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National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS)

In a landmark announcement for students with sensory and other print disabilities, the U.S. Department of Education endorsed the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS), version 1.0 on July 27th, 2004. On behalf of Secretary Paige, Deputy Secretary of Education Gene Hickok discussed the new standard at an event commemorating the 14th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The event was co-sponsored by the Departments of Commerce and Education in Washington, D.C. The voluntary standard will guide the production and electronic distribution of flexible digital instructional materials such as textbooks so they can be more easily converted to Braille, text-to-speech, and other accessible formats.

All students with print disabilities experience the same barrier—inaccessible materials—when core curriculum textbooks presented in print are the primary learning resource. Students who cannot see the words on a page, cannot hold a book or turn its pages, cannot decode the text or cannot comprehend the syntax that supports the written word may each experience different challenges, and they may each require different supports to extract meaning from information that is "book bound"—but the barrier for each is the same.

The Secretary of Education has authorized OSEP, The Office of Special Education Programs, to issue a supplement to the National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum led by CAST, to convene an expert panel to establish a voluntary national standard for accessible digital instructional materials for students with disabilities. gh was proud to participate in this panel and was instrumental in the authoring of the technical specification for the NFF (later renamed NIMAS) standard. This new standard basically mandates that all K-12 textbooks be produced by publishers in NIMAS format in addition to the traditional print format.

Disability Facts

In the United States, there are 22 million people with a disability that prevents them from being able to read ordinary print (print-disabled).

Of these 22 million, 7.7 million cannot see print, and 14.3 million possess a learning or cognitive disability that prevents them from being able to read effectively (view source).

In past years, the lack of a standardized format meant that publishers had to produce materials in multiple formats--often causing delays that meant students with disabilities did not receive their textbooks in time for the beginning of the school year. The use of this standard will allow students and teachers to more quickly access general curriculum materials, giving students with disabilities the same educational resources as their non-disabled peers.

From a release by Troy R. Justesen, acting director of the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education

What is NIMAS?

The National Instructional Material Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) is a significant advancement in providing students with visual disabilities accessible textbook content. By specifying a national standard by which publishers are required to provide textbook files, the potential exists to produce digital and Braille content in a more cost effective and expeditious manner.

Who does NIMAS effect?

NIMAS files are intended for students in elementary schools and secondary schools who have a print disability which prevents them from seeing the words or images on a page, holding a book, or even turning its pages. The students that experience these challenges may require different tools and support that help them gain the ability to manipulate and comprehend content of their assigned text. The universal challenge that all these students have is that the content has only been available in standard print form, which has forced them to find alternative forms to access the information. Fortunately, with the birth of NIMAS, students now have a universal file format that can either be accessed by reading software like the gh PLAYER 2.2, or by being sent to a conversion company to render the file into Braille, large print, or a DAISY digital talking book.

Legislation involving NIMAS

The NIMAS provision was included in the revised Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004. In this legislation a standard NIMAS file format was created for the production of textbooks for the blind and print-disabled students. The result is a common file that will be provided from the publisher to a repository of NIMAS titles stored at the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center (NIMAC). The NIMAC will then make the files available to both State and Local Education Agencies, who will then have them converted into the desired accessible formats such as Braille, large print and digital talking books. Utilizing these NIMAS files should expedite the production of print instructional materials for students who qualify for materials in specialized formats as set forth under the Chafee Amendment to the Copyright Act. Although the NIMAS file is not considered "student ready," having the publisher provide the file at the same time the book is published will mean a lower cost to convert it into an accessible format while making it available at the beginning of the school term with higher quality than students receive currently.

By receiving study materials in NIMAS format, students can use tools that help access the content better allowing them to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for No Child Left Behind, an act passed in 2001 targeted to close the achievement gap between mainstream students and their disadvantaged and minority peers.

According to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige,  

President Bush believes that every single child can learn and deserves the opportunity to learn, that's why he pushed for the historic education reforms of the No Child Left Behind Act. Today, we're taking another step toward this goal with a new, voluntary standard that will enable students and teachers to more quickly access general curriculum materials, thereby opening more doors of opportunity to students.

What is NIMAS based on?

The NIMAS specification is an XML source file derived as a subset of the ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2005 standard that is also used as the standard for DAISY 3.0 digital talking books. The National File Format Technical Panel, comprised of forty educators, disability advocates, publishers and technology specialists, developed the standard from 2002 through 2004.

For more information

To find out more about NIMAS files and the specifications they are based on, please review the following links.

For more information on NIMAS, read about gh's NIMAS conversion service or visit NIMAS at CAST.