What Does it Mean?
You may already know that the AIM and NIMAS Centers at CAST have been merged and updated. The new Center, also supported by the
Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), is called the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning (AEM Center) and now has expanded responsibilities related to print and digital accessible materials and technologies within early learning, K-12, higher education and workforce preparation environments. The name change -- educational instead of instructional -- was due to our needing to mirror the language used by OSEP in the project Request for Proposal (RFP). However, there is more that needs to be said about how the terms AEM and AIM may appear in the Center's materials and how they may be used in your state.
Section 300.172 of the regulations for the implementation of IDEA 2004 is entitled "Access to Instructional Materials." This section focuses on the responsibility of state and local education agencies to provide specialized formats of printed materials in a timely manner to students with disabilities who require those formats for educational participation and achievement. It also includes a number of supports to assist in meeting the responsibilities. When referring to the statutory and regulatory requirements related to the timely provision of printed materials, we will continue to use the term accessible instructional materials or AIM.
While the focus on print was reasonable in 2004, the landscape of materials used in education has changed and expanded over the last decade to include a broad range of digital technology-based materials. Thus the focus on printed materials, while still critically important, is no longer adequate to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the materials used. This is where the term accessible educational materials or AEM comes in.
OSEP has expanded the definition of educational materials to include both print and digital technology-based learning materials. "Accessible educational materials means print and technology-based materials, including printed and electronic textbooks and related core materials that are required by SEAs and LEAs for use by all students, produced or rendered in accessible media, written and published primarily for use in early learning programs, elementary, or secondary schools to support teaching and learning." (Footnote 10, Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 90 / Friday, May 9, 2014 / Notices, page 26728)
the mandate in IDEA to provide textbooks and related core instructional materials in specialized formats only applies to materials which have a print-based source. However, two federal civil rights acts -- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) -- prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability and speak to the obligation of public schools to provide accessible educational materials to students with disabilities who need them.
Whether your state uses AIM or AEM when referring to accessible materials and technologies, accessibility is critical in all materials used in the educational process regardless of the original format (e.g., print, digital, graphical, video) of the materials. Whether the materials are labeled "instructional," "educational," or "learning," they need to be usable by the widest possible range of students. If the materials are intended to be used as print, they need to be retrofitted to specialized formats. If materials are intended to be used digitally and delivered via technology, they need to be designed and developed from the start with accessibility features included.