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Ketema Zeregaw

The PALM Initiative

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Public education in US continues to undergo significant changes.  Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, Education Consolidation and Improvement Act (ECIA), Improving America’s Schools Act (IASA), No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), and Every Student Succeeds Acts are considered to be a major landmark in this process. Although American education passed through above listed changes and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and Individual with Disability Education Act enacted by US Congress to address the educational needs of students with disabilities, none of these changes able to make all instructional materials available in accessible format to students with disability on timely manner.

In fact, each individual with disability is unique and educational needs of each student with disability diverse and complex. For example, each student with visual impairment is unique and the educational needs of these student varied person to person. No one solution fit for all. As stated in June 8, 2000 Federal Register Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education   policy Guidance, Educating Blind and Visually Impaired Students; Policy Guidance type and the degree of vision loss is different person to person.  This policy document stated that, “… persons with similar degrees of vision loss may function very differently. A significant visual deficit that could pose formidable obstacles for some children may pose far less formidable obstacles for others. This is because adaptations to vision loss are shaped by individual factors, such as availability and type of family support and degree of intellectual, emotional, physical, and motor functioning. Therefore, in addition to the nature and extent of vision loss, a variety of factors needs to be considered in designing an appropriate educational program for a blind or visually impaired child, and these factors could change over time.”

To come to the point unless we change our approach to preparation and acquisition of instructional materials, it will continue to be a daunting task to provide all educational materials that are published in print to all students with disabilities in accessible format in a timely manner in a local level. Will The PALM Initiative give a proper solution to this problem?

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The National Center on Accessible Educational Materials launched the PALM Initiative (Purchase Accessible Learning Materials) to encourage schools to buy, and publishers and developers to create, accessible learning materials that are broadly usable by a wide range of students. (http://aem.cast.org/navigating/palm.html#.V7o-LI7wRJ8) When digital content and technology used to deliver and interact with the digital content are not designed to be used by all students from the beginning, students will continue to face barriers to learning. Unfortunately, publishers are not always aware of the need to create accessible learning materials and schools are not always aware of the need to purchase accessible educational materials for students who need them. Until developers and purchasers consider accessibility from the start, authorized entities, such as Bookshare, will play a major role in the provision of AEM for students with qualifying print disabilities.

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I agree that publishers are not fully aware of the need and schools often don't ask about accessibility when evaluating new curriculum. For the past year or so, I have made an effort to contact the company when I find a digital program is not accessible.  I politely ask if they have an accessible version or a work around. So far the answer is no but it is a way to advocate and raise awareness to the publisher.  I did have one small company set up a couple of meetings with their IT staff member to gather information about ways to make some changes to their program.      

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