supporting technologies. When a student first begins using these tools, instruction should include multiple opportunities for the student to understand the purpose, benefits, and outcomes of using the tools. It is helpful to start by providing opportunities for the student to use the tools to successfully complete familiar learning tasks (possibly in a single environment). Gradually building on early successes and increasing the functional complexity of the tools will enable the student to learn use the tools for independent mastery of learning goals in a variety of environments. The student's IEP team should work together to ensure that teachers and staff are coordinating to assist the student in using the accessible materials and in monitoring any change in literacy skills and access.
  4. What support services may be needed?
    A student's IEP should describe any support services needed for effective use of various specialized formats and who is responsible for providing them. Different support services may be needed for different formats. For example, a student using braille may require specialized instruction from a qualified teacher of the visually impaired and a student with a physical disability may need the support of an occupational or physical therapist. Additional supports such as case management, classroom organization and arrangement, equipment management and maintenance, and file acquisition may be needed.
  5. What accommodations and/or modifications may be needed?
    The use of AEM may require accommodations and/or modifications to a student's educational program. For example, a student may need preferential seating or additional time to complete tasks due to the time required to use a specialized format. Frequent breaks may be needed to avoid fatigue. Some students may need to provide responses orally rather than in writing. The team should consider which accommodations and/or modifications are needed when developing an IEP.

While this discussion has focused on specailized formats of print materials, similar supports may be needed to help learners benefit from digital materials. 


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

View in glossary

Text-to-Speech (TTS)

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

View in glossary

Digital Text

Published material retrieved and read via a computer.

View in glossary

Individual Education Program (IEP)

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

View in glossary

Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)

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

View in glossary

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.

View in glossary

Resources for Use

The AIM Explorer is a free simulation tool that combines grade-leveled digital text with access features common to most text readers and other supported reading software. Magnification, custom text and background colors, text-to-speech (synthetic and human), text highlighting, and layout options are presented in a logical sequence to help struggling readers, educators, and families decide which of these supports might enable a student to access and understand text.

The AEM Guide to AMPs provides an overview of the three major accessible media producers (AMPs) that provide services on a national level, including resources available from each, who can use them, and detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to access these resources. A question and answer document is provided for each of the AMPs.

The AEM Navigator is an online interactive tool that facilitates the process of decision-making around accessible educational materials for an individual student. The four major decision points in the process include 1) determination of need, 2) selection of format(s), 3) acquisition of format(s), and 4) selection of supports for use. The AEM Navigator also includes a robust set of guiding questions and useful references and resources specifically related to each decision point. Different scaffolds of support are built in so that teams can access information at the level needed to assist them in making informed, accurate decisions.

The Audio-Supported Reading (ASR) resource presents various resources to get started with ASR. ASR is a technology-based method for reading in which users combine the digital text format to display magnified print or refreshable braille, along with text-to-speech.

Accessible Media Producers (AMPs)

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

View in glossary

Audio-Supported Reading (ASR)

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

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