Feds provide clarification on definition of print materials

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), Department of Education has announced a “Final notice of interpretation” regarding the definition of “print instructional materials’’ in the Individuals with Disability Education Act – IDEA regarding digital instructional materials. In this final interpretation, effective May 26, 2020, OSERS noted the “trend” toward digital materials in classrooms, a far different landscape from 2004 when IDEA was last amended and the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) was created. At that time, the vast majority of instructional materials were printed on paper and NIMAC was implemented to allow for the schools to convert printed instructional materials into specialized formats for a student with a print disability in a timely manner.

According to the announcement in the Federal Register Vol. 85, No. 101 of May 26, 2020:

“…the Department interprets the phrase ‘printed textbooks and related printed core  materials’ referred to in the definition of ‘print instructional materials’ in section 674(e)(3)(C) of IDEA (20 U.S.C. 1474(e)(3)(C)) to include digital instructional materials that comply with NIMAS, because that is the primary medium through which many textbooks and core materials are now produced.”

The full announcement in the May 26th Federal Register may be downloaded in PDF on the govinfo.gov website.

Read more about Laws and Policies related to AEM…

Hotspot Donations and Wireless for Educators

Hotspot Donations and $10/Month Wireless for Educators

With nationwide school closures due to COVID-19, nonprofits Mobile Beacon and Digital Wish have a major hotspot donation program available that can significantly increase remote connectivity for students and teachers. Visit digitalwish.org and get up to 11 donated hotspots per school. Discounted $10/month unlimited 4G LTE internet service is provided so that teachers and students can connect and learn from anywhere in the Mobile Beacon coverage area. With a lending pool of hotspots, students-in-need can access the internet to embark on a distance learning journey during isolation.

Each hotspot has unlimited, high-speed 4G LTE mobile broadband service, and can connect up to 10 people on the internet on only one plan.

This donation program is open to all public, private, and non-profit K-12 schools and universities. For higher-need schools that exceed the cap of 11 hotspots per school, behind the scenes Digital Wish is purchasing modems that will qualify for the subsidized $10/month broadband service. If you need more, please contact: Heather Chirtea 802-379-3000, heather@digitalwish.org.

Mobile Beacon is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and the second-largest Educational Broadband Service (EBS) provider in the United States. The nonprofit has been given an EBS spectrum license by the FCC, specifically to support broadband use in schools. Nonprofit Digital Wish teamed up to make the 4G LTE hotspot device donation program available to schools throughout the United States. If your schools have connectivity issues, this subsidized service will allow you to fill the gaps with wireless hotspot donations and equitably connect all students. Schools can easily create a Hotspot Lending Pool for students needing internet access at home.

Use this link to learn how to set up a lending pool...

Please share this announcement with your colleagues who are struggling to acquire access for remote students.

 

Google Teach From Home

In response to the rapidly changing educational landscape, Google has created a new resource for teachers Teach from Home. The new web resource is available in eleven languages and provides teachers with answers to many questions and links to make additional resources found on their Google in Education service. There is a complete section on accessibility that describes how to turn on and use access features in Chrome and on Chromebooks.

The Teach From Home resource is also available to download (in PDF) for teachers who have limited access to the internet.

Google has also created a complementary resources, Learn @ Home a guide for parents and guardians.  Google partnered with learning creators to bring parents and families meaningful resources and activities. These resources are not meant to replace homework assigned by teachers, but meant to complement that work.

Use this link to visit Teach From Home

AEM Center offers series of training on accessibility in distance learning

National Center on Accessible Educational Materials logo

The AEM Center at CAST is offering free webinars on access and distance education for educators, parents, and those involved in remote instruction.

The series of six webinar, beginning on March 30, 2020 are designed to help educators who are now offering all of their lessons online – and parents – to support learners with disabilities, particularly those who use Assistive Technology (AT) and need Accessible Educational Materials (AEM).

Topics and dates are as follows:

Webinar 1: Personalizing the Reading Experience 
Monday, March 30, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 2: Creating High-Quality and Accessible Video
Monday, April 6, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 3: We’re All in This Together: Four Cs for Supporting All Learners in the COVID-19 Crisis 
Tuesday, April 7, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 4: Creating Accessible Documents and Slide Decks
Monday, April 13, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 5: We’re All in this Together: Communication and Collaboration In-the-Trenches
Tuesday, April 14, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 6: Making Math Notation Accessible
Tuesday, April 21, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

For those unable to attend the live sessions, all webinars will be recorded and archived.

Use this link to read complete program descriptions and sign up…

US Department of Education updates guidance

The United States Department of Education (USDOE), in response to apparent incorrect assumptions being made across the nation, that providing educational services to student with disabilities via “distance instruction” presents too many barriers. On March 21, 2920 the USDOE published, Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities. 

This guidance states the following:

At the outset, OCR and OSERS must address a serious misunderstanding that has recently circulated within the educational community. As school districts nationwide take necessary steps to protect the health and safety of their students, many are moving to virtual or online education (distance instruction). Some educators, however, have been reluctant to provide any distance instruction because they believe that federal disability law presents insurmountable barriers to remote education. This is simply not true. We remind schools they should not opt to close or decline to provide distance instruction, at the expense of students, to address matters pertaining to services for students with disabilities. Rather, school systems must make local decisions that take into consideration the health, safety, and well-being of all their students and staff.

To be clear: ensuring compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), † Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction. School districts must provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing education, specialized instruction, and related services to these students. In this unique and ever-changing environment, OCR and OSERS recognize that these exceptional circumstances may affect how all educational and related services and supports are provided, and the Department will offer flexibility where possible. However, school districts must remember that the provision of FAPE may include, as appropriate, special education and related services provided through distance instruction provided virtually, online, or  telephonically.

The Department understands that, during this national emergency, schools may not be able to provide all services in the same manner they are typically provided. While some schools might choose to safely, and in accordance with state law, provide certain IEP services to some students in-person, it may be unfeasible or unsafe for some institutions, during current emergency school closures, to provide hands-on physical therapy, occupational therapy, or tactile sign language educational services. Many disability-related modifications and services may be effectively provided online. These may include, for instance, extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing.

It is important to emphasize that federal disability law allows for flexibility in determining how to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities. The determination of how FAPE is to be provided may need to be different in this time of unprecedented national emergency. As mentioned above, FAPE may be provided consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing special education and related
services to students. Where, due to the global pandemic and resulting closures of schools, there has been an inevitable delay in providing services – or even making decisions about how to provide services – IEP teams (as noted in the March 12, 2020 guidance) must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services may be needed when schools resume normal operations.

Finally, although federal law requires distance instruction to be accessible to students with disabilities, it does not mandate specific methodologies. Where technology itself imposes a barrier to access or where educational materials simply are not available in an accessible format, educators may still meet their legal obligations by providing children with disabilities equally effective alternate access to the curriculum or services provided to other students. For example, if a teacher who has a blind student in her class is working from home and cannot distribute a document accessible to that student, she can distribute to the rest of the class an inaccessible document and, if appropriate for the student, read the document over the phone to the blind student or provide the blind student with an audio recording of a reading of the document aloud.

Download and read this entire PDF document: Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities…

Online teaching resources for Maine educators

Providing Equal Access to Distance Curriculum

As schools in Maine close in response to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 and begin to educate their students “from a distance,” we offer some resources to assist in the process.

This resource includes links to articles, videos and services which will assist Maine educators to ensure access to all of their students as they move to teaching online. There are also some references for therapists.

Use this link to go to Resources for Maine Educators Teaching Online

Thanks to our colleagues for sharing their resources. We acknowledge the work of Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, PhD, ATP of RSU 21, Kennebunk, ME and Mike Marotta, Director, The Richard West Assistive Technology Advocacy Center, NJ, and Luis Perez, Ed.D. from the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials.

US Department of Education – Guidance on COVID-19

In an article published by Disability Scoop, the US Department of Education has offered guidance to educators across the nation on how to handle the needs of students with disabilities.

The article notes:

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a webinar and fact sheet this week for education leaders aimed at ensuring that students’ civil rights are upheld while schools are closed due to COVID-19.

The webinar reminds school officials that distance learning must be accessible unless “equally effective alternate access is provided.”

Online learning tools should be compatible with any assistive technology that students use and schools must regularly test their online offerings for accessibility, the Education Department said.

Text-to-Speech vs. Human Audio Debate

Book with headphonesTime was, if you wanted/needed to have textbooks and other educational materials in “audio” format, you needed to acquire a recording made by a human narrator reading the materials. Indeed, the earliest forms of these recordings were developed in the late 1940 as a service known as, Recordings for the Blind (later renamed Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, and now known as Learning Ally), started in New York City.  Learning Ally is currently the largest supplier of human-narrated audio texts and educational materials.

As information technology has advanced greatly in the last 20 years, so too has the quality of “audio” transformations made by text-to-speech software (TTS). One might assume therefore that the need for audio recordings from human narrators would no longer be needed. Perhaps.

A recent blog article from Christine Jones at Bookshare/Benetech (full disclosure – Bookshare is a supplier of digital content that can be read by TTS) notes that the differences between TTS and human narration have become less and may soon “be negligible.”

Perhaps what is more important from Ms. Jones’ article is the emphasis that not only are audio and digital/TTS options essential for many readers with print disabilities, ALL students, even those without disabilities, can benefit from the use of these audio methods when used in conjunction with printed materials.

The decision on whether a student should use human-narrated audio content or digital content read with TTS is probably best done on an individual basis. However, it is quite likely that having both options available will continue to be a good thing for some time to come.

Read Christine Jones complete article, Reframing the Text-to-Speech vs. Human Audio Debate: Both Make Reading Easier…

Read Why Audiobooks? from Learning Ally…

 

Photo credit: Image licensed through Creative Commons by Jeff Golden 

Bookshare Offers K-12 Textbooks in Accessible Formats

The following message comes from Bookshare..

Yes, Bookshare DOES Have Many of the Textbooks Your Students Need!

Bookshare logoMany people view Bookshare’s large collection of ebooks primarily as a source of classroom reading or pleasure reading books, such as novels, biographies, and the like. Indeed, Bookshare does offer a rich selection of these materials. However, did you know that our library also includes more than 25,000 textbooks?

The largest single source of Bookshare’s textbooks is the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC), a federal repository of K-12 textbooks in accessible formats established by the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The NIMAC contains more than 50,000 files supplied by publishers in compliance with IDEA, and Bookshare is one of the largest distributors of NIMAC-sourced titles. In fact, Bookshare already contains nearly 11,000 book files from the NIMAC, and Bookshare members benefited from more than 30,000 downloads of these titles in the past twelve months. To get an idea of the breadth of materials available in the NIMAC, check out these special collections of NIMAC-sourced titles already available in Bookshare.

Generally, NIMAC-sourced textbooks contain images, are of high quality, and offer an excellent user experience. So why doesn’t Bookshare have all 50,000+ files that are in the NIMAC? Because NIMAC-sourced books are added to Bookshare at the request of educators serving qualified students. If a textbook is in the NIMAC but not already available on Bookshare, educators can submit a book request, and the Bookshare Team will work with the NIMAC and/or the appropriate state agency to obtain the title, convert it into a student-ready format, and make the title available in the collection. Any representative of a U.S. K-12 public or charter school with an organizational Bookshare account can share Bookshare’s NIMAC books with their qualified K-12 students — those who both qualify for Bookshare AND have IEPs. (Students do not need an IEP to access most Bookshare books, but they do need one to obtain NIMAC-sourced books. This is because the NIMAC was created by IDEA specifically to serve students served in special education.) These students can then log in to their Bookshare accounts to access and read the books. For more information on how Bookshare and the NIMAC work together, check out this list of frequently asked questions.

Bookshare Has Even More Textbooks for Students with Reading Barriers

In addition to NIMAC-sourced books, Bookshare offers thousands of textbooks that are available to any member. Some of these may be alternative versions of books we obtained from the NIMAC, but we have purchased, chopped, scanned, and proofread them to make them available to students who do not have IEPs. Some may be textbooks we obtained from publishers. In addition, Bookshare offers a selection of “freely available” textbooks, which are available under Creative Commons licenses or are in the public domain and therefore available to anyone, not just Bookshare members. (So in most cases, even non-members will be able to download them or select “Read Now” next to the titles to open them in Bookshare Web Reader.) Many of these “freely available” titles are “open educational resources” (OER) published by organizations interested in making educational content available to all.

Educators Can Access Reading Lists Created by U.S. School Districts

Bookshare’s Collection Development team has collaborated with several large districts around the country to create lists of the textbooks they commonly use – including math, English language arts, and science – to make them easier to assign to their students. These lists are made available on Bookshare so that all educators can access and share them. They can either subscribe to or copy these lists and assign them to their students, or assign specific books from the lists using Bookshare’s new Assign & Read feature. Feel free to mine the lists for textbooks and instructional materials that will benefit your students.

Students Can Read Textbooks on Multiple Devices

Most importantly, Bookshare members can read their textbooks in the ways that work for them, just as they can all other books in the collection. They can read them on computers, Chromebooks, tablets, mobile devices and refreshable Braille displays. They can even download every textbook as a Microsoft Word document, with all of the flexibility that format offers.

At Bookshare, we believe that when students have all the learning materials they need (even their textbooks!) in formats that work for them, they can succeed in school and become more engaged and confident learners.

 

AEM Pilot Has Launched

From NC-AEM

The AEM Pilot Has Launched!

We’re excited to announce the launch of the AEM Pilot. If you’re in a school district that has work to do to improve the accessibility of materials and technologies provided to learners with disabilities, enlist a crew and board the AEM Pilot! It’s a secure, interactive, web-based tool aligned with the AEM Quality Indicators with Critical Components for K-12.

The AEM Pilot:

  • Provides guidance on establishing a high-functioning cross-disciplinary district team
  • Scaffolds individual and group knowledge about AEM and related technologies
  • Presents guiding questions for critical self-reflection
  • Offers exemplars of effective practices already in use by states and districts
  • Recommends specific actions for getting started with improving the provision of AEM in your district
  • Guides your district’s team in conducting self-assessments in relation to the AEM Quality Indicators
  • Saves your team’s data for progress monitoring purposes
  • Generates reports that include self-ratings, goals, and action steps.

Let the AEM Pilot navigate a crew of accessibility heroes in your district.

Use this link for more information about the AEM Pilot…