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What you need to know about NIMAS.

This article's focus: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004

When the U.S. Congress updated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004 (IDEA 2004), it added an important new provision known as the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard or NIMAS. NIMAS is designed to maximize access to the general education curriculum for children who are blind or have other print-disabilities through the timely provision of accessible instructional materials created from NIMAS source files. As such, it provides exciting new opportunities for the tens of thousands of children who have disabilities that severely impair their ability to read printed text.

A quick look at the numbers of students who may need instructional materials in alternative formats shows the magnitude of the problem.

* 55,200 children in the U.S. are legally blind

* 26,352 children ages 6-21 are served under IDEA's category of "Visual Impairment"

* 61,866 children ages 6-21 are served under "Orthopedic Impairments"

* 599,494 children ages 6-21 are served under "Other Health Impairments"

* 131,682 children ages 6-21 are served under "Multiple disabilities"

* 2,710,476 children ages 6-21 are served under "Specific Learning Disabilities"

While not all of these students need alternative formats to access their instructional materials, many do. And, to receive a free appropriate public education, these students must receive their materials at the same time as their non-disabled peers.

According to the U.S. Department of Education: "Current methods of converting print textbooks into Braille and other specialized formats are complex and time consuming, and the process can take months to complete. In many cases, students who are blind or who have print disabilities now receive accessible textbooks and other instructional materials well after the beginning of the instructional period. The adoption of the NIMAS will improve both the speed of the process and the quality and consistency of books converted into specialized formats."

What is NIMAS?

NIMAS establishes a uniform electronic (or digital) format for textbooks and related materials called a source file. On its own, this source file is not sufficient for direct use by children. However, the source file is the means by which specialized, accessible formats are created--formats such as Braille, audio, or digital text, and large print. These accessible formats can then be used by children who are blind or otherwise print-disabled. The importance of this approach is that all these specialized formats can be created from the same NIMAS source file. Print instructional materials are defined in IDEA as printed textbooks, related printed core materials, and materials written and published primarily for use in elementary and secondary schools and required by the state educational agency or local educational agency--such as a school district - for use by children in the classroom.

Who is eligible for NIMAS?

While a student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team makes decisions regarding instruction programing, modifications, and accommodations that will be needed, including the need for accessible instructional materials, decisions regarding who is eligible to utilize NIMAS materials are governed by the Act to Provide Books for the Adult Blind, originally passed in 1931. The law also established the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) at the Library of Congress to provide alternate format materials (Braille and audiobooks), initially just for adults who were blind. Individuals eligible for special education services under the IDEA are not automatically eligible to use NIMAS materials, and eligibility is not defined in IDEA. Instead, IDEA 2004 relies on the Act to Provide Books for the Adult Blind to define those who are eligible. The legislation has been amended several times over the years and now encompasses children who are blind or have visual impairments or physical disabilities. The Library of Congress regulations define "blind persons or other persons with print disabilities" as:

* those whose visual acuity is 20/200 or less*

* those whose visual disability, with correction, prevents the reading of standard printed material*

* those who are unable to read or unable to use standard printed material as a result of physical limitations*

* those who have a reading disability resulting from organic dysfunction and of sufficient severity to prevent the reading of printed material in a normal manner*

* as certified by competent authority

In the case of a reading disability from organic dysfunction, these regulations define a competent authority as doctors of medicine who may consult with colleagues in associated disciplines. In the case of an individual who is blind, has a visual disability, or has physical limitations, other medical professionals and school officials such as social workers and counselors are included among those who are competent authorities. School districts have the responsibility, including the assumption of any costs, to obtain the appropriate certification for the students.

Those who have disorders such as learning disabilities, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, chronic-fatigue syndrome, autism, functional illiteracy, or mental retardation are not automatically eligible. A competent authority must make the determination that a child's reading disability represents an organic dysfunction that severely affects reading ability or that there is a specific accompanying visual or physical disability that qualifies.

However, whether an individual meets the definition as a "blind person or other person with print disabilities," states must still take all reasonable steps to provide instructional materials in accessible formats to children with disabilities who need those instructional materials at the same time as other children receive instructional materials.

All students with disabilities eligible for special education services under IDEA are to be provided access to the general curriculum with modifications, accommodations, supplementary aids, and supports in order to make satisfactory educational progress. "Supplementary aids and services" means aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular education classes or other education-related settings to enable children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate.

It is recommended that every IEP team ask this question: Does this student require accessible, alternate format versions of printed textbooks and printed core materials that are written and published primarily for use in elementary and secondary school instruction and are required by a state or local school district for use by students in the classroom?

If the student does need a specialized format, the IEP should specify the following:

* the specific format(s) to be provided (Braille, audio, e-text, large print, etc.)

* the services and/or assistive technology the student needs to use the specialized format

* the individual or individuals responsible for providing the specialized format, and

* whether or not the format is required to be used in the student's home or in another setting in order for the student to receive a free appropriate public education.

How does NIMAS work?

IDEA 2004 also established the National Instructional Materials Access Center--or NIMAC. NIMAC is a national repository of NIMAS source files maintained and coordinated by the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) in Louisville, Kentucky (

Beginning in August of 2006, whenever a local school district or state educational agency makes a purchase of print instructional materials, it must also contract with the publisher to prepare and, on or before delivery of the print instructional materials, provide to NIMAC electronic files containing the contents of the print instructional materials using the NIMAS.

NIMAC then makes the NIMAS files available to authorized users. Authorized users are individuals designated by the states and are responsible for obtaining the source files from NIMAC and seeing that they are rendered into the specific accessible formats that individual children with print disabilities need. NIMAC does not work directly with schools, children, parents, or teachers--only those authorized by the state. It's important to remember that instructional materials published before August 2006 are not subject to being prepared in accordance with NIMAS. However, states and local school districts still have the obligation to provide required instructional materials in accessible formats to children with disabilities who need them.

States are not required to work with NIMAC to procure materials in accessible formats, but almost all states have elected to do so. According to information collected by the U.S. Department of Education, states that have chosen not to coordinate with NIMAC are Illinois, Kansas, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington and Washington, DC. These states must assure that blind persons or other persons with print disabilities will be provided instructional materials in a timely manner.

By including NIMAS in the latest version of the IDEA and its implementing federal regulations, the U.S. Congress and U.S. Department of Education have laid the groundwork for a new, efficient way to meet the needs of students with disabilities in our nation's schools. Ensuring that these children receive accessible materials at the same time that other children receive instructional materials is the only way to provide them equal opportunities to benefit from education.

For Additional Information

National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS)

Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) Consortium to improve the quality, availability, and timely delivery of accessible instructional materials to K-12 students with print disabilities.

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, NIMAS--National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (Module 8). Building the legacy: IDEA 2004 training curriculum.

Candace Cortiella is Director of The Advocacy Institute (, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of products, projects, and services that work to improve the lives of people with disabilities. The mother of a young adult with learning disabilities and a disability rights advocate for over 17 years, she lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
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Title Annotation:National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard; Insight on Federal Policy
Author:Cortiella, Candace
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2008
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