Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) and Designing Instruction
Many materials used by students in the classroom are print-based, such as textbooks and hand-outs. Some students with physical, sensory, or intellectual challenges may have difficulty reading these materials. To bridge this gap, accessible instructional materials (AIM) provide the same information found in print-based materials. These materials are presented in formats that students with disabilities can use. Examples of formats that are used to make the information in printed materials accessible are braille, large print, audio, and digital text. However, while AIM provides a means for lowering access barriers, the use of AIM may raise other barriers.
Good instruction must be designed to fit with AIM just as it would with any other instructional material—anticipating additional barriers that will be raised and planning for ways to remove these barriers. Teachers should consider three stages as a student learns to use a specialized format:
- students must first become accustomed to the format,
- students need to become skilled at using the format,
- students need to develop fluency in the format.
All of this takes time and practice just as it would for any student who is learning a new skill and a new tool simultaneously. In the meantime, how might this impact learning?
Since fluency is highly correlated with comprehension, additional supports for comprehension need to be provided until the student has developed fluency. Someone who is a novice in a subject area will often appear to have difficulty with attention as they learn where to and what is most important to focus on. Good instructional design focuses a novice’s attention until he or she develops expertise. This can be done by limiting extraneous information or by highlighting critical features.
Unsurprisingly, teaching practices that seem most effective for students who use AIM—providing multiple representations of information to be learned and immediate feedback on performance—also constitute best teaching practices for all students. This section provides an introduction to some additional considerations when designing instruction that includes students who are using already using AIM.
When incorporating AIM into lessons, the following questions can help guide the design of instruction.
- What is the instructional goal?
- What tasks will students need to do to work toward reaching the instructional goal? Will requiring these tasks present barriers for some students?
- If using a specialized format, how will the student gain access to the content? In other words, what sensory modalities are being used (e.g., vision, auditory, touch)?
- Will the use of the modality conflict with any other tasks required to reach the instructional goal? For example, if a student is using braille, he/she will not be able to work with tactile manipulatives in math at the same time.
- What materials are students expected to use for the lesson?
- If the materials include print, what barriers does the print present?
- Will some students be using specialized formats of those materials? If so, which formats (braille, large print, audio, or digital text)?
- Will reading fluency be impacted by the use of specialized formats?
- How fluent is the student in using the specialized format? (Keep in mind that fluency is highly correlated with comprehension.) Will students using AIM need other supports and strategies to participate actively?
- If there are conflicts, how will they be resolved?
- What types of assessments will students need to complete?
- If some students will be using a specialized format, how will use of AIM impact accurate measurement of the construct?
- Will the use of appropriate tools and formats for improving learning opportunities help prepare the student for allowable large-scale assessment accommodations?