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AEM for Parents & Families

Do you have someone in your family who needs extra help using textbooks, online learning programs, or other educational materials or technologies?  We can help you get started learning more about accessible educational materials (AEM) and accessible technologies to ensure every learner has access to learning.

AEM for Parents & Families: Key Questions

AEM for Parents & Families: Answers

Someone in my family is really struggling with the materials and technologies used in her classes. Is there anything I can do to help her?

First of all, you’re in the right place to learn more. We’re a national technical assistance center that helps people interested in knowing more about accessible educational materials and technologies.

Sometimes, if a learner has difficulty with reading or using digital technologies for learning, a school or program may suggest accessible educational materials (AEM) and technologies. You and your learner can also start these conversations with the school or program yourselves if you feel AEM might help.

If your family member is in an early learning or K-12 environment, a good place to start is to talk to the teacher about your concerns. In higher education and workforce development situations, your family member may need to contact disability services or human resources to begin these conversations.

Either way, the best thing you can do to help is to learn more about AEM—what they are, how they’re used, what’s required by law, and where you can find them. We’re here to help answer those questions and more.

Resources to help get you started

What are AEM and accessible technologies? Why are they important?

AEM includes accessible educational materials and accessible technologies. You might also hear about AIM, or accessible instructional materials. Whatever they’re called, the basic idea is the same: any materials or technologies used in a classroom or other learning environment need to be usable by everyone. If we’re talking about print materials like books or worksheets, sometimes that means those materials have to be converted into specialized formats like braille, large print, audio or digital text. If we’re talking about digital materials like e-books or digital learning environments like Google Apps for Education, those materials and technologies need to be created and presented so that all learners can interact with them. In other words, materials and technologies used in any learning environment need to be accessible.

Accessibility is a simple concept that can be very complicated. For example, accessible materials and accessible technologies may mean one thing to a person who has a visual impairment and a very different thing to a person who has a hearing impairment. That’s why there are accessibility guidelines and regulations to let content creators, publishers, schools, organizations and institutions know what’s expected.

If you’d like to learn more about AEM and what it looks like, we have lots of resources you may find useful. The links below are a great start!

Learn the basics about AEM

Are there legal issues related to AEM that I should know about?

Depending on whether your family member is in early learning, K-12, higher education, or workforce development, different legal issues may be important.

For learners in K-12 education environments, IDEA requires that states and districts ensure timely provision of accessible materials to elementary and secondary students with disabilities who need them. This means that school districts must take reasonable steps to provide accessible materials to eligible students with disabilities without delay, typically at the same time as other students receive educational materials. For students who do not receive special education services under IDEA, the disability civil rights laws—Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—may require the provision of AEM. There are also copyright issues that may impact the sources that can be used to acquire AEM for your child.

If your family member is in post-secondary education or workforce development, there is a different process for acquiring accessible materials and technology. The higher education institution or employer has no obligation to seek out a person with disabilities and offer accommodations.  The person with the disability, or sometimes an advocate, must go to the disability services or appropriate employment personnel services to self-identify and discuss what the needs are.

All of this can seem overwhelming, but don’t worry. We’re here to help you learn how AEM relates to all of these legal issues and what you need to know about each of them in order to help your family member.

Learn more about the legal issues related to AEM

How do I know if someone in my family needs AEM?

There are a number of questions that, when explored, could indicate that your family member might need AEM. For example:

  • Is your family member able to understand text when it is read aloud but has trouble reading on his own?
  • Does your family member have a visual disability that makes it difficult to see text?
  • Does your family member have a physical disability that makes it difficult to hold a book, turn pages, or manipulate a tablet or computer?
  • Does your family member have difficulty reading or using a digital device, program, or app independently?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” AEM might be able to help.

Learn more about who needs AEM

Do you have any tools that can help make decisions about AEM?

We have two free interactive tools that can help you, your family member, and others make decisions about AEM: the AEM Navigator and the AIM Explorer.

The AEM Navigator is designed to help families and educators walk through the AEM decision-making process for print-based materials. It includes a 4-step guide to help make decisions about AEM for an individual learner. Guiding questions, rich resources, and helpful scaffolds are built-in to assist your team in making informed decisions about print-based materials. The AEM Navigator is also available in a print version.

The AIM Explorer simulates some of the features found in e-books, online programs, web browsers, and digital text. You can try out things like text magnification, different text and background colors, different layout options, and text-to-speech settings to see what works best for your family member when reading in a digital environment.

We hope you find these tools useful as you’re thinking about AEM for your family member. They’re also great tools to help start the conversation with schools, institutions, and organizations about AEM. Be sure to check them out!

Are there things I can do to help at home?

Absolutely! Accessible books, materials, and technologies are available from lots of places, and the more we ask publishers and other companies for accessible materials and accessible technologies, the more likely they are to produce them. We have great lists of resources on our Digital Content & Media Sources page and our Digital Reading Technologies page. You may also want to get familiar with the Accessibility Standards, Specifications, and Guidelines and check out the Best Practices for Educators & Instructors to find resources on creating accessible documents and presentations.

If your family member meets the criteria for membership in Bookshare, Learning Ally, and/or American Printing House for the Blind (APH), major libraries of accessible reading materials, sign up for individual accounts to gain access to books to read for pleasure. Positive experiences with reading are so important for people who have struggled with it in the past, so the more exposure your family member can have to reading materials that are interesting, engaging, and usable, the more likely she is to have future success with more complex reading assignments. Start small, build on successes, and check out our AEM in Action stories to see others who have found success with AEM.

Learn more about using AEM at home

I’d like more information specific to my situation. Do you have resources that can help me?

We sure do! Our Supporting Learners section is focused on providing information specific to early learning, K-12, higher education, and workforce development. If your family member is in an early learning program, elementary, middle, or high school, you might also want to visit the AEM State Contacts and SEA Information to find out what’s happening in your state and who to contact about AEM issues.

I’m ready to keep learning more. How can I stay connected?

We’d love to stay connected with you, and there are lots of ways to do it:

We’re here to help, and we love to hear from you. Thanks for visiting!


Equipment or system where principal function is creation, conversion, duplication, control, display, interchange, transmission, reception, or broadcast of data.

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Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)

Print- and technology-based educational materials designed to be usable across the widest range of individual variability.

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Accessible Technology

Technology that can be used by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. Incorporates the principles of universal design.

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Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)

Print-based educational materials converted into specialized formats, related to the requirements of the IDEA statute.

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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Federal law governing rights of children with disabilities to receive free and appropriate public education in least restrictive environment.

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Print Instructional Materials

Printed materials written and published for use in elementary and secondary school instruction, required by a SEA or LEA for use by students in classroom.

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Digital form or representation of a sound which may be used for non-visual access to text and images.

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Digital Text

Published material retrieved and read via a computer.

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Electronic version of a book.

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Access for all people, including people with disabilities, to web environments.

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Section 504

Prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. Written 504 plan used to guide provision of instructional services.

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Work performed for compensation, at location, and with opportunities for advancement similar to those who are not individuals with disabilities.

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Text-to-Speech (TTS)

Artificial production of human speech, using special software and/or hardware.

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American Printing House for the Blind (APH)

Largest non-profit organization creating products and services for people who are visually impaired.

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