There are three steps members of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team should take to ensure that a student receives formats that are needed for educational participation and achievement. During each of these steps, the student's IEP should be updated to document the applicable diagnoses and decisions related to provision of AEM. This information can be included under Special Education, Related Services, and/or Supplementary Aids and Services.
The steps for Provision of AEM include:
- Establishing a student's need for a specialized format(s).
- Acquiring AEM in a timely manner.
- Considering and providing supports needed for effective use of AEM.
Students with a variety of disabilities may need AEM, such as those with visual impairment, physical disabilities, or learning disabilities. Students who could otherwise understand the content, but are unable to use standard materials may need to access that content through specialized formats which include audio, braille, digital, and large print.
When considering a student's possible need for a specialized format, the IEP team should consider the student's sensory, physical, and cognitive capabilities; reading skills; classroom performance; levels of academic proficiency; and grades in all subject areas.
Specific questions the team might ask include:
- Can the student see the material well enough to read on a level comparable to other classmates?
- Can the student physically manipulate the material without a lot of effort?
- Does the student have the necessary stamina to read standard materials for extended periods of time?
- Does the student have the decoding, fluency, and comprehension skills needed to gain information from grade-level printed materials?
Answering "no" to any of these questions might indicate that a student has what is termed a "print disability" and needs educational materials in a specialized format. If there are cognitive concerns as well, the student may need modified materials. It is also possible that a student could need modified materials in a specialized format.
If it is determined that a student is unable to comprehend standard educational materials, then the IEP team should assess the student to determine which specialized format will best enable him or her to access information contained in the standard materials. (See page 1 for descriptions of the specialized formats.) The chosen format(s) should help the student to develop literacy skills, actively participate in educational activities, and work as independently as possible. The student’s preferences, language, vision, memory, listening skills, tactile skills, and English proficiency should also be considered.
Students may require more than one format depending on their needs, the instructional materials, and the environments in which they will access the text. For example, a student with visual impairment may use a large print textbook for math, digital textbooks for history and language arts, and audio for assigned novels.
A trail period with various formats may be needed to determine which are most effective and preferred in different environments for various reading tasks. Depending on the format chosen, assistive technology (AT), such as refreshable braille displays and digital book reading apps may be required. Oklahoma ABLE Tech provides free consultations and short-term loans of assistive technology to help students and teachers determine the right fit. AT consultation and assessment resources can be found at https://www.okabletech.org/education-services/osde-pk12-ssip/at-consultations-assessment-resources/. The ABLE Tech Device Loan program can be found at https://www.okabletech.org/guide-to-all-services/device-loan-program/.
The process of establishing the need for AEM and determining the appropriate format may take days or even weeks; however, the LEA should ensure that the IEP is updated to include the assessment of print disability and selection of specialized format as these decisions are made. A variety of assessment tools are available to assist schools in determining which specialized format(s) a student needs. See the next page for a few examples.