Accessible Educational Materials

Accessible Educational Materials

Please note that the terms Accessible Instructional Materials and Accessible Educational Materials are used interchangeably throughout the post.  Accessible Educational Materials is the more current term.

Curricular content in print-based, video, and other multimedia formats present significant barriers to students with learning, physical, sensory, and other disabilities.  Meanwhile, the availability and purchase of these educational materials are expanding and student and teacher creation is booming. What do educators need to know about accessibility in the process of purchasing and creating educational materials?

Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) are defined by the National Center on AEM as:

Accessible educational materials, or AEM, are print- and technology-based educational materials, including printed and electronic textbooks and related core materials that are designed or enhanced in a way that makes them usable across the widest range of learner variability, regardless of format (e.g. print, digital, graphic, audio, video).


Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) – Textbook Access

The origin of the term Accessible Instructional Material, a predecessor to the term Accessible Educational Materials, stems from the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004. Within that statute is a provision that requires state and local education agencies to provide textbooks and related core instructional materials in specialized formats to students with print disabilities in a timely manner. In Maine, “timely manner” means “at the same time as students without print disabilities.” The provision in IDEA was referred to as the “AIM initiative.”

You can also read Maine’s AIM: Acquiring Accessible Instructional Materials for All Kids from Kittery to Fort Kent at:   (please note that has now been replaced by


Curry, C. (2016, May 18). AT and AIM/AEM for on-demand access to reading materials [webinar]. Maine AIM Program.

Note:  opening the link to the archived recording of the webinar requires Flash.  The speaker’s notes and presentation slides are available in separate files.

The following materials provide specific steps for considering a student’s need for and, subsequently, providing it.  Please note the materials may use the term Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)- the materials were prepared prior to the change to Accessible Educational Materials.

Steps to Providing AIM (Maine AIM Program’s YouTube channel).   

AIM Under 5: Print Disability (Maine AIM Program’s YouTube Channel)


Bookshare provides materials in digital text format and is a free service for U.S. students. Organizations (district or school) can create organizational memberships and add qualifying students. In order to fully utilize Bookshare’s tools, students will need individual memberships, as well. Here are some important areas of Bookshare’s website:

Bookshare Demo:

Reading Tools:  

Note that Bookshare’s digital text file format is DAISY, which stands for Digital Accessible Information SYstem. Students will need a DAISY reader to access them or use the free Web Reader (see Bookshare’s Reading Tools page).

Closed Captioning: Benefits, Sources, and Tools

Here are an overview closed captioning, two articles that explain the benefits of closed captions for all learners, as well as sources for turning on closed captions on a variety of devices and services, and instructions for how to caption your own YouTube videos. 

Overview of Closed Captioning

 This video demonstrates two important and often overlooked features of high quality closed captioning: Appropriate pacing (timescales) and inclusion of sounds that occur when the narrator isn’t speaking (i.e., music and audience clapping). Consider watching it twice: The first with the sound off and the second with the sound on. 

Flawless Transcription Closed Captioning for YouTube Example

Turn on and try Closed Captioning

Instructions for turning on closed captions for multiple devices and services.


iPad, iPhone, iPod

Creating Subtitles and Closed Captions (YouTube)

Copyright considerations

Students and teachers acting as good digital citizens is important.   Copyright and fair use: Is it legal to caption public YouTube videos that don’t belong to you?   


Audio Description: Benefits, Sources, and Tools

For an introduction to audio description, go to the website of Listening Is Learning. Be sure to explore the examples.

Here’s an example of audio description. Watch it twice; the first time with your eyes closed.   The Hunger Games with audio description: Katniss hunting

The Audio Description Project.  Search for audio description by television, movie, DVD, and more.

Turn on and try Audio Description

Video-described shows by network (Audio Description Project)

Audio Description for NetFlix

Research suggests that audio description is beneficial for sighted students. Read the following article from Listening Is Learning:


Walter H. Kimball is Professor of Education at the University of Southern Maine.  Dr. Kimball has been a special education teacher, school district special education director, school district Title One director, university professor, and project director for an assistive technology certificate program.   He currently serves as a Product Reviewer for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). He gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Cynthia Curry to this post.


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