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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.

All Digital Text Is Not Accessible: Buy Wisely in Order to Serve a Wide Audience of Learners

March 19, 2015

Digital Learning Day on March 13 is an important time to remember that all digital text is not accessible. The focus for future digital purchases should be on products where digital text and images of all kinds are accessible to the widest range of students. 

Wise Buys

Buying accessible products – those that serve a diverse range of learning needs – is easier now as compared with the past. More products offer flexible digital text with learning supports and options that formerly did not exist or were excluded in older products.

No school or home needs more fixed or static digital text that cannot be read aloud, highlighted, and manipulated so students can make notations, seek clarity, and stay organized. Buyers have more guidance than ever so that accessibility is not left to chance or to vague claims by publishers and producers about accessibility features.

The Good News

Accessible digital products are improving now that hardware and software companies are building accessibility into products from the start. Until all companies do so, however, products that convert static text so that is usable are necessary. These valuable — even essential — "add-on" products also are continuously improving and can be purchased as desktop programs, web-based tools, and iOS apps. Look for the best, including:

  • Text-to-speech apps
  • Word prediction programs
  • Captions, Audio decription
  • Text leveling
  • Electronic graphic organizers
  • Dictation software
  • Tools for note taking
  • Tools promoting language, literacy
  • Supports for study skills 

Naming Names

Specifically, Jamie Martin, a Connecticut-based assistive technology consultant has a great list of products that aid struggling readers. He categorizes them on his website, Assistive Technology Solutions for Students and Adults with Dyslexia. Karen Janowski, a Massachusetts-based assistive technology consultant recently published her list of "The Almost Best Collection of Apps and Extensions for Special Education." For George Mason University's AIM-VA blog, I report regularly from many sources on resources that support students who struggle to read and keep pace with same-age peers and state standards of learning. These are diverse learners and include students with dyslexia, other learning disabilities and attention issues, cognitive impairments, physical disabilities, and autism. Note that products cited on all these sites can help many learners, not only those with diagnosed disabilities.

For sensory disabilities, The American Foundation for the Blind offers a listing of screen readers that support blind students and those with visual impairments who need specialized devices to convert text into braille. Students who learn well with captions and audio descriptions can access content with those features at no cost when their teachers have an account with the federally funded Described and Captioned Media Program.

Buying Guidance

A wealth of guidance helps technology purchasers buy wisely. Check out the work of the National Center for Accessible Educational Materials for specific tips on "how" to buy accessible digital text. 

The center's PALM initiative works on the long-range premise that future products must be created with accessibility features from the start. Experts there also recognize that many educational materials still must be converted or retrofitted in order to be usable.

Be Accessible

PALM stands for "Purchase Accessible Learning Materials" to address the diversity of learners. Here are some of PALM's resources that provide a roadmap to relevant flexible technology that suit a wide range of learning needs: Log on to find:

  • Hand-outs with PALM guidance for purchasers, for educators, for families, and for advocates
  • The PALM All-in-One consolidated roadmap to better purchases, and on the same page find
    • "Take Action: What You Can Do" guidance
    • Publisher-Developer Best Practices document, and
    • Guidance for SEA-LEA Purchasing Agents


Students who struggle to read traditional books in print or fixed digital text need alternative educational materials in order to access the curriculum. AIM-VA provides these free to eligible students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and federal copyright law. To learn more, including information about free training for teachers, start on the AIM-Virginia homepage. All states have a similar program in place. Ask a special education teacher or school administrator about eligibility for accessible educational materials when students have a print disability.

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

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"Writing is thinking on paper. " — William Zinsser