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Summary of the AFB and CAST Forum to Discuss NIMAS

NIMAS Forum Summary

Boston, Massachusetts

March 10, 2005

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) cohosted a national meeting on March 10, 2005, to define, discuss, and demonstrate the impact of the landmark provisions in the Individuals with Disability Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) relating to access to textbooks and instructional materials for students who are blind, have low vision, or are print disabled. The forum's topic was "What is NIMAS? A New File Format for Developing Textbooks and Instructional Materials for K-12 Students with Visual or Print Disabilities." Representatives from the educational publishing industry, braille production organizations, instructional materials centers for people who are visually impaired, access software developers, state directors of special education, educators, and parents met in Boston, Massachusetts, to hear discussion on the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) and the creation of a national effort to improve access to instructional materials for people who are visually impaired.

A summary of discussions from the forum is provided here.

Panel of Presenters

  • Paul Schroeder, Vice President, Programs and Policy, AFB
  • Mary Ann Siller, Director, National Education Program, AFB
  • Rick Bowes, Consultant to AFB
  • Julia Myers, Director of Resource Services, American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
  • Steve Driesler, Executive Director, School Division, Association of American Publishers (AAP)
  • Skip Stahl, Director, NIMAS Development Center, CAST
  • Chuck Hitchcock, Director, NIMAS Technical Assistance Center, CAST
  • Neal Kuniansky, Director of Sales and Marketing, Duxbury Systems
  • Pearce McNulty, Director, Advanced Publishing Technologies in Corporate Information Technology, Houghton Mifflin Company
  • George Kerscher, Senior Officer, Accessible Information, Recordings for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D), and Secretary General, DAISY Consortium

I. Welcome and Introductions

Paul Schroeder, AFB Vice President, welcomed participants to the NIMAS forum and expressed appreciation to various partners in the meeting. The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), the U.S. Department of Education, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), and Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) were recognized for their support of this important new initiative in providing accessible textbooks and instructional materials to students who have a print disability.

Mary Ann Siller, Director, AFB National Education Program, was the facilitator of the day's meeting. She began by highlighting the importance of NIMAS.

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) was represented by Bonnie Jones, Education Research Analyst, who reported that the department is pleased and honored to promote NIMAS. Dr. Jones has been the project officer for the National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum for the past five years and was appointed to serve as project officer for the NIMAS Development and Technical Assistance Centers. She recognized that passage of IDEA 2004 has brought increased emphasis to the issue of how students get access to the general education curriculum.

She indicated that publication of the standards in the Federal Register is a next step and a key marker in the law, which will lead to the creation of a timeline for implementing NIMAS.

Dr. Jones expressed appreciation to the National File Format Technology Panel and others for their ground-breaking work that led to NIMAS, and she welcomed participants to the forum.

II. What is NIMAS?

Skip Stahl, Director of the NIMAS Development Center, and Rick Bowes, consultant to AFB, presented a definition of the standard and explained how it has evolved into a tool for preparing accessible instructional materials for students with print disabilities.

NIMAS resulted from recognition of the redundancy and cost of acquiring accessible materials. The AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum was recognized for having provided some of the momentum for the work in creating a standard. Active participation from the community of persons who are blind or have low vision was instrumental in moving the agenda forward. As the value of a national file format became more apparent, advocates for other groups representing people with disabilities became active partners in the effort. The challenge that NIMAS faces is to find a way to make it as inclusive as possible.

As defined in IDEA, Section 674 (e)(3)(B), NIMAS is a standard established by the Secretary of Education to be used in the preparation of electronic files suitable and used solely for efficient conversion into specialized formats. Stahl made the important distinction (which was echoed throughout the meeting) that NIMAS is a source file - not a student-ready version of a publication. The standard establishes a set of information and tags that conforms to specifications for how a file is constructed. Using the standardized NIMAS files, authorized entities prepare a student-ready file in braille, accessible electronic text, talking book, or other accessible format.

Stahl compared the tags and information included in a NIMAS file to the experience of shopping in a clothing store. Shoppers look at clothing tags to determine the size, price, fiber composition, or other information about a garment to decide whether to purchase it or how they will use it. NIMAS files consist of three components that provide similar information about publications.

  • XML source file, which is a subset of the internationally recognized DAISY/ANSI/NISO standard. The acronyms represented include Digital Accessible Information SYstem (DAISY)/American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and National Information Standards Organization (NISO). The standard provides the content of a publication. It presents informational tags about headings, page numbers, and other pertinent information about the formatting of the file in a consistent manner.
  • Package file: provides description of all the files included in the package.
  • PDF files: includes embedded images and provides a visual representation of the publication that allows individuals doing alternate-format production to understand the context of images included in the print work.

Questions were asked about the infrastructure of NIMAS. Stahl noted that the NIMAS Development Center is still in the process of designing the blueprint for how things work and is not yet building the system from a blueprint. In response to questions about validating the content of NIMAS files, Stahl assured forum participants that validation of files will be an important component to be addressed as the process evolves. He also responded to concerns about copyright protection of the files. He noted the critical need to ensure that NIMAS files are used solely for efficient conversion into specialized formats for the population identified in the Chafee Amendment.

III. Related Sections in IDEA 2004 for NIMAS and the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center

Paul Schroeder reviewed goals that guided the process of including instructional materials accessibility in the reauthorization of IDEA. These included ensuring timely access to materials, identifying the need for an electronic file format, ensuring that the requirement for instructional materials accessibility was clear and enforceable, making the process of acquiring accessible materials as easy as possible, and ensuring copyright protection throughout the process.

Steve Driesler represented Association of American Publishers (AAP), which is a long-time stakeholder in the AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum. He presented information on IDEA 2004's statutory requirements and policy points relating to provision of textbooks in accessible formats for students who are blind or print disabled. He noted key definitions included in the legislation and their relevance to NIMAS and the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center (NIMAC)

A. Print Instructional Materials

Print instructional materials refers to printed textbooks and related printed core materials that are written and published primarily for use in elementary school and secondary school instruction and are required by a state educational agency or local educational agency for use by students in the classroom [see Sec. 674 (e)(3)(C)].

Driesler highlighted the word "core" and expressed the opinion that NIMAS files would only be required for the textbooks and materials required by the state or local education agency to meet the curriculum, not for supplemental or ancillary materials. Although entities may be allowed to adapt supplemental materials under the Chafee Amendment, no NIMAS file is required. He also emphasized that NIMAS files will be required only for materials written or published for use in primary, middle, and secondary schools. Works of fiction that are not packaged by a publisher as part of a curriculum were cited as an example of instructional material for which NIMAS files would not be required.

B. Specialized Formats

Specialized formats include braille, audio, digital text, and large print (print instructional materials only) [see Sec 674(e)(3)(D)].

The term has the meaning given in Section 121 (d)(3) of Title 17, United States Code and is a continuation of what has been allowed under the Chafee Amendment, with the recent addition of large print.

C. Blind or Other Persons with Print Disabilities

These are defined to mean students served under IDEA and who may qualify in accordance with the Act entitled "An Act to Provide Books for the Adult Blind" approved March 3, 1931 (2 U.S.C. 135z; 46 Stat. 1487) to receive books and other publications produced in specialized formats [see Sec. 674(e)(3)(A)].

Nothing in the IDEA 2004 changes the existing definition of blind or other persons with print disabilities as set out under the Chafee Amendment. It was also noted that materials for students other than those in K-12 classes are not covered in the current NIMAS requirements.

D. Conditions for Eligibility for Funds

As a condition of eligibility for funds, states must adopt NIMAS to provide access to instruction. State educational agencies and local educational agencies may choose to coordinate with NIMAC, but they are not required to do so. Instead, a state or local educational agency can provide assurance to the Secretary of Education that the agency will provide instructional materials in a timely manner to persons who are blind or have other print disabilities. Participants in the forum agreed that adopting NIMAS and choosing to coordinate with the NIMAC would be a tremendous advantage to agencies. Driesler suggested that advocacy groups, publishers, instructional materials centers, and other interested parties may need to educate state education agencies and others to show them the benefits of NIMAS and NIMAC.

Two years after the date of enactment, IDEA 2004 requires that, as a condition of sale, states have to ask publishers to submit a NIMAS file to the Access Center (or have some system in place within their jurisdiction to provide accessible materials). In other words, publishers will have to begin producing NIMAS files.

A central component of IDEA 2004's instructional materials accessibility component is the establishment of NIMAC. The Secretary of Education was directed to establish and support the center through the American Printing House for the Blind. Julia Myers, APH Director of Resource Services, reported that her organization has developed concepts for the NIMAC and are working with the Department of Education to validate the ideas and discuss funding issues. APH is committed to creating an efficient process with NIMAC in an effort to get accessible instructional materials into students' hands in the quickest way possible.

E. Conditions Placed on NIMAC

Paul Schroeder noted three requirements or duties placed on NIMAC:

  • Cataloguing: to receive and maintain NIMAS files and print instructional materials made available by the textbook publishing industry, state educational agencies, and local education agencies
  • Copyright protection: to develop and publish procedures that protect against copyright infringement in NIMAS files.
  • Dissemination: to provide NIMAS files to authorized entities so that they can produce student-ready alternate-format versions of a publication.

Pearce McNulty, speaking for Houghton Mifflin publishers, who are long-time stakeholders in the AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum, reported that publishers are aware of NIMAS and know that they need to get ready for its implementation. He reminded participants that no single solution will work for all publishers, since there are diverse needs and capacities within each publishing company. McNulty noted that the number one concern of publishers is copyright protection. NIMAC is necessary, he noted, to ensure that open, unprotected files in the NIMAS packages are used appropriately.

McNulty broached the subject of a market-based solution to providing accessible materials. Some publishers may view this as one option to provide accessible instructional materials to students, but they also recognize that this model requires a market willing to pay for the materials. As technology advances and the infrastructure changes, a market-based model for providing accessible instructional materials may become more of a reality.

IV. NIMAS Development and Technical Assistance Centers

The U.S. Department of Education awarded two five-year Cooperative Agreements to establish two national centers to develop and implement NIMAS further. The NIMAS Development Center and NIMAS Technical Assistance Center were established by OSEP on October 1, 2004. Chuck Hitchcock and Skip Stahl provided an overview of these centers and introduced their web site ( as an online source of additional information about the centers. The web site also provides direct access to the specifications for NIMAS files.

The NIMAS Development Center works with a committee representing national disability organizations, publishers, technology specialists, directors of special education, educators, and parents to support the large-scale implementation of NIMAS. The Development Center works to identify technological advances and pedagogical research that have the potential to enhance NIMAS and further improve the system for delivering universally designed, multiple-output formats in a cost-effective and timely manner. The Development Center is also charged with exploring the feasibility of a free-market distribution model to increase the quality, quantity, and timely delivery of accessible materials.

The NIMAS Technical Assistance Center provides support to publishers and states to ensure the successful implementation of NIMAS. Planning and evaluation of technical assistance are conducted to determine whether NIMAS is helping to get accessible educational materials to students in a timely manner. Collaboration among various U.S. Department of Education stakeholders is another responsibility of the Technical Assistance Center, to ensure coordinated and effective implementation of NIMAS. The Center will provide technical assistance to states and other entities that have adopted or are considering adopting NIMAS to help support a timely phase-in of NIMAS. A related activity will be the dissemination to key stakeholders of relevant information about the benefits and availability of accessible digital materials.

To summarize this section of the program, Hitchcock and Stahl asked forum participants to identify what "success" would look like for NIMAS. Responses included the following:

  • Having all 50 states opted into NIMAS or performing in a manner to use NIMAS as it was intended.
  • Although it was recognized that NIMAS is not applicable to higher education, it would be useful to incorporate into the elementary and secondary students' experience an understanding of the process involved in getting their accessible materials. When they enter postsecondary education, they could then be better self-advocates.
  • Helping publishers respond to authors' concerns so that NIMAS is not a liability for publishers.
  • Having students' homework take a reasonable amount of time (equivalent to that of sighted peers) because they have access to required materials in accessible format
  • "Ultimate success is kids getting materials at the same time as nondisabled kids."

Hitchcock and Stahl noted that the responses were in line with anticipated NIMAS outcomes previously identified for the NIMAS centers.

V. Demonstration of the Impact of NIMAS

The forum concluded with a demonstration of the potential impact of NIMAS. George Kerscher, who is with RFB&D and the DAISY Consortium, presented a demonstration of the differences in navigating an audio text with and without the conversions allowed by NIMAS files. With the DAISY NISO format made easily available through NIMAS, it will be possible to synchronize text and audio and to provide a comprehensive navigation system that allows the reader to bookmark and highlight specific text within an audio product.

Neal Kuniansky of Duxbury Systems reminded participants that NIMAS is a source file and that students will need a finished product. He noted that transcription into braille is often helped along with the use of Duxbury software, but that the majority of a braille transcriber's time is often spent locating a publisher's electronic file. Having the NIMAS package of files available from the NIMAS Center will create a uniform location from which transcribers can obtain a clean set of source files for transcription into braille. Decreasing the time spent in searching for source files will lessen the time it takes to produce the final braille product.

VI. Closing Remarks and Next Steps

Mary Ann Siller summarized points made about NIMAS, NIMAC, IDEA, and the current status of accessible print instructional material. She encouraged feedback, questions, and comments, noting that such participation is an important part of the process of creating the infrastructure and outreach needed to ensure success of NIMAS and the NIMAC. Skip Stahl commented on the larger-than-expected turnout for the forum and expressed hope that it represented a high degree of interest in the work. They concluded with a reminder of resources in participants' packets and of the availability of current information on two web sites: and

For additional information about this forum or about the AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum, contact Mary Ann Siller, Director, AFB National Education Program, 11030 Ables Lane, Dallas TX 75229, Tel: (469) 522-1803, E-mail:

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