Accessible Educational Materials & Law

Accessible Educational Materials & Law

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Laws Related to AEM

Several Laws relate to the provision of AEM in public schools. The laws described in the following pages determine who is eligible to receive specialized formats of copyright-protected educational materials, and who is required to provide them.

Copyright Law

Authors and Publishers are entitled under U.S. Copyright Law to reproduce their materials or authorize others to reproduce the works. Copyright holders also have a legal right to prevent others from reproducing their works without permission. This right is limited by the 1931 Act to Provide Books to the Adult Blind, and the Chafee Amendment. Print disability is defined within U.S. copyright law under the provisions of the 1931 Act to Provide Books to the Adult Blind, as Amended (2 U.S.C. 135 a). Under this Act, individuals with a print disability are those who have been certified by a competent authority to be unable to read or use standard print materials because of: blindness, visual impairment, physical limitations, or reading disabilities (such as dyslexia) resulting from an organic dysfunction. The Chafee Amendment (17 U.S. Code § 121) allows reproduction and distribution of educational materials in specialized formats such as audio, braille, digital and large print, audio exclusively for use by individuals with print disability.  Learn more about U.S. Copyright Law and the Chafee Amendment at https://www.bookshare.org/cms/legal/copyright-information/chafee-amendment.

IDEA 2004

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as reauthorized in 2004, requires that elementary and secondary school students with disabilities who need print instructional materials including workbooks and other supplemental materials in an accessible format receive them in a timely manner. This means that school districts must take reasonable steps to provide accessible educational materials (AEM) to eligible students with disabilities without delay, typically at the same time as other students receive educational materials. Each state has the responsibility to define “in a timely manner.” Oklahoma has defined it as “at the same time as other students or to the greatest extent possible.”

In 2014, the terminology related to providing specialized formats to students was changed from Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) to Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) to convey a more inclusive meaning beyond standard print, such as electronic textbooks and related materials. Some organizations continue to use the original term. Learn more about the provisions related to AEM on the National AEM Center website at http://aem.cast.org/policies/nimas-aim-idea.html#.WxhleSAh1PY.

Provision of Assistive Technology (AT)

Assistive technology (AT) is technology used by individuals with disabilities in order to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. The federal regulations for implementation of IDEA define AT devices and services and require Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams to consider the assistive technology needs of students during the development, review, and revision of an IEP. IDEA also requires schools to provide AT if it is needed for a student to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The emphasis on FAPE is that the student is able to function well enough to make reasonable educational progress. FAPE can include a variety of services such as special education, related services, supplementary aids and services, program modifications or support for school personnel. AT, just like all other components of FAPE, must be provided at no cost to parents. Local Education Agencies (LEAs) must provide or pay for any AT necessary to ensure FAPE, either directly or through contract or other arrangements. IDEA states that schools may not unnecessarily delay the provision of AT devices and services due to funding issues if a child requires the devices and services to benefit from the IEP. For more information about including assistive technology in the IEP, see the Technical Assistance Document Assistive Technology for Children and Youth with Disabilities IDEA Part B, and the Special Education Process Guide which can be found at http://sde.ok.gov/sde/documents/2017-08-28/oklahoma-special-education-process-guide.

ADA and Rehabilitation Act

Two other federal laws relate to provision of AEM and Assistive Technology (AT) by addressing the obligation of all public schools to meet the communication needs of students with disabilities: the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Title II

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in areas of employment, public services, public accommodations, transportation, and communication. Title II requires schools to ensure that students with disabilities receive communication that is as effective as communication with others through the provision of auxiliary aids and services. In many cases, but not all, an IEP will meet the requirements of Title II.  Under Title II, “communication” includes all kinds of information exchange – reading, writing, listening and speaking. This may mean that a student requires a technology support instead of a human support if the technology support allows a student to perform tasks independently, thus achieving “effective communication” as is required by Title II.

Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and requires schools to provide equal access to their programs and services. Section 504 requires that school districts provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to qualified students who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. AT is referred to under Section 504 within “special education and related aids and services.” A student is not required to be eligible for special education services to be protected under Section 504.

Section 508

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to procure, develop, and maintain accessible information technology to ensure effective and usable information technology and digital materials for all individuals, including those with disabilities. Oklahoma adopted the federal 508 standards and passed Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility (EITA) legislation, which went into effect in 2005, mandating compliance by all state agencies, higher education, and CareerTech Centers. Acquiring educational materials that have been approved for purchase by the Oklahoma Textbook Adoption Committee will help to ensure that all students receive the materials they require.

Dispute Resolution

Parents and guardians have several options if they believe the school is not providing the services their child needs. Under the IDEA, a parent challenging the provision of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) may request mediation, file a complaint with the state educational agency, or request an impartial administrative hearing by filing a due process complaint. For more information go to: http://sde.ok.gov/sde/dispute-resolution-0.

However, it is advisable that before resorting to such measures, the parent or guardian should arrange to meet with the IEP team or the school’s Title II or 504 Coordinator to discuss their concerns. If an acceptable solution is not reached, the parent or guardian should consider using the school district’s published disability grievance procedures. An additional resource available to help work through disagreements is the Special Education Resolution Center (SERC), a program of ABLE Tech. SERC offers innovative programs that assist school districts and parents in settling disputes regarding the IEPs of students with disabilities. The programs are provided at no cost through a partnership with the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Learn more at https://www.okabletech.org/education-services/serc/.

Under Title II, a parent who believes their child is not receiving appropriate educational services may choose to file a lawsuit in court. Parents of an IDEA-eligible student (i.e. a student on an IEP) generally must exhaust the administrative hearing procedures of the IDEA, which means obtaining a final decision under the IDEA’s impartial due process hearing procedures, before filing a lawsuit seeking a remedy that is also available under the IDEA.

Both the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division investigate complaints of disability discrimination at schools.