Skip to main content

Acquisition of Specialized Formats FAQ


The following frequently asked questions (FAQ) provide detailed information about the acquisition process and who is eligible for materials obtained from what sources. For more information about other steps of the decision-making process, please visit the related pages within Navigating AEM. Additionally, the AEM Navigator is an online process facilitator which contains in-depth information, scaffolded supports, and extensive resources to guide the decision-making process.



What is the NIMAC?

IDEA mandated the establishment of the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) as a national repository for publisher source filesets of textbooks and related core printed materials that are created according to the technical specification included in the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard, commonly known by the acronym NIMAS. The NIMAC has been established by the American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. (APH) in Louisville, Kentucky.

When a publisher creates a NIMAS fileset for a textbook or other print material and deposits the fileset in the NIMAC, that fileset can be converted into student-ready specialized formats, such as braille, large print, audio, or digital text.

It must be remembered that NIMAS filesets have to be converted to student-ready specialized formats and that specialized formats created from filesets housed in the NIMAC can only be used by dually qualified students. A student must be served under IDEA and meet copyright criteria for specialized formats to use materials created from NIMAS source files from the NIMAC.

Additional information on the NIMAC is available at the NIMAC web site and in our FAQ about NIMAS and the NIMAC.

What are AMPs?

Accessible media producers, frequently called AMPs, are agencies, organizations, or companies that produce instructional materials in specialized formats such as braille, large print, audio, or digital text.

Most materials produced by AMPs are available to students or others who meet copyright criteria for specialized formats. Only those students who are dually qualified (meet copyright criteria and are served under IDEA) are eligible for specialized formats created from NIMAS filesets obtained from the NIMAC.

Two AMPs— Bookshare and the American Printing House for the Blind—receive considerable federal funding that enables them to provide specialized formats free of charge or at a very low cost to qualified students. A third AMP, Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) also provides materials across the country for a fee. Please refer to the AEM Guide to AMPs for detailed information.

What commercial sources of AEM are available?

Commercial sources include publishers and other companies or organizations that create and provide some AEM formats for sale. Some publishers provide accessible CDs or online versions along with or as an alternative to printed textbooks. When purchasing these materials it is important to ensure that the information is exactly the same as in printed versions of the materials and to determine the features that make them accessible to some students (e.g., contains digital text that can be read aloud). Remember that not all CDs or digital materials are accessible. As general publishing becomes increasingly digital, the expectation is that educational publishers will embrace a market model and design accessibility features into all products. Those materials can be sold to SEAs and LEAs for use by any student. Through the market model, SEAs and LEAs can acquire and provide accessible materials to any student who may need them or prefer them without concern for qualification issues.

There are also other commercial sources that provide materials in formats that may meet the accessibility requirements for some students (e.g., audio from These sources do not typically provide textbooks but may be an excellent source of supplementary literature.

What free sources of AEM are available?

There are many sources that provide AEM free-of-charge. Materials in the public domain due to copyright expiration can often be found in numerous locations on the Internet, typically in a digital text format. Although printed textbooks are rarely available, there are many web-based sources for originally print-based materials that may be used in literature courses or other classes.

There is also an increasing availability of instructional materials that are "open source"—materials that can be acquired, customized, and used with any student free-of-charge or for a very small fee, depending upon the source. If open source materials are being used by other students, the team should explore whether or not those materials are accessible.

What is the "locally created" option?

"Locally created" production refers to the means used by special education teachers and assistive technology personnel to make printed materials accessible by scanning, recording, or otherwise transforming them into formats that can be used by students with disabilities. Although this was the primary means of providing AEM for many years and is still the only way to provide some materials (e.g., non-published, teacher-created materials) this should be the means of last resort. Local creation of materials on a student-by-student basis is extremely time intensive and does little to encourage the systemic change needed to effectively and efficiently provide materials to all students who require specially formatted instructional materials to achieve positive educational outcomes. There is every expectation that as the market model strengthens and more accessible materials are available for purchase there will be markedly less need to use this option for textbooks and other published related core materials.

It is important to keep in mind that local creation of AEM does not relieve anyone from observing copyright law as it relates to instructional materials. If copyrighted materials are being used as a source, the restrictions are the same as those for AMPs and other sources. In other words, if an accessible format of a copyrighted material is created for one child who needs it, that material cannot be shared with another child who may simply prefer it (or even need it) if that child does not have a certified print-related disability—except possibly under the Fair Use exception to copyright statute. To learn more about the Fair Use exception, please refer to the U.S. Copyright Office's information on Fair Use. The safest approach is to obtain a publisher's permission before creating materials locally.

What is NIMAS?

The National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard or NIMAS includes a technical specification used by publishers to produce source files (in XML) that may be used to develop multiple specialized formats (such as braille or audio books) for students with print disabilities. It is mandated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) for textbooks and related printed core instructional materials. A NIMAS-conformant source file is not a student-ready format but must be converted into a specialized format (i.e., braille, audio, digital text, large print) for student use.

The NIMAS outlines and defines what a set of consistent and valid XML-based source file(s) and other component files consist of, and these are typically created by K–12 curriculum publishers or other content producers. These well-structured source filesets can be used to create student-ready, accessible specialized formats of print instructional materials. A complete NIMAS fileset includes an XML content file, a package file, images, and a PDF file of the title page (or whichever page contains ISBN and copyright information). More detailed information about the NIMAS is available on our NIMAS in IDEA page.

Special education statutes apply to state and local education agencies, not to publishers. There is no statutory requirement placed on publishers to create NIMAS source files and deposit them in the NIMAC. To be sure that NIMAS source files are created and deposited in the NIMAC so they are available for conversion to specialized formats when needed, all contracts for the purchase of educational materials need to include the requirement that these files be created and deposited along with a date by which this must be done. Additional information and sample contract language can be found in our  FAQ about NIMAS and NIMAC.

The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education's (OSEP's) web site, Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004 provides extensive information on the NIMAS including a topic brief, a video clip, training materials, presentations, a dialogue guide, and a Q&A document.

Who can use specialized formats created from NIMAS source files from the NIMAC?

IDEA specifies that a student must meet two criteria in order to receive a specialized format rendered from a NIMAS fileset from the NIMAC.

  • The student must receive special education services under IDEA
  • The student must be certified by a competent authority as having a disability as specified in the Act to Provide Books for the Adult Blind (approved March 3, 1931, 2 U.S.C. 135a) [34 CFR 300.172(e)(1)].

More detailed information is available in Policies & Systems.

What is a print disability?

"Blind persons or other persons with print disabilities" means children served under Part 300 who may qualify to receive books and other publications produced in specialized formats in accordance with the Act entitled "An Act to Provide Books for the Adult Blind," approved March 3, 1931, 2 U.S.C. 135a. [34 CFR 300.172(e)(1)(i)] [20 U.S.C. 1474(e)(3)(A)].

Generally speaking, the term refers to individuals who are unable to read or use standard print materials because of a disability.

What are the "copyright criteria for specialized formats"?

The Library of Congress regulations (36 CFR 701.10(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 disabilities include—

  • "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.
  • Persons whose visual disability, with correction and regardless of optical measurement, is certified by competent authority as preventing the reading of standard printed material.
  • Persons certified by competent authority as unable to read or unable to use standard printed material as a result of physical limitations.
  • 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."

Who is a competent authority?

Based on the Library of Congress regulations (36 CFR 701.10(b)(2)) related to the Act to Provide Books for the Adult Blind (approved March 3, 1931, 2 U.S.C. 135a), a "competent authority" is defined as follows:

  • "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). In the absence of any of these, certification may be made by professional librarians or by any persons whose competence under specific circumstances is acceptable to the Library of Congress.
  • In the case of reading disability from organic dysfunction, competent authority is defined as doctors of medicine who may consult with colleagues in associated disciplines."

Who is an authorized user?

An authorized user (AU) is an agent of a state department of education who has access to the NIMAC database in order to download or to assign NIMAS fileset(s) for conversion to specialized formats in accordance with established agreements with the NIMAC.

What is the Chafee Amendment to Copyright Law?

The 1996 Chafee Amendment to Copyright Law, Public Law 104-197, adds Section 121, establishing an exception to copyright infringement for the reproduction of works for use by the blind or other persons with print disabilities. The definition of blind and other persons with disabilities refers, as does IDEA, to the definition in the Act to Provide Books for the Adult Blind approved March 3, 1931. For more detailed information on copyright law and the Chafee Amendment, refer to the National Library Service's NLS Factsheet: Copyright Law Amendment, 1996.

Can the same law be interpreted in different ways?

Yes, there are ambiguities in the laws that are subject to interpretation. When questions arise, district personnel are urged to contact their district administrators and/or state AEM contact designee. Refer to the AEM State Contacts and SEA Information page for specific state information.

What about teacher-made materials?

Teacher-made materials include worksheets, tests, and other materials created by a teacher for use in a classroom that are not a part of published print materials purchased with textbooks and are not available in specialized formats from other sources. If a student requires specialized formats of published printed instructional materials, it logically follows that materials produced by a teacher will also need to be made accessible via a "locally created" process. The materials might be made accessible either in the development of the product (e.g., by using the Save-as-DAISY option in MS Word) or through another conversion option (e.g., creating a digital version by scanning the print version, creating an audio version by recording).

Teacher-made materials and other materials that are not copyrighted can be freely shared, and a local repository for these materials can be created to reduce duplication of effort.

See "What is the 'locally created' option?" for additional information and considerations.

What other major provisions in IDEA related to AEM need to be addressed?

IDEA requires state education agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs) or school districts to provide instructional materials in specialized formats to all students with print disabilities in a timely manner ([34 CFR 300.172(3)]).

If a student receiving services under IDEA needs accessible instructional materials but does not meet copyright criteria or if needed materials are not available from the NIMAC, the SEA and LEA remain obligated to provide needed accessible materials in a timely manner [34 CFR 300.210(3)] by making use of other sources.

What can SEAs and LEAs do to increase the availability of AEM?

If digital materials are not created with accessibility features built-in from the start, it is almost impossible to retrofit these materials.  Educators and purchasing agents need to demand that publishers provide broad accessibility features which enable students with disabilities to access the materials using a variety of technology tools. 

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

National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS)

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

View in glossary

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.

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.

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

Accessible Media Producers (AMPs)

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

View in glossary

Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)

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

View in glossary


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

View in glossary

Local Education Agency (LEA)

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

View in glossary


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

View in glossary

Fair Use

Fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research is not an infringement of copyright.

View in glossary

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

Print Disability

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

View in glossary

NIMAS-conformant files

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

View in glossary

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.

View in glossary

International Standard Book Number (ISBN)

Unique book identifier used to identify particular book title, edition, publisher, and geographic group of origin.

View in glossary

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.

View in glossary

Physical Limitation

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

View in glossary

Organic Dysfunction

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

View in glossary

Authorized User

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

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

Blind or Other Persons with Print Disabilities

Eligible students must qualify under IDEA and the 1931 Act to receive books and publications produced in specialized formats.

View in glossary

Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY)

Technical standard for producing accessible and navigable multimedia documents.

View in glossary

Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)

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

View in glossary