Legal Requirements (AIM)
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Accessibility is not an issue limited to special education or to educational learning materials. In 1931 when the current Copyright Law was written, provision was made for individuals who were blind, so that it was not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce a copyrighted work if the copy was in a specialized format such as Braille or audio recording for a person who was blind or had a disability. Accessibility considerations of all sorts blossomed from Civil Rights Laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Sections 504 and 508). (http://webaim.org/articles/laws/usa/ada) Many accessibility innovations such as curb cuts, closed captioning, and doors that open automatically came because of Civil Rights legislation and the concept of Universal Design.
Universal Design can also be applied to the classroom and learners. Researchers have identified seven guiding principles for classrooms. The essence of these principles involves flexibility in how students can engage in learning and equity in how they can demonstrate their knowledge. Goals and methods should be simple and intuitive e.g. organizers and rubrics support this principle. Information should be perceivable regardless of ambient noise or an individual’s sensory differences. Educators need to have a tolerance for error so that students can learn at their own pace using resources that can support students who come into the classroom with differing background knowledge. Teach using strategies that require low physical effort in order to maintain student alertness and engagement. Consider how to best use the physical space of the classroom. Universal Design’s implications for learners focus on providing options in presenting curriculum, providing alternatives for students to engage in learning the material and demonstrating their learning.
The Chafee Amendment to the Copyright Law expanded the concept of copyright exempt individuals. This exemption to Copyright Law opened the door for making AIM a reality for students.
The 2004 Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Section 300.172 specifically identified accessible instructional materials (AIM), a standard file format that could be rendered into four alternate formats- the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS)- and expectations for publishers, State and Local Education Agencies to provide students with disabilities with AIM in a timely manner. A Policy Brief from the National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM Center) provides discussion on and implications of NIMAS for individuals with reading disabilities.
In recent years additional federal action has expanded the expectation of accessibility in telecommunications and education. The 2016 National Education Technology Plan specifically draws connections between the flexibility and power of today’s technology in its Learning Recommendation that “Education stakeholders should develop a born accessible standard of learning resource design to help educators select and evaluate learning resources for accessibility…” Next Generation Assessment Recommendations also address increasing accessibility in technology-based assessments.
The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) occasionally writes Dear Colleague Letters (DCL) to clarify positions. Several of these letters focus on issues related to accessible learning materials.
Dear Colleague Letters (DCL)
- June 29, 2010 - Electronic Book Readers (joint letter with the U.S. Department of Justice and Department) addresses accessibility of emerging technologies and requires educational institutions to provide students the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions and enjoy the same services as students without disabilities, with substantially equivalent ease of use.
- June 22, 2012 Dear Colleague Letter addresses the use of MathML3 within the context of NIMAS. Mathematical Markup Language (MathML) is used to improve the accessibility of math and science content in core instructional materials. (http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/osers-nimas.pdf)
- October 23, 2015 DCL on Dyslexia Guidance focuses on the educational needs of students with dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia as those conditions could qualify a student as having a specific learning disability. This letter references accommodations and supports that these individuals may need and refers State and Local Education Agencies, as one resource, to the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials: aem.cast.org
- November 16, 2015 DCL clarified that IEPs “must be aligned with the State’s academic content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled.” In an example of implementation “audio text books and electronic versions of longer reading assignments that can be accessed through synthetic speech” i.e. accessible educational materials, show a possible way an IEP could provide a student with a disability to reach the content standards for his grade.
In 2014 OSEP released a document expanding the definition of Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) to Accessible educational materials (AEM):
"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)
Iowa Administrative Code Regarding Special Education (2007)
Iowa Administrative Code for Special Education procedures takes accessible instructional materials provision a step or two beyond what is in Federal Regulations. It defines “timely manner” to be “at the same time as peers” so there is no lag for a student who needs AIM in getting the general education curriculum materials. Iowa Code also uses a larger lens in identifying students who receive AIM by stating that any student with a disability who needs accessible educational materials will receive them. Iowa Code obligates general education curriculum adoption and acquisition decision makers to purchase accessible materials by including in contract language that publishers or vendors provide materials that are accessible or can be rendered into specialized formats. The Department and the Area Education Agencies (AEA) partner to support these legal requirements.