AEM refers to educational materials which are accessible and convertible into specialized formats such as Braille, large print, audio, and digital text in order to supports student learners who have disabilities. AEM can be read with text-to-speech software, modified with regard to font size, accessed using assistive technology and easily navigated by unit, chapter, section, etc. Listed below are examples of accessibility features commonly found in AEM:

  • Images include alternative text and long descriptions when appropriate.
  • Math equations are provided as images with text descriptions.
  • Order of content, levels, and headings are appropriately formatted

People with disabilities frequently experience barriers to the use of printed materials, digital materials, and technologies. Examples where barriers might occur include textbooks, digital documents, websites, apps, learning delivery systems, and electronic devices. Accessible educational materials, or AEM, are print- and technology-based educational materials, including printed and electronic textbooks and related core materials that are designed or enhanced in a way that makes them usable across the widest range of learner variability, regardless of format (e.g. print, digital, graphic, audio, video).

You might have also heard about accessible instructional materials (AIM). Whatever they’re called, the basic concept or AEM/AIM 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, websites, or apps, 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 moving target to the extent that each individual learner has particular reasons for needing AEM and accessible technologies. 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. Under IDEA the State Education Agency and Local Education Agency have the responsibility to provide specialized formats of print instructional materials to blind and other print disabled persons in a timely manner. Local Education Agencies (LEAs) must take all reasonable steps to provide print educational materials in accessible formats to children with disabilities at the same time as other children receive those materials.

Visit the National Center on AEM to explore quick start guides for Parents/Families, K-12 Educators and for State/Local Education Agencies. Much of the material on this website was adapted from the National Center on AEM.

When learners have accessible materials and technologies in a timely manner, they are more likely to be independent, to participate, and to make progress in the curriculum. Examples of AEM include:

Printed textbooks and instructional materials
Traditional materials are defined as textbooks and related printed core materials that are written and published primarily for use in elementary school and secondary school instruction and are required by a State education agency or local education agency for use by students in a classroom. These materials may not effectively provide access to the curriculum for many learners. In addition to students with identified disabilities, print can be a barrier for general education students, such as those whose decoding abilities are considerably below grade level. Students with visual impairments may not be able to see the material; students with physical disabilities may not be able to hold a book or turn its pages; students with learning disabilities, as well as general education students with limited decoding abilities, may have difficulty making meaning from printed text. These and other barriers presented by printed materials may be addressed by providing the identical information in one or more specialized formats such as audio, large-print, braille or electronic text.

Digital materials and technologies
Materials already in a digital form may present barriers to learners with a wide range of disabilities. Consider the functional abilities required to interact with media-rich content delivered by devices and software programs, such as computers, tablets, learning management systems, and video players. Students with low vision may not be able to see the text, graphics, menus, navigational tools or video. Physical disabilities may interfere with students’ abilities to use standard input and navigational methods, such as the keyboard, mouse or trackpad on computers or touchscreens on tablets. Students with hearing loss may not benefit from audio-only output, including alerts, cues, narration, or video. And students with learning disabilities and communication needs may need options for reading formats, the rate at which audio is played, or the appearance and features of a program.

Fortunately, access barriers may be prevented when digital materials and technologies are designed from the start to be accessible. In some cases, access features are built into the design of products and media, giving all learners the option to use them. Examples include:

• Text that can be read aloud by text-to-speech or recorded human speech for learners who may have low vision, reading disabilities, or fatigue easily
• Alt text added to graphics on web pages and digital documents to describe visuals for learners who may be blind
• Closed captions on video for learners who may be deaf or hard of hearing
• Audio descriptions on video for learners who may not be able to see onscreen actions due to low vision or blindness
• Voice control that supports opening and closing programs, dictating documents, or navigating the web by learners who may not be able to use a keyboard or mouse due to a physical disability

In some cases, technologies are designed to be used with assistive technology, making them accessible to learners who use alternatives to the keyboard, mouse and trackpad on computers, or touchscreens on tablets. Examples of alternative access methods include refreshable braille displays that may be used by learners with low vision or speech recognition that may be used by learners with physical disabilities.

The AEM center has compiled a list of a number of the available digital reading technologies (hardware, software and apps). Anyone in the state of Idaho is able to borrow/try out assistive technologies for free from the Idaho Assistive Technology Project.

Does Your Student Need AEM?

If a student with a disability on an IEP is able to understand the content presented in textbooks and other related core educational materials that are used by other students across the curriculum, but is unable to read or use them, the student will need another way to get the information contained in the print materials. In this case, the student may need specialized formats of the curricular materials. There are several questions that, when explored, could indicate that the student might need AEM. For example:

  • Is the student able to understand text when it is read aloud but has trouble reading on their own?
  • Does the student have a visual disability that makes it difficult to see text in print or on a screen?
  • Does the student have a physical disability that makes it difficult to hold a book, turn pages, or use a keyboard?

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

If the student is making adequate progress and spending reasonable amounts of time on tasks that require obtaining information from print using standard print-based educational materials, then the team can determine that there is no need for specialized formats. Data and information can be collected through:

• Informal observations by teachers and parents
• Interviews with students, parents and teachers
• Classroom-based assessments
• Curriculum-based assessments
• Academic progress
• State-wide and district-wide assessment results

There are two free online, interactive tools that can help you, family members, and others make decisions about AEM as related to print materials: AEM Navigator and the AIM Explorer.
The AEM Navigator is an interactive tool designed to help families and educators collaboratively work through the AEM decision-making process related to print-based materials for an individual student.

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 the student when reading in a digital environment.

Acquiring AEM

After establishing that a student needs AEM and selecting which formats are needed for what materials, the decision-making team determines how and where to acquire the materials. There are a variety of sources for acquiring AEM; however, not all students are eligible to receive materials from each of the different sources. Keep in mind that many students may need more than one specialized format and may need materials from more than one source.

When the team has identified the important factors about the student, the environments where the student needs access to print, the tasks the student is expected to accomplish, and the specific print materials in the curriculum, team members can then match the identified student needs to the features of the various technology tools that might be used to deliver the specialized format.

The provision of accessible instructional materials via appropriate technology enables students to develop literacy skills, access information, communicate independently and efficiently, and participate in all educational activities.

There are five basic sources which include the following:

1. The NIMAC: The National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) is the national repository for NIMAS source files provided by publishers. Only students who are dually qualified under IDEA and copyright law are eligible to receive specialized formats created from NIMAS-conformant files from the NIMAC.

2. AMPs: Accessible media producers (AMPs) create and provide student-ready specialized formats to two groups of students. Materials produced by AMPs are available to students or others who meet copyright criteria. Only those students who are dually qualified (meet copyright criteria and are served under IDEA) are eligible for specialized formats created from NIMAS file sets obtained from the NIMAC. In Idaho Bookshare, LearningAlly and the IESDB are our AMPs.

3. Commercial Sources: Some instructional materials can be purchased in accessible formats from publishers and other sources (e.g., Materials acquired via purchase from a commercial source can be used by any student. This source should be used when it is available.

4. Free Sources: Some accessible materials are available free-of-charge from various sources, frequently via the Internet. These materials are typically copyright-free or open source. Materials acquired from free sources can be used by any student. With the exception of open source materials, commercially prepared textbooks are not available in this category.

5. "Locally Created": Some instructional materials are not available in accessible formats from any other source and others are not published (e.g., teacher-developed materials). Accessible versions of these materials must be locally created through the use of scanning or other means. When accessible versions of copyrighted materials are created locally, compliance with and respect for copyright law is required. These materials are created on a student-by-student basis for a specific student only. Publisher permission should be requested. To explore this option please contact the state coordinators listed at the bottom of this webpage.

Select from the following options to determine the sources that can be used to acquire materials for the student.

• Student meets copyright criteria for specialized formats and is served in special education under IDEA. This student is eligible for specialized formats acquired from all five sources: NIMAC, AMPs (Bookshare, LearningAlly and the IESDB), commercial sources, free sources, and, under some circumstances, "locally created."

• Student meets copyright criteria for specialized formats but is not served under IDEA. This student is eligible for specialized formats acquired from AMPs (Bookshare, LearningAlly and the IESDB), commercial sources, free sources, and, under some circumstances, "locally created."

• Student does not meet copyright criteria for specialized formats. This student is eligible for specialized formats acquired from commercial sources, free sources, and, under some circumstances, "locally created."


A specialized format of a print-based material includes exactly the same information as the printed material. The specialized format does not change the content, only the way in which the content is presented to the student. The specialized format neither adds nor changes any information. An alternative material may address the same goals, but the content of the material is modified or changed in some way – usually made less complex – so that it can be understood by the student.

The use of accessible educational materials and accessible technologies strengthens opportunities for learners to experience independence, participation and progress. Specialized formats of printed materials may mean the difference between learning barriers and learning opportunities. Choosing digital materials and technologies that are designed from the start to be accessible to diverse users is integral to Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. From a UDL perspective, AEM and accessible technologies may be customized and adjusted to meet individual needs, making them assets for all learners. To put this perspective into action, the availability and use of AEM and accessible technologies need to be increased. Based on these considerations, three distinct reasons for providing AEM emerge:

• To ensure equitable access for students with disabilities to the same materials and technologies used by all learners
• To provide all learners with options for perceiving information
• To drive improvement in the quality and availability of AEM and accessible technologies

Training and technical assistance are available free of charge for Idaho educators and families through the Idaho Assistive Technology Project. Please contact the coordinators listed at the bottom of this page to request supports.

Accessible Educational Material Resources


1. Visits the National Center on AEM to explore quick start guides for Parents/Families, K-12 Educators and for State/Local Education Agencies   Much of the material on this website was adapted from the National Center on AEM.


2. Guides to ensure the accessibility of teacher-created educational materials.

3. OSEP NIMAS and AIM Regulations Summary.

4. Possible sources of AEM for students who meet copyright criteria for specialized formats.


5. Possible sources of AEM for students who do not meet copyright criteria for specialized formats.

  • - Searches across several databases for e-text and digital audio books.
  • Internet library  - Digital books.
  • ITunes - Large collection of digital audio books. Access iBook’s using iPhone/iPad and voiceover.
  • Public Libraries - Contact your public library for specifics about availability of e-books and digital audio.
  • Storyline Online - Online picture books read by members of the Screen Actors Guild.
  • Tar Heel Reader - Free, easy-to-read, accessible, simple books created by volunteers.
  • Disney Digital Books  - Online digital picture books. Requires subscription.
  • Kindle Books - Downloadable e-text from which can be read with text-to-speech on newest Kindle Reader or software and accessed from PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android device, or Blackberry. Caution: Books will indicate if they are speech enabled or not.

Contact Us

Janice Carson

Director and AEM State Lead
Idaho Assistive Technology Project
University of Idaho Center on Disabilities and Human Development
1187 Alturas Drive, Moscow, Idaho 83843-8331

Dan Dyer

Education Coordinator
Idaho Assistive Technology
Resource Center - UI Couer d’Alene
1031 N Academic Way, Room 130D, Couer d’Alene, ID 83814

Idaho Assistive Technology Project

Center on Disabilities and Human Development
1187 Alturas Drive
Moscow, ID 83843