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for the Blind

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FAQs about the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA)

Reason For This Legislation
Benefits to the States/Districts
National File Format
National Instructional Materials Access Center
Chafee Amendment

Reason for This Legislation

What would this legislation do?

The IMAA is intended to significantly improve access for blind students, or other students with print disabilities, to print instructional materials used in elementary and secondary schools, by creating a coordinated and efficient system for acquiring and distributing such materials in the form of electronic files suitable for timely conversion into a variety of specialized formats.

What are the benefits of the IMAA?

The biggest benefit is the establishment of a system that speeds up the process of converting textbooks to specialized formats so that blind or print disabled kids receive their instructional materials at the same time as their sighted classmates.

How many students are there in grades K-12 who are blind or print disabled?

In 2001, the American Printing House for the Blind's annual count was 57,000 legally blind students, ages three through twenty-one. Of those, about 6,000 K-12 students are blind and potentially use braille. However, in a recent national study, 93,600 students were defined as blind or having low vision. For students who are print disabled, the numbers are higher.

Why don't K-12 blind or print disabled students receive their textbooks on time?

Converting printed textbooks into braille is a complex process that takes about four to nine months. Depending on the length and complexity of the textbook, it takes a publisher up to three months to produce an electronic file of their material. It takes another three to six months for braille producers to then convert those files to braille or other specialized formats, proof the work, produce and bind the books.

What about students with other disabilities?

It is possible that the national file format could lend itself to other adaptations in the future for students with other disabilities. However, it may turn out that "one size does not fit all" and thus a careful analysis of the needs of those students, as well as the technical requirements of accessibility, must first be done.

Benefits To The States/Districts

How would the IMAA make life easier for state and local education agencies that are trying to obtain materials for their print disabled students?

Having one national file format, and a single national repository for files, would simplify the process for everyone. The national file format would make the conversion process for producing specialized formats more efficient by reducing the amount of human intervention necessary, thus speeding up the process and reducing costs. Publishers would place their files in the Access Center when the textbooks are published, so states or local education agencies would have immediate access to them when needed. The Access Center would mean the states only have one place to look to find the files they need from all the different publishers.

What would the grants provided for in the bill be used for?

Capacity building grants would be used to help those responsible for converting the electronic files to braille or other specialized formats upgrade their software and hardware, as well as receive training on using the new files.

How much is provided for in the grants?

$5 million in capacity building grants would be awarded in 2003 and such sums as necessary for 2004 through 2007.

Are the grants provided indefinitely?

No, it is expected that producers of accessible materials will have transitioned into the new file format by the end of 2007 and that no additional funding would be required after that time.

National File Format

How many formats currently exist?

About six different file formats (HTML, SGML, ICADD22, Microsoft Word, RTF and ASCII) are currently required in twenty-six states, but ASCII is the most common format used.

Why have one national file format?

One file format will make it easier for everyone—states, publishers, braille software developers, and braille transcribers—to work with the file. A file format that is more highly structured than ASCII would require less human intervention to convert to specialized formats. Publishers won't have to convert their materials to several different file formats, braille software developers won't need to spend countless hours manipulating many different types of files.

Students will benefit because the national file format will eliminate needless steps in scanning and reformatting files. Braille transcribers will then have the time to use their unique expertise in formatting and proofing files. High-quality braille will be the end result.

Will complex math and science books be available in the national file format?

Math and science coding won't be available for several years, but math and science textbooks contain large amounts of text, so these books will be converted to the extent technologically feasible.

National Instructional Materials Access Center

What is the purpose of the National Access Center?

The purpose of the Access Center is to provide one, central repository for textbook files in order to more efficiently make publishers' files available to those responsible for conversion.

What are the responsibilities of the Access Center?

The responsibility of the Access Center will be to coordinate the acquisition and distribution of electronic files of core instructional materials. The Access Center will also develop, adopt, and publish procedures to protect against copyright infringement and to insure the technical quality of the files submitted.

Will the Access Center convert files?

No, the Access Center responsibilities do not include file conversion into specialized formats.

How will a state or local district obtain the needed file from the Access Center?

When the Access Center is identified and established, the process to obtain files will be widely disseminated.

How much will the Access Center cost?

About one million dollars per year would be needed to create the Center from scratch. If an existing entity were to house the Access Center, the costs could be lower.


Will publishers save money when the IMAA is enacted?

Cost to publishers would remain about the same. While a single national file format and the Access Center would reduce compliance costs for publishers, these savings would be offset by expanding the number of states served.

Why do publishers support enactment of this legislation?

Under this legislation, publishers could serve more blind students for about the same cost they now expend in 25 states. Enactment of this legislation would greatly lessen the administrative and compliance burden. Publishers realize how important their materials are in educating children and want to make sure all students have timely access to the instructional materials they need to succeed in school.

Chafee Amendment

What is the Chafee Amendment and why is it referenced in the bill?

The Chafee Amendment to the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. Section 121, allows an "authorized entity" to reproduce or distribute copyrighted materials in specialized formats for blind or other disabled students without the need to obtain permission of the copyright owner. Authorized entities are governmental or nonprofit organizations whose primary mission is to provide copyrighted works in specialized formats to blind or disabled people.


If you had only five minutes with your Representative, Senators or a legislative staff person, the AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum asks that you share the following points:

  1. Tell them about the serious impact to learning that children face when they do not have their textbooks and instructional materials on time or in the appropriate medium. Consider sharing a personal story with the legislative representatives to whom you speak.

  2. Ask the legislators to support the principles of the IMAA that are in the "Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2003" (S.1248).

    1. Providing for the creation of a National Instructional Materials Access Center of publishers' electronic files,
    2. Establishing an Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard for publishers' files, and
    3. Setting guidelines that states develop to ensure timely delivery of accessible textbooks.

  3. The U.S. House of Representatives' bill called "Improving Education Results for Children with Disabilities Act of 2003" (H.R. 1350) does not include the complete language necessary for children who are blind, have low vision or are print disabled to NOT be left behind.

  4. Inform the legislators that additional information on the issue of accessible textbooks for students with visual impairments can be found at and

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