Students cannot learn if they cannot access the curriculum. Because current educational approaches are heavily dependent on textbooks and other print materials, students who cannot efficiently and effectively use such materials are at a striking disadvantage. IDEA 2004 mandates that students with print disabilities must have alternative ways to access the information contained in textbooks and other core curricular materials. In some cases this means bypassing print completely—using Braille or audio formats, for example—and in other cases it means supporting the student’s uptake and use of print through various means such as large print, customized page layouts, or supported reading software that highlights print while the text is read aloud by the computer. The use of accessible instructional materials (AIM) enables educators to provide grade level content to students who would otherwise be unable to access the curriculum due to print disabilities.
When considering student needs and appropriate accommodations, it is important to recognize that the term “print disability” has a much broader meaning than it has in the past. Historically, accessible instructional materials (AIM) were provided most often to students with vision loss. IDEA 2004 requires schools to make sure that NO form of print disability stands in the way of students getting access to educational content. Thus, educators need to consider students who struggle with print because of physical disabilities, learning disabilities, language disorders, attention difficulties, and visual processing disorders. The means for acquiring content in appropriate formats, however, depends on the nature/cause of the student’s print disability. If the print disability is attributable to any of the following circumstances, then the full range of AIM resources—mechanisms such as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), Bookshare.org, and the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center (NIMAC)—may be accessed for that student’s benefit.
- Blindness (vision 20/200 or less in the better eye with correcting lenses, or widest diameter of visual field subtends an angular distance no greater than 20 degrees)
- Visual disability (with correction and regardless of optical measurement) that prevents the reading of standard print material
- Physical limitation that causes student to be unable to read or unable to use standard print material
- Reading disability resulting from organic dysfunction and of sufficient severity to prevent the student from reading printed material in a normal manner.
If the student’s print disability does not derive from one of the circumstances noted above, s/he may still be eligible for AIM, but the materials may not be acquired through specialized mechanisms such as the NIMAC and RFB&D. IDEA 2004, however, is very clear that schools are nonetheless obligated to provide accessible instructional materials to all students with print disabilities, even when those students do not meet the more restrictive eligibility requirements. (14 DE Admin. Code 924.10.2). At this time, these protections are only afforded to children who receive special education services and whose educational team has identified the need for AIM.
With these expectations, it becomes very important that IEP teams clearly understand how to determine: 1) if a student has a print disability; 2) the types of alternate formats that match student need; and 3) whether the nature of the student’s print disability qualifies him/her for access to AIM through one of the specialized mechanisms noted above. If a student is determined by the educational team to have a print disability, this is documented on the IEP. The team must also identify how the student’s need for instructional materials in a suitable format will be met.