Skip to main content

The Promise of Accessible Textbooks: Increased Achievement for All Students


Skip Stahl


National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum (NCAC)


The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997 mandate increased expectations and accountability for a diverse range of students to access, participate, and progress in the general curriculum. In order to ensure that all of these students are able to achieve in the general curriculum instruction needs to be individualized. However, the "one size fits all" printed textbooks and other resources that make up the general curriculum often serve as barriers. Existing solutions are discussed within four categories of alternate format materials. These four categories include braille, audio, large print, and e-text. An overview of how materials in each category are created for, made available to, and used by students is presented. Copyright laws and efforts to increase widespread availability are discussed, including the “Chafee Amendment” in 1966. On July 27, 2004, the United States Department of Education officially endorsed the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS). Version 1.0 of NIMAS details the baseline technological specifications for the creation of valid digital source files of pre-K-12 textbooks and related instructional materials. The benefits of accessible textbooks are discussed for students with visual impairments physical disabilities, learning disabilities, Deaf or hard of hearing, intellectual disabilities, and traumatic brain injury and other cognitive impairments. Technological, legislative, and commercial challenges to overcome are discussed. Next, the ways in which adjustments by publishers, third-party conversion organizations, and states, districts, and schools will benefit all are discussed. Lastly, the ways in which accessible materials will be used to support the needs of students with disabilities and enhance student achievement are discussed. Electronic text is emerging as the foundation of a revolutionary approach to the provision of alternate-format materials because it offers significantly increased flexibility and enables rapid transformations from one media type to another.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Federal law governing rights of children with disabilities to receive free and appropriate public education in least restrictive environment.

View in glossary


Digital form or representation of a sound which may be used for non-visual access to text and images.

View in glossary

Digital Text

Published material retrieved and read via a computer.

View in glossary

Chafee Amendment

Copyright Law Amendment allowing authorized entities to reproduce previously published work for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.

View in glossary

National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS)

A technical standard used to produce XML-based source files for print-based educational materials.

View in glossary

Download the Article

Cite As

Stahl, S. (2004). The promise of accessible textbooks: Increased achievement for all students. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. (Links updated 2009). Retrieved [insert date] from