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Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students
Apr
12

Please Don’t Fail Me Now…

I recently had a discussion in a user group I belong to regarding the use of the NIMAS (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standards) file set established by the federal government for instructional textbook publication for the print disabled. The main question was how do I or our organization use the files.

Let me step back, in 2004 provisions were added to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to help improve the quality and delivery of accessible formats to students with disabilities who need such materials. Among these provisions, states were required to adopt NIMAS.

The NIMAC (National Instructional Materials Access Center) is a federally funded, online file repository of the source files provided by publishers in the NIMAS format. The NIMAC acts as the conduit through which the files are made available to authorized users to convert the files into fully accessible textbooks for students.

NIMAS is a technical standard used by publishers to prepare electronic or digital files that are used to convert instructional materials into accessible formats. The files are known as NIMAS source files. The purpose of NIMAS is to help increase the availability and timely delivery of instructional materials in accessible formats for qualifying students in K-12 and secondary schools.

The key word in the paragraph above is “accessible” format. NIMAS files are used in the production of a range of accessible formats, including braille, large print, digital audio, and a variety of accessible digital text formats, including DAISY and EPUB.

Inherently, there were only a few software programs that were able to use the raw NIMAS files. There are a couple programs that will convert NIMAS files to usable Braille format, but for the ICAM (Indiana Center for Accessible Materials), we use the digital components for student use, primarily EPUB and PDF after NIMAS conversion.

I explained to the group that software for converting NIMAS files to an EPUB and/or PDF is limited, but the support for the software is all but evaporated. The other challenge is that the software is so far removed from support that the hardware used is antiquated by today’s standards.

For example, I am using a NIMAS conversion software from Don Johnston called DaisytoEPUB. It came out in 2010 and ran on both WINDOWS and MAC. My primary use was on a WINDOWS 7 system. As Microsoft moved from Windows 7 to Windows 8, 10 and 11, the operating systems’ architecture changed and would not support DaisytoEPUB, nor would Don Johnston modify the program for the new Windows architecture.

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s end of support for Windows 7 was January 2020. I am still using the Windows 7 system daily and cross my fingers every time I boot it up. Likewise with an iMac I have that has had a similar fate. An old program and old operating system and a daily mantra on booting it as well.

All this to convert a NIMAS file to an EPUB, which has gained the most popularity for student access that is supported by apps and extensions. However, PDFs have also made a significant showing in adding more versatility to what devices and apps/extension support them.

NIMAS files can’t be converted directly to PDFs or at least I haven’t found a program that can, which means EPUBs conversion is needed. I use an open-source program called Calibre which is a multi-file conversion program that converts about anything (except NIMAS files). The ICAM uses Calibre to convert the NIMAS file that was converted using DaisytoEPUB to convert it to a PDF.

I rely on all components to work, OR I need to find an alternative. There are times when DaisytoEPUB fails, and I struggled with how to fix it. One such alternative was an older version of Dolphin’s EasyCreator V.7.0 which converted a NIMAS file to a Daisy format. Once in a Daisy format, it can be converted with Calibre to an EPUB and then a PDF.

Let me be clear that the process from beginning to end is tedious and time consuming. The results are files that are used by students that can access the files in their preferred format, in as timely a manner as possible with content that is the same as their peers.

As long as I have the tools to keep old systems and software usable, the process will continue and if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. However, I know all good things come to an eventual end, and my ongoing search for an updated conversion solution continues. Technology, please don’t fail me now…

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Feb
17

ICAM: Removing Barriers to Reading for Almost Twenty Years

Since 2017 I have been a proud team member of the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM). The ICAM team shares information, provides training, and encourages stakeholders to utilize our services for their students. One of the topics we frequently discuss is the NIMAC (National National Instructional Materials Access Center). 

Established by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004, the NIMAC is a federally funded, online file repository of source files in the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) format. Here, authorized users (the ICAM is an authorized user) can access more than 52,000 K-12 NIMAS files for use in the production of accessible formats for students with disabilities. Digital Rights Managers (DRMs) are trained on the process of ordering materials, many of which we obtain from the NIMAC. The NIMAC provides a digital file to the ICAM/IERC (Indiana Educational Resource Center) which allows us to provide accessible formats such as braille, large print, ePubs, and accessible PDFs. All files that are sent by the ICAM to the end user are accessible.

Recently, I was notified that the ICAM is the 4th highest downloader of NIMAS files in the country! Our total unique downloads were surpassed only by Bookshare, American Printing House (APH), and the California Dept of Education. 

I am so proud of this achievement and the ICAM team which includes Jeff Bond, Martha Hammond, and myself. I also want to include the very talented group of Specialists and all of the staff members from the PATINS Project. I also want to thank the entire staff at the Indiana Educational Resource Center (IERC). This accomplishment could not have been achieved without the hard work of our entire staff.  

The students of Indiana are the benefactors of everyone’s hard work. K–12 students with qualifying print disabilities are receiving their accessible formats of textbooks, core curriculum instructional materials, and popular fiction titles in a timely manner.

The benefits for students are explained on the CAST website: “The use of accessible digital materials and technologies strengthens opportunities for all learners to experience independence, participation and progress. Accessible versions of educational materials may mean the difference between learning barriers and learning opportunities.

Increasingly, students with disabilities are spending most or all of the school day in general education classes (NCES, 2019). When students have difficulty using their materials and technologies due to a disability, they are at risk of falling behind their peers. Timely access to accessible digital materials and technologies for students with disabilities results in the same opportunities to fully and independently participate and make progress in the curriculum as students without disabilities.” 

How can we help your qualifying students get started? Please let us know!


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Mar
11

Accessible Materials & Competent Authority: A Step Closer to Equity & Access in 2021

In October of 2006, I was an assistive technology (AT) coordinator with PATINS and just four months into the job! As if the world of AT and Universal Design for Learning wasn't overwhelming enough to a new PATINS Coordinator, fresh out of the Intense Interventions classroom, I was about to be tossed head-first into the world of Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) as well! With help from Jeff Bond, I started the NIMAS and Digital Rights Managers (DRM) Podcast on October 6, 2006, when the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) was officially opened to the state of Indiana.

The ICAM was created that October of 2006, to support Indiana Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in meeting the
National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standards (NIMAS) Regulations of the IDEA 2004. Provisions in this federal mandate require state and local education agencies to ensure that printed textbooks and related core instructional materials are provided to students with documented print disabilities in accessible formats in a timely manner. This was a huge step forward for access in that it was, essentially, the federal and state governments acknowledging that specialized formats of the same content was a necessary accommodation and that denying access to information because of a disability was a civil rights issue! While we were all beyond excited for this, we also saw the "fine print" that limited who could serve as a competent authority to qualify students with print disabilities, in order to receive these specialized formats. It was right then, that many of us committed to doing whatever it took to expand this! The first thing that the ICAM did was to develop our old Form 4, which helped, but most certainly did not alleviate the barrier.

During the 15 years since October of 2006, through thousands of conversations, demonstrations, and pleading, we've arrived at another milestone in accessible materials! Given the timing of my turn to blog again combined with the deeply important and impactful changes to who can certify students as qualified to receive Accessible Educational Materials derived from NIMAS files, I'm confident there is no better guest blogger for me this week, than our very own ICAM team of Jeff Bond, Sandy Stabenfeldt, and Martha Hammond!

"The ICAM under the guidance of the Chafee Amendment identifies the print disabilities as: Blind/Low Vision; Orthopedic Disabilities and Reading Disability resulting from Organic dysfunction.

In the cases of Blind/Low vision and Orthopedic disabilities, the qualifications have always been straightforward. In order to qualify to receive K-12 textbooks and core instructional materials in accessible formats rendered from NIMAS files, the student must have: (1) an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP); and (2) a certification of a print disability, by a certified Competent Authority (CA), on file with the school district. A CA 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, counselors, rehabilitation teachers, and superintendents).

However, it was determined by the National Library Service (NLS) of the Library of Congress that Reading Disabilities from Organic dysfunction, dyslexia being the most frequently identified of this group, could best be confirmed by a doctor of medicine or a doctor of osteopathy. When the ICAM was created it was decided it would follow the NIMAS law as written. Still, the requirement for a doctor’s signature has historically been a barrier to receiving Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) for many students. This has also been an obstacle for the ICAM, because our goal from the beginning has been to provide AEM to any student who needs it. 

The ICAM is ecstatic to announce that a change has been made. On February 12, 2021, the National Library Service (NLS) published the regulations that go along with the Library of Congress Technical Corrections Act of 2019. In addition to expanding the list of persons who may certify a student’s eligibility for accessible formats, the Library of Congress removed the requirement for certification by a medical doctor for those with reading disabilities. Educators, school psychologists, and certified reading specialists are now among the professionals authorized to certify students with reading disabilities. These guidelines have been revised to align with changes to copyright made by the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act (MTIA).

This is a profound procedural change, so it is not surprising that there has already been some confusion on how to interpret the law. So allow us to emphasize:

There is no change to the eligibility requirements. The student must have an IEP.  The presence of a print disability is still a Case Conference determination. The change is who may certify reading disabilities resulting from organic dysfunction. 

ICAM/IERC NIMAS Form 4 may now be signed by TOR, school psychologist or reading specialist. The ICAM has created a guide to provide clarification of the AEM process for the Case Conference Committee and is intended for use during the IEP meeting, please refer to this guide for additional support.

The last year has been a difficult one for students and for educators. Let’s celebrate this move forward together by providing paths to literacy for more students! Please contact the ICAM staff with any questions concerning this important policy change, or any AEM-related queries you may have, moving forward.

Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back. – Chinese proverb"

Big Thanks to our own ICAM team and the work that's gone into this already and all of the work that will continue as we strive to get accessible materials to ALL of the students who need them!
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