Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) are instructional materials that have been converted into accessible formats such as digital text. AIM can serve as a powerful tool to help students with learning disabilities (LD) who need such materials participate and progress in the general education curriculum. I’m pleased to report on some important new developments concerning AIM and share some helpful resources for families and educators.
AIM Commission on Higher Education
In December 2011, the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities published a report with recommendations for addressing some of the challenges associated with providing AIM to postsecondary students with print disabilities. Convened under the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, the commission included representatives from the publishing industry, various institutions of higher education, and the accessible technology field. James Wendorf, Executive Director of NCLD, served as Vice Chair.
The commission report made a number of recommendations, including that Congress take action such as:
- Establishing a process for developing uniform accessibility guidelines for AIM.
- Reviewing the parameters of the copyright exemption (Chafee Amendment) that facilitates the delivery of AIM.
- Re-emphasizing the need for postsecondary institutions to comply with civil rights laws in order to address the needs of students with disabilities.
- Facilitating market solutions for AIM by taking steps such as giving content developers incentives to incorporate accessibility features into their products and reinforcing the importance of open source materials adhering to accessibility standards.
These recommendations, if acted upon by Congress, will have major implications for individuals with LD who need AIM.
Not all digital formats or technologies are designed and developed with features that make them automatically accessible (or useable) by all students. So the National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM Center) recently launched a new initiative to encourage school systems to purchase already-accessible instructional materials. The PALM (Purchase Accessible Learning Materials) initiative encourages school systems to enter into purchasing agreements that ensure accessibility both in terms of the content of instructional materials (such as e-books) and technology delivery systems (such as e-book readers).
Promoting accessibility in “born-digital” materials is increasingly important as school systems continue to move away from traditional print-based instructional materials. In 2010 and 2011, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released guidance on the need for schools to ensure that students with disabilities have equal educational benefits and opportunities when information and resources are provided through emerging technologies such as e-book readers. Visit the PALM Initiative website for more information on how you can support this important work.
Critical Components of the AIM Quality Indicators
It’s essential for states and districts to have in place effective systems to ensure the timely delivery of AIM. To help with this goal, the AIM Center recently published the Critical Components of Quality Indicators for the Provision of AIM to assist states and districts in developing and evaluating comprehensive systems for the timely delivery of AIM. The quality indicators were created in 2008 to describe seven major elements of effective AIM systems. In 2012, the AIM Center expanded these indicators to include more detailed, critical components. Various stakeholders can use the critical components and quality indicators to encourage collaborative processes for establishing and evaluating comprehensive AIM systems.
AIM Navigator – A Helpful Tool for IEP Teams
Finally, as the school year begins, families and educators may have specific questions about how to make decisions about providing AIM to students who struggle with traditional printed text. The AIM Navigator is an interactive guide designed to help IEP teams walk through the decision-making process. This guide includes various forms and checklists that cover the four stages of the AIM process:
- Determining whether the student needs AIM.
- Selecting appropriate specialized formats.
- Acquiring the instructional materials.
- Determining the necessary supports for the student to use AIM effectively.
The AIM Navigator can be invaluable to families and educators as they grapple with decisions regarding the appropriate and timely provision of AIM.
All of these developments have the potential to help students with LD who require the use of AIM. If you would like to receive ongoing updates on all things AIM, be sure to sign up for the AIM Connector e-newsletter on the AIM Center home page.
Joanne Karger works for the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) as a policy analyist and research scientist. She’s a member of NCLD’s Professional Advisory Board.