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National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS)

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Need for Flexible Alternatives to Print

For many students with disabilities, the limitations of print technology raise barriers to access, and therefore to learning. Following the passage of the IDEA in 1997, it has become essential that all students have access to the general curriculum, and thus to the print materials of which it is composed.

For students who cannot see the words or images on a page, cannot hold a book or turn its pages, cannot decode the text or cannot comprehend the syntax that supports the written word may each experience different challenges, and they may each require different supports to extract meaning from information that is "book bound." For each of them, however, there is a common barrier - the centuries-old fixed format of the printed book.

Very few students with disabilities presently have access to the accessible books they need. There are several reasons for that. In some cases, the problem is technical - schools do not have the technology they need to properly provide accessible versions to students, even if they had such versions. In other cases, the problem is ignorance - many teachers and schools do not understand the issue of access or the potential solutions that are available.

But for many students the problem is a frustrating distribution system; students can't get the accessible materials they need in a timely fashion. Present policies and procedures for disseminating accessible materials are archaic and inefficient, raising barriers rather than opportunities.

The Benefits of a Standard Source File

While there are many barriers to accessibility, the problems that are caused by multiple formats are particularly frustrating. The adoption of a common, or standard, format is a simplifying step that has been crucial to progress in many other fields - from railroads (adopting a common track gauge), to video technology (adopting a common format for DVD, and HDTV). Similarly, progress in addressing the needs of students with disabilities has been enhanced the United States Department of Education's endorsement of a common National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard. With that single change, a number of barriers at many points in the educational system can now be addressed.

Link icon NIMAS Web site