Some students have difficulty accessing learning materials such as textbooks and supplementary materials. To be successful in school, such students need materials in specialized formats called Accessible Educational Materials (AEM). A student with a visual impairment, for example, may not be able to read a standard print textbook and would likely require large print or braille to read independently. A student with a physical disability, who is unable to hold and turn the pages of a standard printed textbook, may benefit from having an audio or digital version. A student with a reading disability may better comprehend information that is displayed on a computer or tablet while the text is read aloud by a computer voice. AEM can help students who have difficulty comprehending standard text to access the same content as their peers and be successful in school.
This guide was created to explain:
- The process for making decisions about AEM.
- Reasons a student may need AEM.
- The types of specialized formats available.
- How to acquire AEM.
- Supports which may be necessary to effectively utilize AEM.
- Steps to promote the use of AEM for students.
With this knowledge, school districts, educators, and families can ensure that students with disabilities have access to the materials they need to participate in class and achieve academically.
Specialized Formats of AEM
Specialized formats of AEM fit into four categories: audio, braille, digital, and large print.
Audio presents content as sound with either a recorded human voice or synthesized electronic speech, without visual text. The specialized format of audio differs from typical audiobooks by including accessibility features such as navigation, search, and bookmarking.
Braille is a tactile system of reading and writing made of raised dot patterns for letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. Braille enables individuals who are unable to effectively comprehend print due to blindness or visual impairment to read using their fingers. The specialized format of braille refers to embossed braille, which is a hard-copy document. (Devices which display braille electronically use the specialized format of digital.)
Digital is accessible electronic text which can be read on a computer, tablet, mobile device, or electronic braille display using specialized book reading apps or software. Refreshable braille displays work with a type of digital text called Braille Ready Format (.brf). The specialized format of digital offers many accessibility features which can be manipulated to customize the user experience in ways that may improve perception and comprehension. With digital format, the user can change the font size and style; manipulate text, background, and highlight colors; navigate by chapter, page, and keyword; and have the text read aloud with natural-sounding computer voices. Contrary to popular belief, not all electronic text is accessible. For example, text that cannot be highlighted, read aloud with synthesized speech, or converted to electronic braille would be inaccessible to some students.
Large print is text which has been enlarged to a font size of 18 point or larger to accommodate the needs of individuals who have visual impairment. Books produced in large print format are typically much bigger than the original, and include enlarged pictures and graphics. When using a copy machine to enlarge worksheets or other documents, care must be taken to ensure proper contrast and image proportions.
Specialized Formats vs. Modified Materials
Specialized formats include the same content as a printed textbook or other instructional material but change the way the content is presented to the student. No information is added or removed. Modified materials address the same educational goals as the standard document, but the content is modified (usually made less complex) so that the student can better understand it. If a student has a cognitive disability in addition to a print disability, he or she may need modified materials in a specialized format in order to access them.