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NIMAS Policy Brief, April 2008


Note: The content on this page is offered as historical information. An update is forthcoming. See OSEP Clarifies NIMAS Eligibility for more information.

April, 2008

Note: Links (URLs) in this document were updated as of July 17, 2017 and the first sentence of the Annual Application section was corrected on July 9, 2012.


As you already know, obtaining high-quality and appropriate specialized formats such as Braille, audio, e-text, and large print in a timely manner is important to the success of students with print disabilities. These students include those who are blind, have low vision, have physical limitations that make it difficult to manage print-based materials, and those with reading-related learning disabilities. It is encouraging to know that many states are making progress by using the resources that are already available to them. These include many OSEP-supported SEA and LEA initiatives.

The purpose for this communication is to provide updated information about the NIMAS-related developments that may impact choices that are made within states and local education agencies. Recent developments should be of interest to anyone responsible for implementing IDEA 2004 and the regulations pertaining to the statute. The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), U. S. Department of Education, now provides support for maintaining and improving the NIMAS specification; technical assistance to states, publishers, and conversion houses; a consortium of states working together to implement NIMAS requirements; a national accessible materials production and distribution service at Bookshare specific to meeting the needs of qualified students; and ongoing support for Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic [RFB&D]) and the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). It is important to understand what options are available and how best to use available resources.


NIMAS is a technical standard used by publishers to produce source files using eXtensible Mark-up Language (XML) that may, in turn, be used to develop multiple specialized formats for students with print disabilities. Source files are prepared using XML tags to mark up the structure of original content and to provide a means for presenting that content in a variety of ways. For example, once a NIMAS fileset has been produced of printed materials, the XML and image source files may be used to create specialized formats such as Braille, large print, HTML, DAISY talking books using human voice or text-to-speech, audio files derived from text-to-speech transformations, and more. The specialized formats created from NIMAS filesets may then be used to support a diverse group of learners who qualify as students with print disabilities.

It is important to note that most elementary and secondary educational publishers do not own all of the electronic rights to their textbooks and related core print materials, and a copyright exemption allows them to deliver the electronic content of a textbook and its related core print materials to the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC), a national repository which began operations on 12/3/06. As long as publishers possess a textbook's print rights, NIMAS filesets may be provided to the NIMAC. NIMAS applies to instructional materials published and sold on or after 7/19/06.

Annual Application Under Part B of IDEA 2004

Each State Education Agency (SEA) is required to adopt NIMAS and encouraged to coordinate with the NIMAC. Adopting NIMAS does not mean that an SEA adopts the Standard exclusively. It may still be appropriate for some states to adopt NIMAS, include NIMAS requirements in state textbook adoptions, and request rich text format documents should existing systems for creating braille require it. It should be noted that requesting additional formats may not be necessary, since NIMAS files may be converted to rich text if desired. Some states may require a brief phase-in period.

New NIMAS Standards Board and NIMAS Implementation Advisory Council

The NIMAS Development Committee has been reorganized into two new working groups that meet annually in January. The NIMAS Standards Board informs and guides the work of the NIMAS Development Center and the NIMAS Implementation Advisory Council guides the work of the NIMAS Technical Assistance Center supporting SEAs, K–12 publishers and content conversion services. The agenda, hand-outs, PowerPoint slides, and meeting highlights for each initial meeting of the new Board and Council were posted to the Board and Council pages, respectively, on the NIMAS web site.

AIM Consortium

Following a competition in 2007, CAST was awarded OSEP funding for 18 months to support 15 SEAs that elected to participate in the AIM Consortium. These SEAs are working together to develop policies, procedures, infrastructure, materials, and training to facilitate the delivery of specialized formats to students with print disabilities in a timely manner. Although the states are working together, each is developing its own approach to meeting the needs of students with print disabilities. This work will lead to the development of knowledge and assets that will assist every SEA that is developing systems to implement NIMAS.


Following a competition in 2007, The Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service (CEDDERS) at the University of Guam was awarded OSEP funding for 18 months to implement the Pacific Consortium for Instructional Materials Accessibility Project. CIMAP is working closely with the Pacific territories, freely associated states, and outlying areas to implement NIMAS and to improve timely access to instructional materials in specialized formats. Refer to the Guam Cedders I Tellai: Vol. 12, Iss. 1 PDF and TEXT (December 2009) for more information.

Bookshare for Education (B4E)

Following yet another competition in 2007, Benetech was awarded OSEP funding for 5 years to develop and implement Bookshare for Education (B4E). As of October 1, 2007, Bookshare no longer charges a membership fee to students with print disabilities. Their textbook library of digital talking books is growing, and NIMAS filesets of textbook titles are now assigned to this national accessible media producer (AMP) on a daily basis. To ensure that members have access to K–12 textbooks and related core print instructional materials derived from NIMAS filesets, it is essential that SEA-assigned Authorized Users (AUs) assign titles to them via the NIMAC. Bookshare has a quick turn-around time and is developing a special area for school members interested in specialized formats created from files obtained from the NIMAC. Bookshare also offers Victor Reader software as part of its free membership to students and plans to offer a robust, yet free, version of the Don Johnston Read:OutLoud software program in September, 2008. Bookshare also plans to provide images with its DAISY books later in 2008 and will include alternative text for those images in 2009. Bookshare already offers over 35,000 books and is growing its NIMAS-based textbook conversions at a rapid rate. In addition to the traditional individual student authorization available through local education agencies, the B4E program is now facilitating group sign-ups when submitted by an authorized representative. See Bookshare's website for additional information.

Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic [RFB&D])

Learning Ally currently has over 43,000 digital audio books available for use by its members. They are currently completing work on a conversion tool that will allow them to quickly create a Digital Talking Book with text and text-to-speech capabilities for mid-elementary level and above from NIMAS filesets. The plan is to continue developing high-quality, voice-recorded audio versions for learners in the lower elementary grades and to create digital audio books for the higher grade levels. Their audio versions require human voice recording and are likely to take three to six months to complete. To ensure that Learning Ally members have access to K–12 textbooks and related core print instructional materials derived from NIMAS filesets, it is essential that SEA-assigned Authorized Users (AUs) assign titles to them via the NIMAC. Learning Ally offers both hardware- and software-based reading tools for its AudioPlus digitally recorded CDs. Membership is fee-based and is supported, in part, with annual funding provided through OSEP. This annual source of funding was restored within an appropriations bill signed by the President on December 26, 2007. See Learning Ally's website for additional information.

American Printing House for the Blind (APH)

APH is supported by OSEP with quota funds that are, in turn, allocated to state-level Instructional Resource Centers for the Blind and Low Vision (IRCBLV). Almost every state has an IRC to coordinate the development and delivery of appropriate Braille, large print, digital talking books, and specialized materials for the blind and low vision population. APH produces Braille and large print and develops products that are used to improve access and learning. APH also hosts the LOUIS Database which is used extensively to locate accessible materials in a variety of formats: See APH's LOUIS Database for additional information.

NIMAC Update

The National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) at APH has implemented a robust system to work with SEA coordinators, SEA-appointed authorized users (AUs), accessible media producers (AMPs), and publishers. Problematic language within the Limitation-of-Use Agreement (LUA) has been resolved, and Congress now protects the NIMAC from copyright liability in cases where there may be improper activity within a state or local education agency. Most every state has agreed to coordinate with the NIMAC and there is, quite frankly, no reason not to. Coordinating with the NIMAC does not limit state options in any way and provides opportunities to support the development of a national inventory of NIMAS filesets by publishers. As of late March 2008, NIMAC housed over 5,000 NIMAS filesets; 44 states and territories had registered coordinators; 30 states had designated AUs (with 7 more pending); 56 publishers had registered; and there were 51 registered AMPs. The future availability of accessible materials to qualified students depends on SEAs and LEAs requiring publishers to prepare and submit NIMAS filesets to the NIMAC, on identifying students with print disabilities, having SEA-level AUs assign files to qualified AMPs via the NIMAC, and then arranging appropriate access to the services of national AMPs such as APH, Bookshare, and Learning Ally. Some SEAs are downloading NIMAS files and doing their own conversions as well as assigning files to local AMPs such as Braille transcribers and digital talking book producers. See the NIMAC website for additional information.

Assistive Technology Industry

An important development over the past year has been the creation and sale of new technologies that read NIMAS filesets directly and those that read and display specialized formats created from NIMAS filesets. Major Braille transcription software developers have implemented new features that import NIMAS filesets, facilitate refinement of the files, and produce electronic and embossed Braille.

Association of American Publishers (AAP)

We have heard a number of reports with regard to the Association of American Publishers (AAP) lobbying at the state level to influence legislation and textbook adoption language. The NIMAS Technical Assistance Center position regarding who qualifies for specialized formats derived from NIMAS filesets is consistent with An Act to Provide Books for the Adult Blind (approved March 3, 1931, 2 U.S.C. 135a) and its amendments, National Library Service guidelines, and years of actual practice by national accessible media producers (AMPs), such as Bookshare and Learning Ally. Consistent with the Library of Congress regulations, NIMAS supports a range of students with print disabilities—those who are blind, have low vision, have physical limitations that make it difficult to manage print-based materials, and those with reading-related learning disabilities due to organic dysfunction. Based on past practice, students in the latter category generally qualify under the physical category and would typically be certified by an educational expert in the field of learning disabilities. We understand that some states have decided to implement a more conservative approach and include students with reading-related learning disabilities in the organic dysfunction group that requires a medical certification.

A Mini-FAQ

  • Who qualifies as print-disabled?

    The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) NIMAS Regulations Summary refers to the Library of Congress regulations:

    "The Library of Congress regulations (36 CFR 701.6(b)(1)) related to the Act to Provide Books for the Adult Blind (approved March 3, 1931, 2 U.S.C. 135a) provide that "blind persons or other persons with print disabilities" include: (i) Blind persons whose visual acuity, as determined by competent authority, is 20/200 or less in the better eye with correcting glasses, or whose widest diameter if visual field subtends an angular distance no greater than 20 degrees. (ii) Persons whose visual disability, with correction and regardless of optical measurement, is certified by competent authority as preventing the reading of standard printed material. (iii) Persons certified by competent authority as unable to read or unable to use standard printed material as a result of physical limitations. (iv) Persons certified by competent authority as having a reading disability resulting from organic dysfunction and of sufficient severity to prevent their reading printed material in a normal manner."

    Competent authority is defined in 36 CFR 701.6(b)(2) as follows: (i) In cases of blindness, visual disability, or physical limitations "competent authority" is defined to include doctors of medicine, doctors of osteopathy, ophthalmologists, optometrists, registered nurses, therapists, professional staff of hospitals, institutions, and public or welfare agencies (e.g., social workers, case workers, counselors, rehabilitation teachers, and superintendents). (ii) In the case of a reading disability from organic dysfunction, competent authority is defined as doctors of medicine who may consult with colleagues in associated disciplines."

    However, in practice, this topic lacks clear parameters. A number of SEAs have begun to discuss how they can work together to advance our thinking in this area. It is estimated that approximately 5% of the total K–12 student population may qualify for specialized formats created from NIMAS filesets.

  • What about students who have print disabilities that don't qualify?

    SEAs remain responsible for ensuring that all students with print disabilities are provided with accessible materials although it may be difficult to achieve FAPE, ensure civil rights, and avoid copyright violations. This is a topic of concern for many and includes students with print disabilities who are supported with Section 504 plans.

  • Should an SEA arrange to download files and do their own file conversions?

    Perhaps, although it may be best to first explore the services available from national-level accessible materials producers and distributors such as APH, Bookshare, and Learning Ally; and local Instructional Resource Centers for the Blind and Low Vision (IRCBLVs).

  • What about books published prior to July 19, 2006, when NIMAS was published in the Federal Register?

    OSEP has taken the position that every textbook and related core print materials sold by K–12 publishers (i.e., works still "in print" as opposed to "out of print") after July 19, 2006 is subject to a request for conversion to NIMAS filesets and subsequent submission to the NIMAC.

  • What are the basics steps required to implement NIMAS at the SEA level?

    Please refer to page 6 of this document for a list of suggested steps.

  • Where can I find additional information about NIMAS and the NIMAC?

    Please refer to page 7 of this document for links to pertinent additional information.

This document was prepared by the NIMAS Technical Assistance Center with support from the U. S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Grant No. H327040002). However, the opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U. S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, and no official endorsement by the Department should be inferred.

Useful Resources for SEAs and LEAs

7/17/08 Update & 6/17/10 URLs Update

AIM and NIMAS/NIMAC FAQ (vetted by OSEP)

Training Support

NIMAS Curriculum Module
IDEA Partnership: NIMAS Dialogue Guide
Bonnie Jones' OSEP NIMAS/NIMAC overview video


NIMAC website with resources for SEAs, AMPs, and publishers
SEA Coordinator registration process
Authorized User registration process
Accessible Media Producers and NIMAC
Updated Limitation-of-Use Agreement (2017 LUA)


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

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Digital Text

Published material retrieved and read via a computer.

View in glossary

Print Disability

Blindness or other disability that prevents the effective use of printed materials.

View in glossary

Physical Limitation

Disability preventing an individual from using standard print material establishes eligibility under Chafee Amendment for specialized format.

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Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)

Provides leadership and financial support to assist states and local districts in improving results for children and youth with disabilities.

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Local Education Agency (LEA)

Agency legally authorized to provide administrative control or direction of publically funded schools.

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National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS)

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

View in glossary

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.

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American Printing House for the Blind (APH)

Largest non-profit organization creating products and services for people who are visually impaired.

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XML (EXtensible Markup Language)

Universal format for structured documents and data. Set of rules, guidelines, and conventions for designing text formats for data.

View in glossary

Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY)

Technical standard for producing accessible and navigable multimedia documents.

View in glossary

Text-to-Speech (TTS)

Artificial production of human speech, using special software and/or hardware.

View in glossary

Print Instructional Materials

Printed materials written and published for use in elementary and secondary school instruction, required by a SEA or LEA for use by students in classroom.

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National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC)

Central national repository established at American Printing House for the Blind to store, validate, maintain and disseminate NIMAS filesets.

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CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology)

Non-profit organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals through research and development.

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Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)

Print-based educational materials converted into specialized formats, related to the requirements of the IDEA statute.

View in glossary


Access for all people, including people with disabilities, to web environments.

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Digital Talking Book (DTB)

Digitally encoded files containing audio portions and full text to increase quality and availability of information to print-disabled persons.

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Accessible Media Producers (AMPs)

Produced specialized formats of instructional materials for use by blind or other persons with print disabilities.

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Authorized User

Agent of a coordinating agency with access to the NIMAC database to download NIMAS-conformant files.

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Alt Tag (alternative text)

Brief description of a single image designed to be read by a screenreader as an alternative to the image.

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LUA (Limitation-of-Use Agreement)

Legal agreement ensuring NIMAS filesets are converted for the exclusive purpose of producing accessible instructional materials for print disabled.

View in glossary


Equipment or system where principal function is creation, conversion, duplication, control, display, interchange, transmission, reception, or broadcast of data.

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Association of American Publishers (AAP)

Largest trade association of publishing companies in the United States.

View in glossary

Organic Dysfunction

Reading disability resulting from organic dysfunction establishes eligibility under Chafee Amendment for specialized formats.

View in glossary

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Under IDEA, special education is provided at public expense, under public supervision, and without charge.

View in glossary

Section 504

Prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. Written 504 plan used to guide provision of instructional services.

View in glossary