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|Volume 20, No. 1 - Winter 2012||
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Center for Disabilities Studies, University of Delaware
As the article on page two from the Disabilities Law Program points out, students with qualifying print disabilities have a right to get their instructional materials in a format consistent with their needs. For example, students who struggle with print because of a learning disability might be more successful with content delivered in a way they can hear it. Likewise, a student with cerebral palsy who has difficulty carrying a book and turning the book’s pages might benefit from content delivered on a computer or an iPad.
Delaware’s system for ensuring that accessible instructional materials (AIM) are delivered in a timely manner to students with print disabilities has evolved considerably over the last several years. When the federal mandate for AIM was clarified in the 2004 reauthorization of the special education law (IDEA), the Delaware Department of Education (DOE), in conjunction with the Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative (DATI), began offering training at both the state and local levels about the requirements of the new law. Although this training succeeded in raising awareness about the mandate to provide AIM to students with print disabilities, there was not much progress across the state in actually getting accessible materials into the hands of students.
One reason that awareness hadn’t translated into practice was that schools were not equipped with the expertise and the tools to complete timely conversion of print documents into other formats. Another reason was that educators were well aware of copyright laws and were concerned that providing materials in alternate formats could constitute a violation of those laws. In order for Delaware to comply with IDEA—and in order for students to get the materials to which they are entitled in a timely manner—both of those legitimate concerns on the part of educators and administrators needed to be addressed.
To facilitate timely and accurate production of AIM, the DOE began thinking about the value of a centralized source for AIM that would be available to all school districts and charter schools; the service could provide a one-stop resource for learning more about AIM, qualifying students for AIM, and ordering materials in appropriate formats. During the 2012-2013 school year, the envisioned service was launched. The Delaware AIM Center represents a collaboration among many stakeholders committed to providing accessible materials; these included the DDOE, the Delaware Division for the Visually Impaired (DVI), and the DATI at the University of Delaware’s Center for Disabilities Studies. The Delaware AIM Center (www.aimdelaware.org) features a wealth of information for students, families and educators, and provides access to an on-line system that schools can use to order materials and monitor the timeline of their production and delivery.
The copyright issue also had to be addressed before educators could be confident that they were acting in compliance with the law. IDEA did not explicitly define which students were eligible to receive AIM, other than to say that they were students with “print disabilities,” so many states interpreted that to mean students who historically have been eligible for accessible materials, such as those who are blind or have visual impairments. Since the 1930’s, students with physical disabilities and those whose reading difficulties arose from “organic dysfunction” also qualified, but schools tended to avoid qualifying students on the basis of those definitions because they were subject to such wide interpretation.
Delaware’s solution was to create two ways to establish students’ eligibility for AIM. Students who have qualified for decades on the basis of blindness, visual impairment, physical disabilities and “organic dysfunction” are considered to fall under Group A eligibility. The law is very clear about which professionals can attest to a student’s eligibility under Group A qualifications; for example, only physicians can qualify students on the basis of “organic dysfunction.” The other mechanism for establishing students’ eligibility for AIM is to qualify them as meeting Group B requirements, which are: 1) presence of a print disability, as determined by a neurologist, psychiatrist, learning disability specialist, special education teacher, or school or clinical psychologist with a background in learning disabilities; and 2) documentation of the students’ need for AIM in the IEP. At this time, students with print disabilities who do not have IEPs—such as those with 504 plans—do not qualify for AIM.
Why all the fuss about meeting eligibility requirements? So that we can provide AIM to as many students who need it as possible while remaining within the bounds of copyright and special education law. Schools are prohibited from providing accessible materials to students who don’t meet the requirements. To assist schools with this compliance, the state created the role of the Digital Rights Manager (DRM). DRMs are the only individuals authorized to submit an order for AIM to the Delaware AIM Center, and before doing so must attest that the student qualifies for AIM under the Group A or Group B requirements. The AIM Center delivers the accessible materials to the DRM, who is then responsible for ensuring that all who receive the materials understand their legal obligations (for example, the materials can be used only by the student for whom they were ordered, and they must be returned to the AIM Center at the end of the year).
AIM Center personnel have been busy providing guidance to districts about the AIM mandate, eligibility criteria and strategies for assessing students’ need for AIM. They have also been creating accessible materials; last year alone, they filled several hundred orders on behalf of students statewide. If you would like to know more about the AIM mandate, or would like to arrange training for your school or organization, contact Beth Mineo at 302.831.1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is an overview of Delaware’s AIM system. Future articles will offer more in-depth descriptions of assessment strategies and the tools that can be used to deliver accessible materials to students with print disabilities.