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Our Impact

The Alaska Center for Accessible Materials provides technical assistance, training and resources to increase the availability of accessible educational material and technology for learners with print disabilities throughout Alaska.

AEM Basics

Accessible educational materials, or AEM, are materials and technologies

 usable for learning across the widest range of learner need. Whether a material or technology is designed from the start to be accessible for all learners or is made accessible for learners with disabilities, it is considered AEM.

Decision Tools 

Consideration of the need for Assistive Technology (AT) or Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) is required for all students with disabilities, regardless of the nature of the disability. Determining whether a student needs AT or AEM requires a team decision-making process. Please read below for more information and visit Progress Monitoring for additional resources.

AEM Basics

What are AEM and Accessible Technologies?

Students with disabilities frequently experience barriers to the use of printed materials, digital materials, and technology. Examples where barriers might arise may include textbooks, articles, digital documents, websites, apps, and electronic devices. 

The four types of specialized formats are braille, large print, audio, and digital text:


Braille is a tactile system of reading and writing made up of raised dot patterns for letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. This format is used almost exclusively by people with visual impairments. Braille may be either embossed (a permanent printed document) or refreshable (electronically generated and accessed via a braille display device).


Large print is generally defined as print that is larger than the print sizes commonly used by the general population (8 to 12 points in size). One guideline used defines large print as 18 point or larger. A document produced in large print format usually has more white space and may not look like the original document, but it contains the same information. Large print may be printed on pages that are the same size as a standard textbook page or on pages of a larger size.


Audio formats present content as speech to which a student listens. Audio formats include recorded human voice or synthesized electronic speech.


Digital text provides electronic content that is delivered on a computer or another device. Electronic content can be changed in many ways (e.g., size, contrast, read aloud) to accommodate the needs and preferences of a student. How content is presented to a user depends upon the technology being used and student needs.

Who Needs AEM

Who needs AEM and Accessible Technologies?

When thinking about a student’s possible need for specialized formats, the IEP team might consider, along with other factors, the student’s: sensory, physical, and cognitive capability; reading level (decoding, word recognition, comprehension and fluency skills); grades; classroom performance; and levels of academic proficiency in all subject areas.


Some specific questions the team might ask include:


  • Can the student see the material well enough to read the information on a level comparable to other classmates?

  • Can the student physically manipulate the material without strenuous effort?

  • Does the student have the necessary stamina to read standard materials for extended periods of time?

  • Does the student have the decoding, fluency, and processing skills needed to gain information from grade-level printed materials?


Answering “no” to any of these questions may indicate that a student needs the instructional materials in specialized formats. If there are cognitive concerns as well, the student may need modified or alternative materials.

Specialized Formats vs. Alternative 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.


Alternative materials address the same educational goals as the standard print document, but the content is modified (usually made less complex) so that the student can better understand it. Some students may need alternative materials in specialized formats in order to access them.

Why Provide AEM and Accessible Technologies?

To be successful in school, students with print barriers need learning materials in specialized formats. When the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized in 2004, it included a requirement that elementary and secondary school students with disabilities who need print instructional materials in an accessible format receive them in a timely manner.

States must ensure that students with disabilities who need Accessible Educational Material receive them “in a timely manner.” Each state has the responsibility to define “in a timely manner.” Most have defined it as “the same time as other students,” but many have also included wording such as the local education agency or school district must “take all reasonable steps” to ensure that the AIM are provided at the same time as other students receive their print instructional materials.

Please visit Alaska Guidelines for Accessible Material for more information regarding local and state standards.


Why Provide AEM
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