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Aiming for Access

June Behrmann

June Behrmann is a longtime special education teacher (pre-K to grade 6) who retired for about two seconds, and is now prospecting for accessible instructional resources. Follow June on Twitter @aimnoncat. Thank you to AIM-VA: Accessible Instructional Materials for sharing this blog with us.

5 Accessibility Features for All Ed Materials, 7 Questions to Ask When Buying Ed Software

February 23, 2015

Accessible digital text is the way to go when students have differing abilities. Meanwhile, flexible digital learning also supports the variability that any single learner experiences in the course of a day.

Accessible materials, both finding and locating them, can be a complex business. Educational product features and built-in supports vary widely. For that reason, the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) steers technology buyers into the world of making wise technology choices. The guidance found on the site helps for all materials that are not "born accessible." Since most are not, buyers can use the wisdom from experts at the AEM center.


When purchasing technology, options matter. Features (to be elected or not depending on the learner) go a long way to help students stay on grade, and to master goals from Individualized Education Programs or statewide standards of learning. Accessibility features can increase learner independence and decrease the need for teaching assistants, paraprofessionals, and parents who read aloud, scribe, and more.

Low-Incidence Learners

For students with learning disabilities, dyslexia, autism, ADHD, or cognitive disabilities, flexible products would include these accessibility features:

  1. Flexible Formatting that can be changed to meet needs or preferences
  2. Text-to-speech software that is compatible with supported reading software
  3. Location supports like page numbers and progress bars to help students find and keep a place
  4. Time limits for responses that users or their teachers can extend
  5. Logical sequencing of content that is clearly presented

Ask Questions

When considering a software purchase, ask for the following:

  • Does the program run on a variety of devices?
  • Is the product developed with other than fixed digital text in the form of flexible formats, such as accessible HTML, Microsoft Word, PDF, ePUB?
  • Is content represented in multiple ways?
    • Are videos captioned?
    • Is there "alt text" embedded so learners can access images and non-text content?
    • Are image descriptions available in voice (or digital braille)?
  • Is the product compatible with screen readers, refreshable braille, and text-to-speech features with electronic or human-voices?
  • Does the product offer navigation alternatives (e.g., keyboard shortcuts/mapping or screen gestures)M
  • Are mathematical, scientific, and music symbols, formulas, and notations represented in multiple ways (e.g., explained with text alternatives, MathML)
  • If writing is required, is keyboard entry supported by alternatives (e.g., word prediction, on-screen keyboards, voice input)?

Students with other learning difficulties need specific accessibility features to help them by-pass or overcome their physical and sensory disabilities (blind, low vision, physical disabilities, deaf, hard of hearing). Log onto the National Center and find advice for meeting their needs.


When students struggle to read and handle other schoolwork independently, accessible educational materials help. These are provided to eligible students at no cost thanks to federal special education and copyright laws. Educational teams determine student eligibility. Teachers are entitled to free training to maximize the use of AEM (formerly AIM) materials. Log on to the AIM-VA homepage for more information. In other states, ask a special education teacher or school administrator about free accessible learning materials under the Individuals with Disability Education Act.

Thank you to AIM-VA: Accessible Instructional Materials for sharing this blog with our Reading Rockets audience.

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"Let us remember: one book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world." —

Malala Yousafzei