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Developments to Watch: Federal Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) Commission

The 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act established an Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Known as the AIM Commission, the group was chartered to “study the current state of accessible materials for students with disabilities in postsecondary education and make recommendations to the U.S. Congress for improving access to and the distribution of instructional materials in accessible formats.”

By law, the commission must submit its report to the U.S. Secretary of Education and Congress within one year of its first meeting, which took place in September 2010. Thus, we will know in a few months what legal, regulatory, publication and distribution, and technical steps it will recommend for congressional and departmental action. In the meantime, the commission’s February 2011 meeting materials include a draft report outline that provides an indication of what the report may ultimately address, based on the work of its four task forces:

  • Best Practices in the Delivery of AIM, Focusing on Timeframe and Cost
  • Technology Formats: Formats, Delivery, and Design
  • The Market Model, Licensing, and Universal Design
  • The Legal Framework

The commission’s working documents, including the reports of its task forces, are posted online in association with the meetings at which they were discussed. Given the concerns raised by the National Federation of the Blind about the accessibility of Google Apps for Education, EDUCAUSE members may find the NFB’s AIM recommendations presented at the commission’s May 2011 meeting particularly interesting. They include a call for a new law that would require all publishers and distributors of instructional content in digital formats to make their content fully accessible by a date certain. The proposed law would also define “instructional materials” as including not just the content, but also any “interface, software, and applications” associated with it. Another provision would make clear in the proposed statute that colleges and universities have the legal responsibility not to use “open educational software” that is “inaccessible to persons with disabilities.”

The AIM Commission work plan calls for a first draft of its report by mid-June, with a final draft due by its September 2011 meeting. EDUCAUSE Policy Analysis and Advocacy will continue to track the commission’s work and highlight any draft findings and recommendations as they become available.