Promoting the Power of Accessibility: The Assistive Technology and Accessible Educational Materials (AT&AEM) Center

Access for all. That’s the philosophy that guides the Assistive Technology and Accessible Educational Materials (AT&AEM) Center at OCALI.

“In our work, we strive to help teachers, administrators, families, and people with disabilities to understand the power of accessibility,” said Jan Rogers, Program Director at the AT&AEM Center. “Accessibility can be provided through technology supports, creating accessible documents, materials and products, and designing activities inclusively.”

With 13 staff members and consultants, the AT&AEM Center is a responsive resource center that provides accessible educational materials, access to assistive technologies, and highly-specialized technical assistance and professional development support.

logo for Assistive Technology and Accessible Educational Materials Center at OCALI

What Are Accessible Educational Materials?

Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) are materials designed or converted in a way that makes them usable across the widest range of student variability regardless of format. In relation to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the term AEM refers to print instructional materials that have been transformed into four specialized formats (audio, braille, digital, and large print text). Sometimes learners with disabilities have difficulty accessing print in the same way as their peers. To succeed in school, these learners need learning materials presented in a way that works for them.

“Many people with disabilities struggle with access to routine tasks and unfortunately the environments or tasks aren’t made accessible,” said Jan. “We often have to retro-fit technology or support materials to meet people’s needs. Our team does a really good job of helping people to determine the need for AEM, identify the right tools, and ensure proper training on how to use the tools and resources.”

What is Assistive Technology (AT)?

Assistive technology, or AT, is anything that helps a person do what they want to do. It can help a person become more independent. AT can help in the home, at school, at work, and in the community. AT is for anyone, whether they’re young, old, or somewhere in between. AT is also for any disability, one present at birth or acquired later. Some examples of assistive technologies include communication devices, adapted writing utensils, specialized calculators, switches, sensory processing supports, braille writers, magnifiers, text-to-speech and speech-to-text software.

“Trying out AT devices before purchasing them is important. The OCALI Lending Library allows people to do just that—borrow AT assessment tools and devices, test them out, and make sure it’s the right fit and will meet the needs of the user,” explains Jan.

Federal Quota Program

Something that people may not know about the AT&AEM Center is that the Center conducts the annual Federal Quota Registration of Blind Students for Ohio. Dating back to the 1800’s, the Federal Quota Act was created for the “specific purpose of ‘manufacturing and furnishing books and other materials specially adapted for instruction’ for students who are blind in the United States and its Territories. As the first law enacted by Congress to support the education of students with visual disabilities, it has become a landmark.”

Each year in December, the AT&AEM Center mails a packet of materials to superintendents and/or principals, requesting them to register each student who is legally blind and attending school in their district. As early as March, teachers can start requesting materials for their students. The Center encourages teachers to be proactive and request materials for the following year. Once requests come in, OCALI processes and fulfills those requests. Then, teachers receive their materials and can start using them right away with their students.

“There’s a wide range of resources and tools available through the Federal Quota program,” said Rachel Schultz, AEM Specialist. “The American Printing House for the Blind is the sole provider of those materials and they have anything from braille textbooks, devices such as the refreshable braille notetakers, or the Perkins brailler, they have other assistive technology devices, table magnifiers such as the MATT Connect, and manual and digital magnifiers, so there’s really a wide range of products that students can access through the Federal Quota program.”

“It’s essential for students with visual impairments to have their materials at the same time as their classmates,” explains Lisa Goshe, teacher for the visually impaired in Columbus City Schools. “It’s an issue of equity. It’s an issue of allowing them to be engaged in their learning. If you don’t have your materials in front of you, how do you engage? It lets students be active learners in the moment and gain the most out of the lesson that’s going on.”

Inspiring Change

Inspiring change is part of OCALI’s mission and each Center contributes to that mission in its own way. Jan shares how the AT&AEM Center is inspiring change with the people they serve.

“Accessibility is often the key to independence, facilitating active participation and engagement to all types of life activities. Through our work, as we see the impact and hear the stories of how improving accessibility can be life changing for people with disabilities, we continually feel inspired to impact change about how those serving people with disabilities think and respond accessibly.”

Resources You Can Use

If you’re just getting started, the AT&AEM Center recommends the following resources:

  •  AT&AEM Website: The information and resources on this site can help lead a user through the process, how to obtain resources, how to pay for the resources, and more.
  •  AT Lending Library: With OCALI’s Lending Library, users can try assessments, devices, and materials before buying them.
  •  Professional Development: With more than 20 trainings on literacy, braille, and assistive technology and internet modules to learn the process, the AT&AEM Center offers learning opportunities online and face-to-face.