What are AIM?

Table of Contents

1. Overview
2. Braille and Accessibility Considerations
3. Large Print and Accessibility Considerations
4. Audio and Accessibility Considerations
5. Digital Text and Accessibility Considerations
6. AIM Center Resources

Overview

Accessible instructional materials, or AIM, are materials that are designed or converted in a way that makes them usable across the widest range of student variability regardless of format (print, digital, graphic, audio, video). IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) specifically focuses on accessible formats of print instructional materials. In relation to IDEA the term AIM refers to print instructional materials that have been transformed into the specialized formats of braille, large print, audio, or digital text.

braille iconWhat is braille?

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 iconWhat is large print?

Large print is generally defined as print that is larger than print sizes commonly used by the general population (8 to 12 points in size). Some use a guideline for defining large print as 18 point or larger. A document rendered in large print format usually has more white space and may or may not look like the original document but 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 iconWhat is audio?

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

digital text iconWhat is digital text?

Digital text is electronic text that can be delivered via a computer or by another device. A key accessibility consideration is that digital text is malleable and can be easily transformed in many different ways depending upon student needs and the technology being used for rendering. To accommodate the needs and preferences of a user, various features of the technology which control how the content is presented to the user can be manipulated such as size, fonts, colors, contrast, highlighting, and text-to-speech, etc. When text-to-speech is used, there are both visual and audio outputs which may be displayed individually or together.

What is meant by the term output as it applies to the selection of specialized formats?

Output means the way that materials are presented to a user. For example, a NIMAS source file can be converted to several different types of output such as hard copy braille, refreshable braille, large print, audio materials that have only sound, or digital text that can be manipulated to provide simultaneous text and speech, enlarged text, and other options depending upon the technology being used.

What is meant by the term navigation as it applies to the selection of specialized formats?

Navigation means the ability to move through the content and locate specific places, such as by the table of contents, page number, unit, chapter, or section within the instructional materials.

Braille and Accessibility Considerations

Photo of a braille page

What is braille and how do people read braille?

Braille is an effective and efficient tactile reading system for people who are unable to read and write print due to a visual impairment. Braille is commonly described as a system of touch reading and writing for people who are blind. Braille uses embossed or raised dots arranged in a six-dot cell to represent print characters. Sixty-three different characters can be systematically formed in the six-dot cell to create letters, numbers, and combinations of letters and words called contractions (English Braille American edition, 1994; What is braille? [n.d.]). Braille is considered a code rather than a language; any language can be conveyed in braille (Braille, n.d.; Wormsley, 2008).

The process of learning to read in braille is similar to learning to read and write print, yet people use the fingers of both hands to read from left to right over a line of braille using very little pressure with their fingers to touch the braille dots. Tactile perception and discrimination skills are important for efficient braille reading (Koenig & Holbrook, 2000).

Why would decision-makers consider braille format for a student?

When braille provides a student with a visual impairment with the best means to develop literacy skills in order to access information, communicate efficiently and independently, and participate in all educational activities, then their IEP team chooses braille as the student’s primary learning medium. This decision is based on a systematic and objective evaluation process. This evaluation process includes information from a variety of sources, such as a clinical low vision evaluation, a functional vision assessment, a learning media assessment, and the student’s progress in the educational program. The IEP team analyzes and considers the information in a variety of contexts, including the student’s current and future needs (Koenig & Holbrook, 1993; Koenig & Holbrook, 2000).

Photo of braille and textWhat characteristics of braille format should decision-makers think about when considering this format for a student?

Once an IEP team determines that braille is the primary learning medium for a student, the team needs to consider all aspects of providing access to textbooks and other instructional materials. For example, a beginning braille reader will most likely access early reading materials in literary braille code—the code most widely used in regular educational materials (Braille: Deciphering the Code, n.d.). It must also be determined if the student will initially learn braille in an uncontracted form (letter-by-letter representation) or in contracted form (use of special characters to make words shorter).

When the student progresses to using math textbooks, the student will access math in Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation. As students progress in the curriculum, they will need to learn about other braille codes such as the music braille code, computer code, and foreign language codes. Braille textbooks also have unique formatting, such as page numbering and use of transcriber notes, which students need to learn to efficiently read braille (Braille Authority of North America web site, n.d.).

Students also need to develop proficiency in interpreting tactile graphics in order to understand visual illustrations used in teaching and learning activities. Tactile graphics are images such as maps, charts, and graphs that are designed to be interpreted by touch (Tactile Graphics web site, n.d.).

Photo of a refreshable braille displayWhat output features of braille format are important?

Students usually begin reading embossed braille. This is commonly referred to as “paper braille" (also "hard copy braille") versus “refreshable braille." Refreshable braille is an electronic or digital braille output. As students become proficient in reading textbooks and other materials in paper braille, refreshable braille is frequently included as another effective way to read braille. Refreshable braille displays represent what is visually displayed on a computer screen. Braille output is created with small plastic pins in the shape of a typical braille cell that move up and down from a flat surface to display braille characters (AFB CareerConnect, n.d.).

Photo of a tactile graphicWhat characteristics of braille format influence which outputs are selected?

Both paper and refreshable braille formats have benefits to students. Paper braille is an excellent format for representing graphic materials, math content, and assisting in the student’s comprehension of spatial concepts. Refreshable braille provides the student with increased access to information and independence in a variety of environments such as school, home, work, and community because of greater flexibility and portability. Students usually learn to choose a preferred braille format depending on the literacy task and the environment. For example, a student may prefer a geography textbook in hard copy embossed braille to access maps and related tactile graphics, but prefer reading literature using a refreshable braille format.

Another feature of refreshable braille formats that may influence student choice is the additional output of speech available in electronic formats. Speech access can work in combination with refreshable braille access to increase a student’s efficiency. For example, a student may increase reading rate and comprehension through the combined outputs of refreshable braille and speech (McNear, 2001).

How does braille format lend itself to use in multiple environments and for multiple tasks?

It is important to consider braille formats in the context of multiple purposes in order to provide access to a variety of tasks. For example, both paper and refreshable braille can be used for tasks such as reading books and using additional braille codes. With a portable electronic braille device, a student can easily use braille in multiple environments such as school, home, and community events to engage in additional tasks such as word processing, calculating, web browsing, using email, and checking spelling.

How do people who use braille communicate with others who do not read braille?

Because braille is not widely known and used by the general population, communication between people who use braille and people who use print for literacy tasks needs special consideration when braille is selected as a student’s primary learning medium. To facilitate this communication, braille formats which contribute to independent communication and access are important to consider, such as the use of electronic braille tools with refreshable braille access. Features of electronic braille tools that integrate and interface with other access devices and “mainstream” devices can give print readers access to braille and braille readers access to print.

Large Print and Accessibility Considerations

Photo of a book shelf with large print books

What is important to understand about this specialized format and how large print is used?

Large print can be an effective reading medium for students with low vision, who are unable to use typical print size for efficient reading, to access textbooks and other instructional materials. Large print is generally defined as print that is larger than print sizes commonly used by the general population, which is 8 to12 points in size. Some use a guideline for defining large print as 18 point or larger (Kitchel, J. E., n.d.).

It is important to know that educational practice and the use of large print is affected by many factors. Conditions such as state policy, local educational practices, use of technology, availability of medical evaluations, availability of services, and resources affect how a student with low vision will access the general education curriculum (Smith, A. J., Geruschat, D., & Huebner, K. M., 2004).

It is also important to understand that many students who have low vision use typical print formats with greater efficiency than large print. Medical conditions that cause low vision in children are varied and affect how a person uses vision in many different ways. The evaluation process is essential to assist an IEP team in making appropriate decisions about print media for students with low vision (Lueck, A. H., Bailey, I. L., Greer, R. B., Tuan, K. M., Bailey, V. M., & Dornbusch, H. G., 2003; Bailey, I. L., Lueck, A. H., Greer, R. B., Tuan, K. M., Bailey, V. M., & Dornbusch, H. G., 2003).

Photo of page in a large print bookWhy would decision-makers consider large print format for a student?

For a student with low vision who uses print for reading and writing, an IEP team considers the use of large print through an evaluation process to determine the print media the student will use to develop literacy skills. This objective evaluation process (which is similar to the process used to determine the use of braille) includes information from a variety of sources, such as a clinical low vision evaluation, a functional vision assessment, and a learning media assessment emphasizing print media and efficient reading skills. A variety of factors are included in the decision-making process such as eye condition, type of vision loss, reading speed, comprehension, print size, and individual student goals (Koenig & Holbrook, 1993).

When large print will provide a student with the best means to develop literacy skills and to access a variety of print materials, then their IEP team chooses large print as the student’s learning medium. It may be the student’s primary or secondary learning medium depending on task and context. For example, large print may be most appropriate for a print textbook, but not necessary for access to electronic text where many print features can be adjusted and customized to student preferences.

The research regarding print characteristics affecting reading speed and reading efficiency for people with low vision is ongoing. The professional literature suggests that in addition to print size, factors such as type of vision loss, visual skills, print layout, cognitive demands, and processing demands influence reading speed (Lueck, A. H., Bailey, I. L., 2003; Bailey, I. L., Lueck, 2003).

What characteristics of large print format should decision-makers think about when considering this format for a student?

When an IEP team determines that large print is the most appropriate method for a student to read, the team needs to consider all aspects of providing access to textbooks and other instructional materials. For example, in the early grades, print material in educational materials is generally provided in a larger print size, which may be sufficient for the student’s access. As a student progresses through the grades, ongoing monitoring of print characteristics and reading efficiency needs to occur to ensure appropriate use of large print materials.

In addition to large print, other factors affecting visual access need to be considered for a student using large print. For example, variables such as contrast, clutter, and spacing in print presentation of text may affect a student’s ability to read efficiently (Lueck, A. H., Bailey, I. L., 2003; Bailey, I. L., Lueck, 2003; Russell-Minda, E., Jutai, F. W., Strong, J. G., Campbell, K.A., Gold, D., Pretty, G., & Wilmot, L., 2007).

Students also need to be proficient in using a variety of visual illustrations such as photos, maps, graphs, and charts used in teaching and learning activities. They need to know how visual illustrations should be presented for efficient visual access and the most effective way to access graphic information.

Photo of a boy using a book magnifierWhat output features of large print format are important?

In today’s learning environments, students are reading printed text on paper and displayed text on computer screens and a variety of other electronic tools and devices. Some people refer to text on paper as large print and text displayed on electronic tools as large text. Students requiring large print or enlarged text are likely to need to become proficient in reading textbooks and learning materials in a variety of media and output features.

It is also important to understand the role of magnification devices and tools to provide access to print as a magnified output. It is common and supported in the research and professional literature that accessing typical print through devices and tools that magnify print and text is an efficient and effective way for many students with low vision to read and write (Farmer, J., & Morse, S.E., 2007; Smith, J., & Erin, J.N., 2002; Corn A., Wall, R., Jose, R., Bell, J., Wilcox, K., & Perez A., 2002). These devices and tools may be prescribed low vision devices such as magnifiers or non-prescription devices such as additional lighting. There are computer-based tools such as software and hardware solutions that enable large text and other electronic tools such as electronic magnifiers, both portable and desktop (commonly referred to as CCTVs or video magnifiers) that enlarge print. In addition, accessibility features built into computer platforms have many options that students can use to increase the size of visual presentation and readability of the text.

Photo of a magnifierWhat characteristics of large print and large text formats influence which outputs are selected?

There are benefits to using a variety of outputs when large print is used. Using large print in textbooks gives a student immediate access to the same materials classmates are using and allows the student to participate in teaching and learning activities in the same manner as all students. Viewing print through the use of magnification devices and tools can provide additional visual access to materials, such as to maps that contain detailed and embedded graphics.

Viewing text on a computer screen gives a student with low vision the ability to customize text size and other features of text to personal preferences using specialized software programs or accessibility features available in the computer’s platform. Research also suggests that a person’s subjective preferences influence the outputs they may want to use for access to print and text (Lueck, A. H. & Bailey, I. L., 2003; Bailey, I. L. & Lueck, 2003).

Another benefit to using electronic tools for viewing text is the ability of some specialized software programs to provide the additional output of speech. Similar to using speech with braille, speech access with large print can work in combination to increase a student’s reading efficiency (Pattillo, S. T., Heller, K. W., & Smith, M., 2004).

What are the considerations for large print for use in multiple environments and for multiple tasks?

Similar to braille, the need to use large print in many contexts and for specific purposes influences a student’s choices and methods of use. Typical large print textbooks have a history of being criticized for their size and weight. However, many current large print textbooks are produced in a size typical of all textbooks so they are portable and student “friendly.”

Viewing print with hand-held portable magnification devices gives students the flexibility and independence to access print in an enlarged format in multiple environments, such as school, home, and in the community. The use of electronic methods to enlarge print also provides the flexibility to view print for multiple tasks, such as word processing and use of a variety of electronic media. When considering learning tasks such as conducting research and using reference tools, using electronic tools with access to the Internet gives students access to content in a preferred print size.

Audio and Accessibility Considerations

What is audio format and how do people use it as an alternative to print?

People who use this format receive information by listening. Audio formats have no visual component.

Photo of a girl wearing headphonesWhy would decision-makers consider an audio format for a student?

People who are blind and individuals who have difficulty with reading text or who spend a great deal of time trying to decode text may benefit from the use of auditory text. By listening to content, students can reduce the cognitive load of trying to read text or braille and can focus on comprehension of the information conveyed. Decisions are made based on a student’s needs, the environments in which tasks will be completed, and the nature of tasks the student needs to accomplish.

What output features of audio formats are important?

The major features that decision makers should focus on are voice, navigation within a file, and supported study skills. For audio format, output means how the voice sounds to the listener. Output features describe the ways that speech can be adjusted or modified when using audio format. Audio output may be a recorded human voice or synthesized speech. There are many ways in which the speech output can be adjusted, whether the speech is recorded human voice or synthesized speech. Adjustments can be made in the pitch, the volume, and the speed at which speech is presented.

Photo of a girl listening to an audio playerWhat characteristics of audio formats influence which outputs are selected?

Decision-makers think about whether a student needs or prefers the audio to be recorded human voice or whether a synthesized or computer-generated voice is acceptable. Output should be selected depending on personal characteristics of the student, such as age, level of experience with the format, and tasks to be completed with the instructional materials.

Although natural human speech may sound better, many users prefer the flexibility of synthesized speech for some tasks. Many students may want to adjust the rate at which text is spoken and some may be able to process and listen to text being spoken very quickly. Some individuals can understand certain sounds at a higher pitch than others. Audio can be changed to make these adjustments when it is in a synthesized format.

Photo of an audio deviceWhat navigation features of audio formats are important?

Audio books that conform to the DAISY (Digital Access Information SYstem) standard for digital talking books (DTBs) have important navigation features that allow users to move around the recorded speech files easily. Navigation is similar to a table of contents and allows users to jump to elements such as chapters, sections, pages, paragraphs, and sentences. The ability to navigate DTBs easily provides many benefits compared to regular audio books without navigation.

What other features are important to consider with audio formats?

Bookmarking and highlighting of audio text and the ability to label sections with text and/or audio notes are important to consider for some students.

How does audio lend itself to use in multiple environments and for multiple tasks?

Some students may actually use different audio formats for different reading tasks. For example, it may be perfectly acceptable for a Science book to be read with a synthesized voice but when a literary work is studied for a literature class a human voice may be more useful.

Digital Text and Accessibility Considerations

Photo of a computer screen

What are digital text formats and how do people use them as an alternative to print?

Digital text is electronic text that can be displayed on a computer screen or another device. A key characteristic is that digital text is malleable and can be easily transformed in many different ways depending upon student needs and technology being used to render it. To accommodate the needs and preferences of a user, various features of the technology which control how the content is presented to the user can be manipulated such as size, fonts, colors, contrast, highlighting, and text-to-speech, etc.  When text-to-speech is used, there are both visual and audio outputs which may be delivered individually or together.

There are three main categories of digital text. The first is computer software and some stand-alone hardware devices that read text aloud using synthetic speech or text-to-speech. The second category is digital talking books (DTBs) that conform to the DAISY standard (or Digital Audio Information SYstem). The third category consists of commercial digital texts or e-books (electronic books) which may offer embedded read-aloud functionality.

Photo of a student listening to TTS on a laptopWhy would decision-makers consider a digital text format for a student?

Digital text, when delivered on a computer or other device, can provide many accessibility options that can be manipulated to control how text is presented to a student.  Many text-to-speech software programs have the capability to provide text and audio simultaneously or separately. This format not only provides flexible access to the information contained in printed materials, but many text-to-speech software programs also have built-in learning supports than can increase learning and literacy for some students.

What output features of digital text formats are important?

Output is what a user sees and hears on the computer screen. The following are some of the features that may be manipulated depending on the technology being used:

  • Font size/type/color
  • Background color
  • Synchronized highlighting as text is read
  • Text-to-speech
  • Voice speed
  • Navigation

 

What is supported reading software?

When learning supports are designed into a program that renders digital text, the software is often referred to as supported reading software.

Learning support features may include—

  • Find/search
  • Bookmarking
  • Note-taking
  • Text highlighter
  • Generation of an outline from highlighted text
  • Audio notes
  • Dictionary/thesaurus
  • Links to multimedia

 

How does a digital text format lend itself to use in multiple environments and for multiple tasks?

When digital materials are created that meet the NIMAS or DAISY standard for accessibility, that file can be converted into various accessible, student-ready specialized formats appropriate to a student’s needs and preferences, the environments in which it will be used, the tasks which need to be accomplished, and the technology need to perform those tasks in those environments.

AIM Center Resources

National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials. (2010). AIMing for Achievement DVD (decision-making steps: selecting specialized formats). Available from http://aim.cast.org/experience/training/AIMAchvDVD

The AIMing for Achievement DVD includes content on a variety of topics that are important to the provision, selection, acquisition, and use of accessible instructional materials. The DVD contains interviews and illustrative scenarios that increase awareness and knowledge that supports timely provision of accessible instructional materials to students who need them for educational participation and achievement.

Stahl, S., Hitchcock C., Hendricks, V., Johnson, M., & Siller, M. (2010). Accessible textbooks in the K–12 classroom:  an educator’s guide to the acquisition of alternate format core learning materials for pre K–12 students with print disabilities.  Retrieved November 10, 2010 from http://aim.cast.org/learn/aim4families/school/accessible_textbooks

This Guide  is designed to provide educators—administrators, teachers, and paraprofessionals—with effective strategies for acquiring and using accessible, alternate format versions of print instructional materials in the classroom. The Guide explores solutions for obtaining alternate format materials in four categories: braille, audio, e-text, and large print.

Stahl, S., Zabala, J., Hitchcock, C., & Hendricks, V. (2008). Accessible textbooks in the classroom II: selecting specialized formats. Retrieved May 1, 2010 from http://aim.cast.org/learn/practice/use/accessible_textbooks_II

The third in a series of explorations related to the acquisition and use of accessible instructional materials for elementary and secondary school students with print disabilities, this article provides suggested guidelines for determining which specialized formats and which tools are best suited to a given student’s print-related challenges.

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Last Updated: 06/23/2014

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