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Tigard-Tualatin School District is one of only five Oregon school districts to receive the national grant

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Tigard-Tualatin School District has been selected as one of only five Oregon school districts to receive a grant from the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Leaning to help students access online materials. The Tigard-Tualatin School District has been selected as one of only five Oregon school districts to receive a grant that will allow them to increase the availability of accessible digital educational materials for students who need them.

The district joins the Baker, Hood River, Scappoose and neighboring West Linn-Wilsonville school districts in participating in a four-year grant from the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning.

"The goal of the project is to create more knowledge and more widely accepted use of accessible educational materials," said Jamie Maier, assistive technology specialist for the Tigard-Tualatin School District. "So often when we think of things being accessible, we think of them being electronic, and one thing we've learned very quickly during the pandemic is just because something is electronic doesn't mean it's accessible for everyone."

The districts are all part of the Oregon Accessible Educational Materials project.

Part of the goal of the project is to make sure that all students — from those suffering from poverty, to English not being their primary language to having disabilities — have equal accessibility to learning materials.

And the grant isn't necessarily a monetary award, rather a collaborative effort between different types and sizes of schools district throughout the state to make learning resources available.

"The goal that we have is to make these recommendations and standards more consistent across the state so that districts who are rural, and maybe don't have as many funds or (lack full time employees) are still able to use the same sort of standards and consistent access across the state," said Maier.

Maier said one goal is to make districts and students more aware of Bookshare, a free e-book library funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education for students who qualify.

"They have hundreds of thousands of book titles and that includes a lot of curriculum textbooks, non-fiction books, fiction books, driver's ed manuals. If you are looking for it, it is probably on Bookshare or will be shortly," said Maier.

Even something as recent as poet Amanda Gorman's "The Hill We Climb," which she read at President Joe Biden's inauguration in January, can be found on Bookshare, Maier pointed out.

In addition, she said one of the goals of the project is to make sure there is collaboration in districts between their technology departments, their curriculum departments and their student services or special education departments.

The school districts that are part of the project will meet monthly for the next three or so years to complete the work needed, said Maier. She believes the project will not only improve resources for those students who may have challenges but it will improve things for all students.

"What accessible educational materials will do is create a universal design for learning," said Maier. "All of the students are going to benefit from this."

Carol Kinch, director of student services for the Tigard-Tualatin School District, said she's pleased the district has received the grant as well.

"It goes above and beyond what people initially think. Bookshare is one thing but as online curriculum become more and more important and people are accessing them, we need to spend time making sure those materials are accessible to students with disabilities," said Kinch. "We like to be cutting-edge in Tigard-Tualatin. It shouldn't really be cutting-edge, because people with disabilities, people who need access to materials, should have the same access as everyone else."

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