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Higher Education and AEM

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AEM-related information and resources pertaining to higher education.

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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The Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Post-Secondary Education for Students with Disabilities

The Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Post-Secondary Education for Students with Disabilities (the Commission) was established under Section 772 of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, Public Law 110-315, dated August 14, 2008. The Commission was established to (a) conduct a comprehensive study, which will—(I) Assess the barriers and systemic issues that may affect, and technical solutions available that may improve, the timely delivery and quality of accessible instructional materials for post-secondary students with print disabilities, as well as the effective use of such materials by faculty and staff; and (II) make recommendations related to the development of a comprehensive approach to improve the opportunities for post-secondary students with print disabilities to access instructional materials in specialized formats in a timeframe comparable to the availability of instructional materials for post-secondary non-disabled students. Learn more about the work of the Advisory Commission on AIM on the website, or download the AIM Commission Report.

Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)

Print-based educational materials converted into specialized formats, related to the requirements of the IDEA statute.

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Print Disability

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

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AIM as Equal Access to Educational Opportunity

On June 29, 2010, the Office of Civil Rights, United States Department of Education, sent a joint letter to all United States college and university presidents. In this letter, OCR attorneys affirmed that—

Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

Software scans images and translates content into live text.

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Requiring use of an emerging technology in a classroom environment when the technology is inaccessible to an entire population of individuals with disabilities—individuals with visual disabilities—is discrimination prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) unless those individuals are provided accommodations or modifications that permit them to receive all the educational benefits provided by the technology in an equally effective and equally integrated manner.

Office of Civil Rights, US Department of Education (2010), Joint Letter, Washington, DC

The civil rights mandates require post-secondary institutions to provide equitable access to all learning materials and activities, digital or otherwise. This extends to textbooks, courseware, learning management systems, instructional software programs—in short, any and all curriculum resources required for use in academic programs.

LMS (Learning Management System)

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

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Relevant Legislation Facilitating AIM in Higher Education

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 requires all post-secondary institutions, as of July 1, 2010, to make textbook information available for all courses, including both ISBNs and pricing information. This information must be offered as part of an institution’s online class schedule, and must be viewable by students in advance of registration for any given academic term:

Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008


(d) Provision of ISBN College Textbook Information in Course Schedules: To the maximum extent practicable, each institution of higher education receiving federal financial assistance shall—

(1) disclose, on the institution's Internet course schedule and in a manner of the institution's choosing, the International Standard Book Number and retail price information of required and recommended college textbooks and supplemental materials for each course listed in the institution's course schedule used for pre-registration and registration purposes, except that—

(A) if the International Standard Book Number is not available for such college textbook or supplemental material, then the institution shall include in the Internet course schedule the author, title, publisher, and copyright date for such college textbook or supplemental material; and

(B) if the institution determines that the disclosure of the information described in this sub-section is not practicable for a college textbook or supplemental material, then the institution shall so indicate by placing the designation 'To Be Determined' in lieu of the information required under this sub-section; and

(2) if applicable, include on the institution's written course schedule a notice that textbook information is available on the institution's Internet course schedule, and the Internet address for such schedule.

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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Who Qualifies for AIM?

Section 504
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act covers qualified students with disabilities who attend schools receiving Federal financial assistance. To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to: (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (2) have a record of such an impairment; or (3) be regarded as having such an impairment. For more information, see the U.S. Department of Education's Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities.

Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act
The ADAAA retains the basic definition of "disability" as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. For more information, see the The ADA Amendments Act of 2008: Frequently Asked Questions.

Section 504

Prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. Written 504 plan used to guide provision of instructional services.

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Accessible Instructional Materials & Universal Design for Learning

Accessible instructional materials (AIM) represent one of the key element of the curriculum of any learning environment. In its most global sense, the "curriculum" is comprised of instructional goals, methods, assessments, and materials and even though "materials" can be singled out as a specific component, they permeate all aspects of the education enterprise. For that reason, they need to be accessible to and appropriate for each student in a class or course. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for ensuring not only access, but for maximizing the achievement potential of every student. The UDL framework addresses each of the four elements of the curriculum and is predicated on the availability of accessible instructional materials, noting that they are an essential, but insufficient, foundation for a UDL environment. Essential, since without them the education enterprise cannot reach every student; insufficient, since more than accessible instructional materials are needed to teach every student.

For examples of AIM in the UDL context, see the following:

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Framework of learning and teaching, resisting one-size-fits-all approach. Encourages offering multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement.

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Sources of AIM for Post-Secondary Students—e-text (DAISY format) & Braille:
Bookshare provides free memberships to all post-secondary (public and private) students with qualifying print disabilities. In addition, Bookshare provides these students with free supported reading software for displaying and reading aloud Bookshare books.

Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic)—audio (DAISY format), human narration and synthetic speech, and e-text:
Learning Ally offers free membership to qualifying post-secondary students with print disabilities.

American Printing House for the Blind
APH provides qualifying blind/low vision students with free access to braille and large print instructional materials.

Accesstext Network—(PDF, -.doc., -.txt):
Accesstext Network is a publisher-supported portal for acquiring alternate formats of print-based post-secondary instructional materials. Individual students are not Accesstext members; rather, digital versions of print materials are distributed through a network of DSS (disabled student services) offices at each post-secondary institution.

Accessible Textbook Finder:
The Accessible Textbook Finder (ATF) searches multiple sources of accessible books by ISBN or title, and provides the combined results with links to the source materials.

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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Research and Information

Cielo24 2017 State & Federal Accessibility Guidelines and Laws for Education
This free downloadable ebook examines current federal and state-level accessibility laws that apply to higher education. In addition to an overview of federal laws and guidelines, state-level legal requirements and policies are listed for every state. Examples of information include:

  • Department of Justice Opinions
  • Universal Design Initiative
  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
  • Public and Private University Law
  • ADA, IDEA, Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • All 50 States’ Legal Requirements and Policies

College Resources for Students with Disabilities: The Ultimate Guide

A resource from the College Choice website with informatin on the 50 best disability friendly colleges and universities, advice on choosing the right school, scholarships, legal rights and responsibilities, online learning and more.

College Accessibility for Visually Impaired Students
A resource from the website describing what visual impairments are, tips for students with visual impairments, information on scholarships for students with visual impairments, and a list of assistive technologies that students with visual impairments may use in their classes.

College Accessibility Resources for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

 A resource from Accredited Online Schools with key terms, apps and other technology supports for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, and suggestions for how higher education institutions can provide more audible environments. 

College Advice for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students: Career Paths, Accessibility Tips and Resources for Success at School

A resource from Affordable Colleges Online with advice and information to help students who are deaf and hard of hearing transition into college with ease. It features advice from five expert contributors who share their stories and their various successful career paths as well as links to deaf and hard of hearing student advocacy and leadership programs.

Minimizing Vision Problems in College: A Student's Guide to Eye Health and Wellness

A resource from Affordable Colleges Online with tips and resources to help college students maintain eye health, including a variety of apps and internet browser add-ons.  

College Web Pages Are "Widely Inaccessible" to People with Disabilities
Marc Parry
August 12, 2010
This brief article, published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, discusses the recent trend of college web sites inaccessible to people with disabilities. According to the article, this is due in part to the inaccessibility of emerging web-based technologies that universities are implementing on their web sites.

The Legal Environment of Accessible Post-Secondary Online Learning
Kevin L. Crow
This paper focuses on legislation pertaining to online learning at the post-secondary level. It explicitly discusses the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Section 504 and Section 508 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996. At the end of the paper it is recommended that colleges and universities create policies and standards pertaining to accessibility and that they should adhere to the principles of Universal Design when creating materials.

Section 504 Student Eligibility for Students with Reading Disabilities: A Primer for Advocates
Kevin P. Brady
This paper discusses who is eligible for accommodations under Section 504 ("eligibility is based on the definition of disability," "eligibility is not age-restricted under Section 504," "eligibility is non-categorical and significantly broader than IDEA," "eligibility is based on the function impact of a physical or mental impairment, not just the need for special education") as well as the process of identifying Section 504 students. These steps include—

  1. Student referral: initiating the Section 504 process
  2. Student evaluation
  3. Student eligibility determination
  4. Student program planning
  5. Student placement
  6. Student re-evaluation

It also includes a comparison chart between IDEA and Section 504 based around "purpose of law," "what students are protected," "Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)," and "Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)."

The Experience of Higher Education from the Perspective of Disabled Students
Sarah Holloway
This article discusses a study completed to examine the perspectives of six disabled students from the United Kingdom in post-secondary education. It was found that, despite attempts at inclusion, these students experienced feelings of marginalization and additional stress at university based on their disabilities. It was recommended that the university create a consistent policy and training for staff members on creating learning environments that are consistently accessible to all learners.

Section 504 and the ADA Promoting Student Access: A Resource Guide for Educators (Second Edition)
Council of Administrators of Special Education
This document was prepared for school administrators. Three helpful graphics were provided. First, a comparison chart between IDEA, Section 504, and ADA was included. It covered a variety of topics from who is covered under each law to how each law is enacted in a school. Second, it included a flowchart on the process of identifying a student as falling under IDEA or Section 504 based on their needs. Third, there is a graphic about the populations covered under each law.

Section 504 and IDEA: Basic Similarities and Differences
S. James Rosenfeld
This article, written for a parent audience, gives a brief overview of how Section 504 and IDEA are different and how they are the same. The purpose is to inform parents so that they can be better advocates for children who do not qualify under IDEA, but might still qualify under Section 504. It includes information on "evaluation requirements," "placement decisions," and "complaints, compliance, and monitoring."


Electronic version of a book.

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

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Department of Justice (DOJ)

Part of the federal government, to enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States.

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

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Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Under IDEA, special education is provided at public expense, under public supervision, and without charge.

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LRE (Least Restrictive Environment)

To the maximum extent possible, each identified child with special needs, shall be educated with children who are not disabled.

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