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For students who are blind or visually impaired, instruction in Braille should be provided unless the IEP team determines that it is inappropriate. To determine the need for Braille and/or other special education services and supports, assessments are administered to collect data. The assessments used may include:

  • Learning Media Assessment (LMA) to determine the current reading and writing media (Braille, large print, dual print media, and regular print with optical devices or regular print without optical devices) best suited to the students
  • Assessments in the nine priority content areas of the Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum Procedures Manual Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum (pp. 29-35.)
  • For students with any functional vision, a Functional Vision Assessment (FVA) to determine how the student uses the remaining vision in a variety of educational settings

It is critical to evaluate the status of a student's visual abilities at least every three years.

Assessment Results: The assessment data will determine the student's primary and secondary learning mediums (sensory channel for learning- visual, tactile, or auditory) which the IEP team must document and use to support the development of the IEP. 

Primary Learning Medium

Primary Learning Medium is the medium most frequently used by a student with visual impairment during classroom instruction.

  • Can also be used in a wide variety of settings inside and outside the classroom
  • Permits independence and efficiency in both reading and writing
  • Will become a primary living medium
  • Must accommodate academic, nonacademic, and vocational needs and be applicable to adult activities following the completion of school
Secondary Learning Medium

Secondary Learning Medium is the medium that is learned in order to allow a student with visual impairment to perform specific tasks not easily performed in the primary learning medium

  • May alleviate fatigue experienced when using the primary learning medium for extended periods of time
  • May be appropriate when a visual prognosis indicates a future loss of vision and, therefore a changing learning medium
  • May also be appropriate when functional assessment criteria suggest the student may benefit by using a different medium under some conditions


If the IEP team determines communication and language is a concern for the student, the team must document how the student’s unique needs will be addressed.

For any student with a hearing loss, additional communication needs are to be considered by the IEP team. The team must consider opportunities for direct communication with peers and professional personnel, including opportunities for direct instruction. A communication plan is required for any student with a hearing loss who is receiving direct services from an audiologist and/or teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing. This plan may be embedded within the IEP or documented on a communication plan and attached to the IEP.

The communication plan or IEP must include the following:

  • Information regarding the student’s mode of communication, expressively and receptively
  • The student’s language and communication needs
  • The student’s academic level and full range of needs
  • A description of opportunities for direct communication with peers and professionals
  • A description of opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode

An educational audiologist and/or teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing must be involved in the development of the communication plan and be a member of the IEP team. If the child utilizes an educational interpreter, the IEP team should consider inviting him/her to be members of the IEP team.
NOTE: Prior to the IEP meeting, a draft communication plan may be created. If a draft communication plan is developed prior to the IEP meeting, it must be provided to the parents before the meeting. 

Assistive Technology

Assistive technology includes devices and/or services and supports which enable children with disabilities to access their right to FAPE in the least restrictive environment and to participate more fully in various aspects of life (home, school, and community). Assistive technology may be considered in many areas including mobility, hearing, vision, computer access, reading, written language, positioning & seating, and recreation.

Assistive technology supports and devices may be:

  • Simple, no-cost tools or adaptations (e.g., an easel that brings a book or paper into a position the student can access)
  • Adaptations to technology already available in the school (e.g., changing the keyboard settings on a computer so that keys can be tapped sequentially to capitalize a letter rather than simultaneously, enlarging the font size of text)
  • High-tech solutions or equipment (e.g. Closed Captioning, a dynamic display voice output communication device or a gait trainer to support independent movement at school)

At every IEP meeting, the IEP team must consider and determine if the student requires assistive technology support to access the general education curriculum. The determination is made through the selection of appropriate assistive technology and trial use in authentic environments. Data-based decision-making is required to determine if the AT supports increase the student’s access and engagement with curricular materials.

The assistive technology devices, supports, and services are chosen to allow the learner to:

  • Be involved and progress in the Iowa Core Curriculum and assessments
  • Progress toward his/her annual IEP goals
  • Pursue his/her course of study and postsecondary expectations
  • Participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities with other learners with disabilities and nondisabled learners, and
  • Be educated with other learners with disabilities and nondisabled learners

A child's IEP team must address and determine if the child requires access to any school purchased assistive technology in the child's home in order to receive FAPE.

Defining Assistive Technology Devices, Supports, and Services


Assistive Technology Device(s)

An assistive technology (AT) device is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a learner with a disability except a medical device that is surgically implanted.

Examples of AT devices:

  • Text-to-speech software
  • Word prediction software
  • Slant board
  • Hearing Assistive Technology
  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication System
  • Gait trainer
  • Calculator
Assistive Technology Supports

Assistive technology (AT) supports are events or tasks that the learner needs to complete in order to take advantage of or respond to educational programs and opportunities. Assistive technology supports are provided for the learner to have access to the general education curriculum and assessment. They are less regular and less systematic than services, therefore, do not need to be linked to a goal, require a designated number of minutes, or progress monitoring.

Examples of AT supports:

  • Consulting on the needs of a child with regard to assistive technology in the child’s learning environment
  • Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing assistive technology
  • Purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology
  • Coordinating assistive technology activities and services with other service providers
  • Training opportunities for staff and families
  • Providing aided language stimulation to learners who use augmentative/alternative communication
  • Troubleshooting technology and remediating problems
Assistive Technology Services

Assistive technology (AT) services are:

  • Actions designed to meet the unique needs of a learner or are required to assist the learner to take advantage of or respond to educational programs and opportunities
  • Regular and ongoing actions delivered to or on behalf of a learner over time, and are linked to IEP goal(s)
  • The IEP must reflect the number of minutes of service, the frequency of service, the setting where service is provided and the person(s) responsible

Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)

Accessible instructional materials (AIM) have been broadened to accessible educational materials (AEM), including digital instructional materials. Accessible educational materials (AEM) are print- and technology-based educational materials, including printed and electronic textbooks and related core materials, that are designed or enhanced in a way that makes them usable across the widest range of learner variability, regardless of format (e.g. print, large print, braille, digital, graphic, audio, video, closed captioning). An IEP team must determine and document a learner’s need for accessible educational materials each time an IEP is written, reviewed, and/or revised.

An IEP team may use the following questions to determine if a student requires AEM to independently access print-based and digitally-based text:

  1. Will the learner’s reading level continue to be below grade level if the current reading goal is achieved?
  2. Does the learner understand grade-level reading material at a significantly higher level when it is read to him/her?
  3. Does the learner have accommodations listed in the IEP that require an adult reader at specific times (e.g. testing, worksheets, chapter books, etc)?
  4. Does it take the learner significantly longer to independently read text than it does for same-age peers?
  5. Does the learner have significant visual or physical impairments that prevent him/her from independently accessing standard print-based materials provided to same-grade peers and thus requires a specialized format?
  6. Does the learner have a hearing loss that doesn’t allow him/her to access content that is presented auditorily?

When considering a student's need for AEM, the IEP team will review all data, including the AT consideration form, and may determine:

  1. The student can use standard print-based and technology-based educational materials used across the curriculum by other students and does not require specialized formats.
  2. The student requires exactly the same content in specialized formats.
  3. The student requires modified content or alternative materials and does not require specialized formats.
  4. The student requires modified content or alternative materials in specialized formats.

The IEP team must document all AEM considerations and decisions in the IEP.

An AEA or an LEA, when purchasing educational materials, must acquire those educational materials in accessible formats for children that are blind, have a hearing disability, or have a print disability.

Students in need of accessible instructional/educational materials must receive the materials at the same time as other students receive instructional/educational materials.


Determining and Documenting a Certified Print Disability

For some students, the IEP team may engage in the discussion of whether the individual has a certified print disability, the potential need for specialized materials, and eligibility for NIMAS (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard) materials under the Copyright Act.

Steps to determine if a student has a print disability, the IEP team will need to:

  1. Consider and discuss the following questions:
    1. Does the student require specialized formats (Braille, large print, audio, digital text) of printed textbooks and core related instructional materials that are written and published for use in elementary and secondary school instruction?
    2. What printed textbooks and core related instructional materials are being used in the student’s classes?
    3. Can this student use these materials effectively for educational achievement?
    4. If the information in the printed materials were provided to the student in a specialized format, would the information contained in the material be useful for the student?
  2. Review the student’s evaluation information and present levels of achievement to determine whether the student has difficulty with the task of gaining meaning from print-based core instructional materials used in academic content areas.
  3. Check the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped database (800-362-2587) to see if the student has been certified as having a print disability by a competent authority based on: blindness or visual impairment, physical limitations that prevent the reading of standard printed material, or organic dysfunction of sufficient severity to prevent reading printed material in a normal manner.

If the student has been previously certified as having a print disability and is eligible for specialized formats under the Copyright Act as amended, the team will:

  • Initiate steps for obtaining materials in the required formats in a timely manner using the Iowa Department for the Blind
  • Identify instruction, supports, services, and/or training that will be needed by the student and others to use the materials effectively

If the student has not been previously certified as eligible for specialized formats under the Copyright Act as amended, the IEP team will consider whether the student’s difficulties with print are due to lack of sufficient instruction or limited English proficiency.

  • If “yes” to either, specialized instruction may be more appropriate than materials in specialized formats
  • If the answer is “no,” the team may check to determine if the student can be certified by a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO) as having a reading disability based on an organic dysfunction. The ‘Physician’s Form’ developed by the Iowa Center for Development and Disability would be used for documentation
    • If the physician indicates “yes” on the form, then the form must be sent to the library at the Department of the Blind. It may be emailed to [email protected] or mailed to 524 Fourth Street, Des Moines, IA 50309-2364.
    • If the physician marks “no” and the team feels that the student needs materials in a specialized format, the team should follow state guidance on how to acquire the needed specialized formats for this student.

If a student with a certified print disability needs a specialized format, the IEP must document:

  • The specific format(s) to be provided (Braille, large print, audio, or digital text)
  • The individual(s) responsible for providing the specialized format(s)
  • The services and/or assistive technology the student needs to use the specialized formats
  • The instruction, supports, and other services, and/or training that will be needed by the student and others to use the materials effectively
  • Whether the format is required to be used in the student’s home or in other settings in order for the student to receive a free and appropriate education
  • Additionally, if the student is NIMAS eligible under the Copyright Act as amended, document such in the “Other information essential for the development of this IEP” section. Also, if the student is not NIMAS eligible and the team feels the student has a print disability and requires specialized formats, indicate this in the services for the student.

AT and AEM Resources

For further information on AT and AEM, view the Iowa Practical Guide or visit for national-level information.