Many years ago, a high school student with low vision discovered that they were unable to read the standard-sized print that was used in their textbooks for class. The student wondered if they were going to have to go without textbooks for all of their classes because they weren’t sure where to find digital copies of these older titles, and the school district forgot to order them textbooks that they could read. Frustrated at the situation, the student’s parent began researching how to get accessible textbooks in Virginia, and placed a phone call to an organization called AIM-VA that was listed as being the provider for accessible instructional materials in the state. Not only did AIM-VA help the parent and the school district procure accessible textbooks, but they introduced this student to the world of accessible materials and educational assistive technology and ignited a passion that lead to the student studying assistive technology in college, starting a website to educate others about low vision assistive technology, and even working for AIM-VA as a video content specialist to help educate others on the world of accessibility and assistive technology.
The student in the story above is me, and while I was frustrated at the time that I didn’t receive textbooks due to an error on my school district’s part, this experience allowed me to go behind the scenes and learn more about how accessible instructional materials are created and distributed, as well as find words to describe my own experiences as a student with low vision. Today, I am going to be talking all about AIM-VA and how they can be used to help students with disabilities.
I am a George Mason University student employee of AIM-VA at the time of publishing. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the postings, strategies, or opinions of AIM-VA. I received no compensation for this post.
Who is eligible for AIM-VA?
A student is eligible to receive services from AIM-VA if they have both an IEP and a qualifying print disability. Examples of print disabilities include:
- Low vision
- Physical disability that prevents access to standard print (i.e difficulty holding a book or with eye-tracking)
- Other disabilities that impact the ability to read standard print- for example, dyslexia
Students will need to receive special education services through a Virginia public school in order to qualify for AIM-VA. This includes students who attend public schools as well as students who receive special education services provided through a Virginia public school division while attending a private school, homebound instruction, or while being homeschooled.
Who can confirm a student’s qualification for AIM?
In addition to all of the information above, students will also need to have their print disability certified by a competent authority. Examples of school personnel that can qualify as competent authority include:
- Special education teachers
- Speech pathologists
- Teachers of the visually impaired
- Occupational therapists
- School psychologists
Examples of other personnel that can qualify as competent authority include:
- Family doctor
- Staff from National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Who orders the materials?
A digital rights manager, or DRM, is the person responsible for the usage of copyrighted accessible instructional materials for students with print disabilities. The DRM orders materials for the students in their school and ensures that the following conditions are met (taken from AIM-VA website):
- Copyrighted instructional textbooks, reading books, supplemental materials and curriculum-based materials that are produced in accessible formats and provided by AIM-VA may never be used in lieu of possessing a hard-copy book.
- A purchased copy of the textbook, reading book, supplemental materials or curriculum-based materials must be assigned to, checked out by or owned by the student for the length of time the accessible format is being used.
- Accessible formats assigned to eligible students are exclusively for their use; the accessible format may not be reproduced, distributed, or used by other students.
- Accessible formats provided in Large Print or on CD must be returned to AIM-VA at the end of the school year/summer school.
- Accessible formats downloaded from AIM-VA must be removed from all electronic equipment (i.e., computers, tablets, flash drives) at the end of the school year/summer school.
Any Virginia public school personnel with a school division email address can become a DRM, and schools can have multiple DRMs as well.
What is AIM-VA?
AIM-VA provides free accessible instructional materials to Virginia K-12 students who have an IEP related to a print disability. Accessible instructional materials are alternate print materials that are used by students that are unable to use traditional print formats and can consist of large print, Braille, audio, and other digital formats for materials.
Examples of accessible instructional materials that can be provided by AIM-VA include:
- Worksheets and classroom assignments
- Sheet music/music books
AIM-VA can create accessible instructional materials for all grades and for all subjects, and strongly recommends that students receive accessible materials for all of their classes. AIM-VA can also create materials in non-English languages- I received materials for my Spanish class through AIM-VA.
What else does AIM do?
In addition to providing accessible materials, AIM-VA also provides free customized trainings and videos about how to use accessible instructional materials in a variety of settings. Users can stay up-to-date on the latest information by visiting the AIM-VA website or subscribing to their newsletter.
When can AIM-VA materials be ordered?
AIM-VA accepts requests from DRMs year-round, though recommends that orders for accessible instructional materials are placed as soon as possible to ensure that materials are ready for the first day of school. AIM-VA has a large library of accessible books, though they can also convert physical copies of books and worksheets into accessible materials in multiple formats.
It’s worth noting that DRMs can order the same title in multiple formats- for example, a student with low vision might prefer to have their textbook in an audio format and a large print format, or they might prefer worksheets as an accessible PDF and have their textbooks in a EPUB format. Students are not tied to only having one format!
- Common File Types For Vision Impairment and Print Disabilities
- How Bookshare Books Come To Life
- A to Z of Assistive Technology For Low Vision
Where can I read AIM-VA materials?
Students can read and annotate AIM-VA materials in a variety of different ways, depending on the file type and their personal preference. Some examples of ways that I access my personal accessible instructional materials include:
- Using a PDF viewer like Adobe or in my web browser
- Reading with Microsoft Immersive Reader
- Annotating worksheets with Notability
- Using the Markup feature on iPad
- Adding the file to a reading app like Dolphin EasyReader or Capti Narrator
- Reading EPUB files on an eReader
- Reading HTML files in the web browser
Where can I get accessible instructional materials after high school?
AIM-VA is only for K-12 students in Virginia public schools, and is not available for students attending public or private colleges/universities in Virginia, or for students attending community colleges. However, many colleges and universities have their own resources for getting accessible instructional materials, and I have an entire post on this topic linked below.
- How To Request Accessible Textbooks In College
- My Talk At I’m Determined Summit: Crash Course In Immersive Reader
- Notability and Low Vision Review
- Capti Voice Narrator App Review
- How I’m Using My eReader To Support Virtual Learning
- Using Blackboard Ally With Low Vision
Why AIM-VA is life-changing
I shared the story about how being introduced to AIM-VA changed my life at the beginning of this post, but I also wanted to share how having accessible instructional materials changed my educational experience for the better:
- Having accessible materials means that I can focus on what I am learning in class, and I don’t have to try and balance learning about accessibility and assistive technology with learning about math
- I am able to work on assignments and readings independently without having to ask another teacher or student to help me with reading things
- My grades are higher because I can more clearly see what is written or what is in a picture- no more guessing letters
Summary of AIM-VA and their services
- AIM-VA provides accessible textbooks and classroom materials to Virginia students that have a print disability and an IEP
- AIM-VA materials are ordered by a school staff member who ensures that content is downloaded correctly
- Materials can be read on a tablet, computer, phone, or other electronic devices, and physical copies of materials are available as well
- Orders can be placed any time of year, though it is recommended that they be placed as soon as they are provided