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What Is the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard?

Instructional Technologies-Students Disabilities Students with disabilities are too often handicapped by the very textbooks that are intended to help them learn. As designed, textbooks that are intended to facilitate learning inadvertently pose barriers to students who, for example, are limited in their ability to see printed text on the page, have difficulty turning pages, or have difficulty processing the information presented in printed narrative formats. The classic layout of most textbooks is only useful to specific students, while the needs of those who struggle with the printed narrative and bound volumes are disregarded. These volumes are also limited in flexibility when it comes to assistive technologies, and while scanners and screen reader programs can be helpful, they don't allow for the kind of flexibility of instruction that has proven to be so helpful to students who struggle, especially those with learning disabilities.

The National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) is a response to the challenge of providing all students with special needs the same high-quality instructional opportunities that non-disabled students enjoy as they study and work to master their curricula. Panels of experts from many fields including special education, teaching pedagogy, online learning, science, social studies, math, literacy, and publishing were summoned to work together on the NIMAS project. One of the initial goals of their work was to decide what digitized coding formats would best suit the needs of different types of students. For now, NIMAS is a voluntary standard that is meant to guide the production and electronic distribution of instructional materials for students with disabilities. The expectation is that the content of the kindergarten through 12th grade curricula will be able to be re-organized and reformatted so that it can be easily adapted by teachers to meet the special needs of all students. NIMAS encourages the conversion of textbooks into Braille, text-to-speech, and other formats more accessible for students with disabilities, and does so with the understanding that these converted materials will be based on the specialized coding system that will allow for the greatest flexibility possible.

NIMAS, part of the legislation IDEA and endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education, encourages publishers to accommodate all learners. Before NIMAS was passed, there were no other choices but to have textbooks individually converted to books-on-tape or translated into Braille and audio formats. This process is time consuming and expensive. In the end, it both excludes access to many students and is ineffective as a way to help students become more independent learners. Complying with the NIMAS standard is going to take a long time and will be very expensive. Imagine creating digitized textbooks for every English, Social Studies, Science, Math and foreign language textbook and workbook, every magazine and every novel that might be used in a classroom. This is a huge challenge for textbook companies as well as school districts and local, state, and federal government agencies. The will to do the right thing is a great first step toward ensuring that students can easily access appropriate materials to assist their learning.

Listen to NCLD’s October 14, 2010 webinar, “Access to Instructional Materials for Students with Learning Disabilities (LD): Getting it Done” (length: 90 minutes). Presenters: Chuck Hitchcock, Chief Officer of Policy & Technology for the Center for Applied Special Technology and Joanne Karger, J.D., Ed.D., an attorney at the Center for Law and Education (CLE).