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VESID Committee


Rebecca Cort 


Use of technology to provide accessible instructional materials for students with disabilities


January 21, 2010


Goals 1 and 2






Issue for Discussion

The Regents will discuss issues relating to the use of technology for students with disabilities.  This discussion will include technology advances to provide instruction to students with disabilities and how VESID is providing information, training and technical assistance to school districts to learn about and obtain accessible instructional materials to meet the individual needs of students.   As the Department moves forward in its discussion of on-line courses and other technology initiatives, it is important to consider the needs of individuals with disabilities to access and benefit from these initiatives.


Reason for Consideration

              For information.

Proposed Handling

              This item will come before the VESID Committee for discussion at its February 2010 meeting.

Procedural History

As required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a student who needs an accommodation to instructional materials because of his or her disability must be provided with such materials in the alternative format needed by the student.  Chapter 377 of the Laws of 2001 requires that every school district and Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) develop a plan to ensure that all instructional materials to be used in the schools of the district or in the programs of the BOCES are available in a usable alternative format for every student with a disability, in accordance with his or her individual needs, at the same time that such materials are available to non-disabled students.  This law pertains to students with disabilities with individualized education programs (IEPs) as well as disabled students with Section 504 accommodation plans. 

IDEA 2004 requires every state and school district to adopt the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS).  NIMAS outlines a set of consistent and valid specifications for document source files created by K-12 curriculum publishers or other content producers that can be used to create accessible specialized formats of print instructional materials.  New York State (NYS) has a written agreement with the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC), which has created a national repository of these NIMAS source files to streamline access to instructional materials that meet NIMAS standards for students who are blind or have other print disabilities.

Background Information

Many students with disabilities have not had equal and timely access to the same educational materials used by their non-disabled peers.  Even with today’s advanced technologies, students who require instructional materials in alternative formats (such as Braille and large print) continue to experience problems receiving such materials in formats suited to their individual learning needs.  If these students with disabilities are going to meet high educational standards, appropriate and accessible instructional materials must be readily available to them in a timely manner. 

Technology, adaptable to individual needs, is used as a tool to provide student access to both materials and information, both input and output.  There are various types of technology, including hardware and software.  A student may use hardware, such as e-readers or netbooks, to access written materials or for note-taking capabilities.  A student may use software programs to assist with organization, writing tasks or learning concepts.  Examples of available technologies include such simple items as slant boards and larger keys on a keyboard to more complex items such as word prediction and voice recognition software.

Considerations in Use of Technology for Students with Disabilities

Individual student needs:


  • In making assistive technology recommendations for each student with a disability, the Committee on Special Education (CSE) must consider the student’s individual needs in relation to the instruction to be provided, the tasks the student will be expected to do and the student’s environment.  


  • This requires that school personnel be knowledgeable about the range of technology resources available and their applicability to address individual needs. 



Curricula and Instructional Approaches


  • A student with a disability’s access to instruction is greatly enhanced when curricula and instruction are universally designed – meaning that teachers provide all students with instruction with multiple means of representation, multiple means of expression and multiple means of engagement.  The technology tools designed for students with disabilities lead to a universally-designed concept that will benefit all students. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides supports for students to participate and progress in the curriculum.  Without UDL, teachers must adapt or modify instruction, materials and assessments for students with disabilities.


  • Curriculum should be created with accessibility for all students in mind.  The diverse students in each classroom learn differently and the standard print-based medium for curricula (e.g., textbooks) are not accessible to all students.  Technology allows for manipulation of curricular materials in multiple ways, reaching more learners.  If, when curricula are created, digital and/or NIMAS filesets are also created, this allows for a more timely and accurate creation of the materials, as opposed to creating digital and/or NIMAS filesets after the fact – which often causes delays in student access to instructional materials.  Today’s digital technology enables the user to more easily and effectively customize or personalize curriculum for diverse learners.


Teacher Preparation

New teachers need to be prepared to work with diverse learners.  Preservice education should include competencies to provide instruction using the principals of UDL to offer multiple means of representation, expression and engagement to more effectively reach and teach all learners within a classroom.

Current Department Initiatives

The Regents have long established policy to ensure that students with disabilities have access to appropriate instructional materials at the same time as their nondisabled peers.  Over the past two years, VESID has taken on new initiatives to assist school districts with training and resources to improve student access to technology and accessible instructional materials. The U.S. Education Department, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) sponsored a group of 15 states, led by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), to assist with timely delivery of AIM.  New York was selected to be a part of this AIM Consortium, and we began our work in 2008. Through this project, the Office of Special Education of VESID accomplished the following:


  • The library management system at the Resource Center for the Visually Impaired (RCVI), which loans Braille and large print materials to students who are blind or visually impaired, was updated from a 3x5 index card filing system to a state-of-the-art system, called Keystone Library Management System (KLAS). 


  • A cadre of regional trainers was created who would be able to turn-key relevant information to a variety of stakeholders around the State.  We arranged for representatives from multiple technical assistance networks and New York City representatives to attend two in-depth training sessions, presented by CAST.  Throughout the 18 month grant, 60 training sessions were conducted and 1,096 district staff, librarians, parents, students, and community agency representatives were trained.


  • Statewide training was developed (to be delivered beginning in the Spring of 2010) to provide instructional, administrative and other school personnel with information of a variety of low- and high-technology items to demonstrate the multiple ways in which instructional materials can be converted into accessible formats.  The training also provides important information on the decision-making process for individual students and the resources the State has made available to assist school districts to obtain accessible instructional materials for each student in a timely manner.


  • Information and resources have been disseminated to all school districts through the Department’s web site on the process NYS has established for schools to obtain instructional materials in Braille and large print, as well as in Digital and Audio files.  See




  • New York’s participation in the AIM Consortium allowed us to examine and develop informational resources on what makes instructional materials truly accessible to the individual, the considerations, the decision-making process for each student and the process for obtaining AIM in NYS.  


  • There are tremendous cost-effective resources in technology to improve a student’s access to instruction and assessments.  We need to continue to explore ways to share this information with school personnel.


  • There needs to be a greater emphasis on the development of UDL in the development of curriculum and assessments.


  • Preservice preparation needs to address competencies in the areas of UDL so that more teachers are skilled and knowledgeable on how to provide multiple means of representation, expression and engagement to their students to more effectively reach and teach all learners within a classroom.


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