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Content Development & Design


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Recommendations, Standards, and Guidelines

The NIMAS, as endorsed by the Department of Education, identifies DAISY DTBook XML document type as the official mark-up to be used in the preparation of files. The NIMAS technical specification identifies the required book constructs that, when present in the print edition, must be present in an electronic version. XML files that validate against DTBook and contain the minimum subset defined in the NIMAS specification are the foundation necessary for further content creation by authorized entities. Other files that must be included with XML-based content files are described in the NIMAS Technical Specification. Preparers of NIMAS-conformant files are strongly encouraged to use full DAISY mark-up whenever possible.

For practical information about NIMAS mark-up and the development of NIMAS-conformant files, see Creating NIMAS Files.

As NIMAS also will, the specifications for the eBooks continue to evolve with changing technology and other open standards, such as those from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). In 2014 the NIMAS Standards Board voted to converge the NIMAS with EPUB3, the international standard for eBooks. International Digital Publishing Forum into There are a number of other recommendations that may prove of interest to those who are concerned with developing accessible information. For those interested in web accessibility, see the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). To read a brief overview of web accessibility, see the WAI's QuickTips.

Guidance that focuses on accessible educational materials includes—

Production and Tools

Obi: DAISY/Accessible EPUB 3 production tool is an open source audio book production tool that produces content conforming to DAISY 3, Accessible EPUB 3 and DAISY 2.02 standards.

TOBI is another open source authoring tool for creating accessible DAISY and EPUB digital books.

A full list of tools for creating EPUB 3 digital content is available on the DAISY website.

For Open Educational Resources, the FLOE (Flexible Learning for Open Education) project and its associated tools offers arrange of guidance around creating accessible EPUB 3 and HTML 5 learning resources.

XML Editors

Since the NIMAS consists of XML elements, typical XML editing and validation tools may be used, alongside the NIMAS Document Type Definition (DTD), in order to create valid NIMAS content. Selecting an XML editor requires some consideration and research. Is an XML editor with a WYSIWYG user interface preferable, or is an all-purpose editor that will give total control of the final output a better choice? Many articles assessing selection criteria and presenting comparisons may be found by searching the Internet. When reviewing these items, it is especially important to note the publication date since software is frequently updated, or, in some cases, may no longer be maintained or available. Here is a selection of documents that may prove helpful when considering options:

DAISY & EPUB Production Tools

The American Printing House for the Blind's Book Wizard Producer is software that permits production of DAISY DTBs using the DAISY/NISO Z39.86-2002 format.. Studio Recorder, also from the American Printing House for the Blind, may be helpful in digital audio production projects, including DAISY production. One of its valuable features is that it is designed to be fully accessible to users who are blind or visually impaired. It was designed for use in creating digital audio books (not musical works) and offers features specific to DTB creation. It may be used in conjunction with the Book Wizard Producer to offer a flexible production package.

Dolphin Audio Publishing's Dolphin Publisher allows users to create DAISY 3 (DAISY/NISO Z39.86-2005) and EPUB 3 content from a variety of input sources. This product has an extensive set of features permitting human narration, text-to-speech conversion, and full audio synchronization with text. IRTI offers eClipseWriter 5.0. This product currently produces DAISY 2.02 and 3 content and supports the creation of NIMAS-conformant files and outputs. It can convert content in various electronic text formats to synchronized text and audio using an included text-to-speech engine. The software is designed to be fully accessible. IRTI expects to support future standards as they evolve.

Additional tools and resources for creating DAISY eBooks are listed at the DAISY Consortium website.

EPUB 3 Validation

Due to its widespread adoption in national and international eBook publishing (see the epubzone website for general EPUB information), the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) and the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) have created the EPUB 3 Support Grid to keep pace with “enhancements and features of EPUB 3 that render correctly on the most commonly used devices, apps, and reading systems”.  The Grid contains links to a wide range of EPUB 3 validation and rendering tools.


Materials developed for elementary, secondary and postsecondary academic use are unique in their purpose and design. The EDUPUB initiative, sponsored by the IDPF, is designed “…to significantly improve learning outcomes, better support accessibility, adapt to individual learning modes, increase engagement and experiential learning through interactivity, provide immediate assessments and analytics, and increase social connectivity.”  The EPUB 3 format is at the core of the EDUPUB effort.  In March, 2015, the EDUPUB stakeholders met to report on EDUPUB specification development and data interoperability, EDUPUB validation, EDUPUB rendering systems.

NIMAS Conversion Tool

The NIMAS Conversion Tool converts NIMAS-conformant XML filesets into leveled XML files and/or into leveled HTML files that can be opened and viewed in a browser. Leveled XML segments may be useful to Braille transcribers who prefer to work with segments smaller than a single file of a complete work. Note that results may not be completely predictable since levels used (coded into XML source files) by a publisher or a contractor will determine the number and size of segments. Users without access to the NIMAC may test the conversion tool using files available on the NIMAS Exemplars page.

Other Tools

The POET Image Description Tool from the DIAGRAM Center is an open-source, web-based tool for creating and providing guidelines to writing image descriptions for images in existing DAISY and EPUB books.

Braille Production Software and Services

One of the promises of the NIMAS is that content will be more easily transformed from NIMAS-conformant files into braille. Some software is being modified to support conversion into braille; however, for those with limited experience with braille, working with a braille production company is recommended to ensure high-quality results. There are many braille embossers on the market, but content production and braille transcription are our focuses here.

Software that may be able to assist with braille transformation includes—

A number of companies may be prepared to support braille production. A selected list of both commercial and nonprofit companies includes—

Making Math and Science Accessible

Visit Accessible Math for additiional information on efforts to make math content accessible with MathML

Accessible PDF Development and Reading

Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF) is pervasive in the publishing industry and on the World Wide Web (WWW). Making PDF accessible and/or converting it to other document types to facilitate accessibility is critical to those who seek to ensure accessibility. Enterprise Content Management (ECM) has established a working group— PDF/UA, Universal Accessibility Committee—that focuses on issues related to PDF accessibility.

Making Adobe PDF Content Accessible

Tagging PDF content is the key to making it accessible. Tagged PDF documents can be created from XML, and, once created, they may be used to create more reliable XML output for transformation into other electronic file formats.

A number of tools and services are available for use in the production of accessible PDF documents. One option for locating products and services to support PDF accessibility is to search the "Buy Accessible" database located on the Section web site. Adobe Systems, Inc. provides how-to information and tools to support creation of accessible PDF files. Helpful guidance from Adobe may be found by exploring the following pages:

Reading PDF Documents

Several versions of Adobe's Reader may be downloaded from Acrobat's Reader download page. It may be helpful to install the latest version of Adobe's reading software and enable its accessibility features in order to get a sense of how a PDF document will be presented when assistive technology is used. Adobe Digital Editions offers a free reader with EPUB 3 support.

Scanning and reading products available from both Freedom Scientific and Kurzweil Educational Systems have the ability to convert text-based or image-based PDF documents to content that may be read aloud.

Two products specifically designed to support reading of PDF documents using text-to-speech are—

Selected Articles about PDF Accessibility

Web Accessibility in Mind (WebAIM) has covered some important concepts related to the creation and reading of accessible PDF documents. PDF Accessibility provides discussion about why PDF accessibility is important for all people with disabilities. Accessibility Features in Adobe Reader DC was published in 2015 and those in Adobe Digital Editions in 2012.


The availability of content created with NIMAS-conformant files should alleviate much of the need to scan content in order to make it accessible. While NIMAS content is being developed, however, scanning may remain necessary. Below are a few resources that may help those who need to scan documents to begin to make them accessible.

There are many available articles that offer tips to ensure the best outcomes when scanning. Here are three beginners' pieces:

Specialized hardware and software scanning products are available and include—

Mainstream commercial software scanning products include— provides a service that permits qualified individuals or institutions to legally download scanned texts. Volunteers scan content for contribution to the community. Volunteers also share best practices for preparing content to be posted on the site.

National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS)

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

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Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY)

Technical standard for producing accessible and navigable multimedia documents.

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XML element set defining markup for textual content of a Digital Talking Book.

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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.

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Authorized Entity

Non-profit organization or governmental agency with primary mission to provide specialized services to blind or other persons with disabilities.

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NIMAS-conformant files

XML files valid to the NIMAS technical specification used to create accessible specialized formats of print-based instructional materials.

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Electronic version of a book.

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

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W3C (World Wide Web Consortium)

Promotes evolution and ensures interoperability of the World Wide Web, producing specifications and reference software for free use around the world.

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International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF)

Trade and standards organization dedicated to development and promotion of electronic publishing.

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

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Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)

Print- and technology-based educational materials designed to be usable across the widest range of individual variability.

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

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Format and content of an electronic fileset, comprising a digital talking book and requirements for playback devices.

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Distribution and interchange format standard for digital publications and documents.

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Document Type Definition (DTD)

Discrete set of XML tags, targeted at a particular type of application.

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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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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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National Information Standards Organization (NISO)

United States committee working on a specification for Digital Talking Books and much more.

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Text-to-Speech (TTS)

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

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Digital Text

Published material retrieved and read via a computer.

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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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Tactile Graphics

Images designed to be touched rather than seen.

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BRF (Digital Braille)

File type using Grade II Braille. May also be used with common Braille devices or printers.

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Nemeth Braille Code

Specialized braille code used for conveying mathematical and scientific notation.

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MathML (Mathematical Markup Language)

XML-based markup language used to display mathematical content.

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PDF (Portable Document Format)

Universal computer file type used to exchange and view documents on any computer with Adobe Acrobat or Foxit Reader software installed.

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