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Cecilia Robinson, Assistive Technology Consultant, TSBVI Outreach

Abstract:  Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) consists of four specialized formats: braille, large print, digital text and audio. Students with visual impairments are eligible to receive AIM. Understanding AIM and working collaboratively to make decisions about AIM will likely facilitate students’ participation in the general education curriculum.

Keywords:  Accessible Instructional Materials, AIM, Accessible Educational Materials, AEM, core instructional materials, timely manner, specialized formats, AEM Navigator, National Center on Accessible Educational Materials, TEA, IDEA, accessibility, Bookshare, Learning Ally, Assistive Technology, AT

What is AIM?

Technology changes rapidly. In school and at home, many students use technology to do homework, play games, communicate with friends and family, or organize their daily activities. Technology is the most helpful when it works and the information is accessible. Did you know that the provision of accessible materials is written into the law?  

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) requires state education agencies to adopt the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS), a standard file format that can be used to create electronic files of print materials to facilitate the conversion of these files into four specialized formats: braille, large print, digital text and audio. These specialized formats are known as Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM). In some states, they are called Accessible Educational Materials (AEM).

Why AIM is Needed

IDEA 2004 states that core instructional materials will be provided in a timely manner in specialized formats when needed by students with disabilities. For students with visual impairments, it means that they will receive their instructional materials or textbooks at the same time as their sighted classmates. Their textbooks will be produced and provided in the specialized format recommended by the student’s ARD committee/IEP team.

Students are expected to use all kinds of educational materials, in addition to their textbooks, throughout their school day. At times, these materials may not be accessible. An example is learning management systems. The content may include images that do not have alternative text; therefore, these images cannot be read or interpreted by specialized software like a screen reader. Another example is videos. When videos are not described, students may miss critical information due to their visual impairment.

While AIM is about textbooks, other educational materials should be made accessible for each student as well. Instructional and educational materials, when provided in an accessible format and in a timely manner, will facilitate a student’s best learning and participation.  

Acquiring AIM

Students with visual impairments are eligible to receive AIM. In Texas, if a school district uses state-adopted instructional materials, then the district can submit the order to the Texas Education Agency (TEA). For more information on AIM for Texas students, go to this website of the Texas Education Agency: https://tea.texas.gov/Academics/Instructional_Materials/Accessible_Instructional_Materials/

If a school district does not use state-adopted instructional materials, then it will be the district’s responsibility to provide the instructional materials in specialized formats as required by each student. If the purchased instructional materials are not accessible, school district personnel can work with the publisher to provide AIM for their students.  

Many books in alternative formats are available through:

Students must become a member before they can access the books from Bookshare or Learning Ally. Many students may already have membership through their school district. Family members have the option of signing up their child to become a member of Bookshare or Learning Ally. Membership information can be located on both websites.

To learn more about acquiring AIM in Texas, go to the Texas Assistive Technology Network’s Website at http://www.texasat.net/at-resources/accessible-instructional-materials. Click the link Texas Roadmap for AIM and also see the flowchart included with this article.

Making Decisions about AIM

The AEM Navigator is an interactive tool that guides educational teams through the process of making decisions about AIM. It addresses a student’s needs for AIM, the selection of specialized format(s), acquisition of the format(s), and supports for use. The team can fill out information in text boxes and document the justification for why they make certain decisions. When all the information has been entered, a summary will be generated. It can be saved or printed.

The AEM Navigator offers the opportunity for a team, including family members, to learn about AIM and work together collaboratively when considering AIM for a student. More information about the AEM Navigator can be located at http://aem.cast.org/navigating/aem-navigator.html#.XE0Ca1xKhPZ.  

The National Center on Accessible Educational Materials has numerous resources to assist educators, family members, publishers, accessible media providers and others with their understanding of AIM or AEM. Click http://aem.cast.org/ to start browsing the resources.

A Few Things to Remember

  • AIM may require the use of technology. Students who use electronic or online textbooks may use specialized software (e.g. magnification and screen reading) or hardware (e.g. digital book reader, refreshable braille display, etc.) to access these books. It is critical that the technologies are in good working condition and the students know how to use it.
  • Many books in alternative formats can be read on multiple devices (e.g. tablet, phone, computer or book reader) or via free apps, such as Learning Ally Link (https://learningally.org/link), Capti Voice (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/capti-narrator/id437052502?mt=8) or Dolphin’s EasyReader (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dolphin-easyreader/id1161662515 .
  • Students who use print-based AIM may use equipment such as an optical device or a video magnifier.
  • Digital materials may not be accessible if accessibility has not been included in its planning and development.
  • Always ask if AIM is accessible and usable for specific students.

Summary

Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) was included in IDEA 2004. It requires that core instructional materials be provided in a timely manner and in specialized formats when it is needed by students with disabilities. In Texas, educational teams can follow the process to acquire AIM if state-adopted textbooks are being used by the district. Bookshare and Learning Ally also provide books in specialized formats such as audio and digital text. Educational teams, including family members, can use resources and tools such as the AEM Navigator, when making decisions about AIM. Students are likely to be more successful in school if they are provided with educational materials that are accessible and usable to them.