Where Technology Provides People with Disabilities Access to Information
gh logo

NIMAS: Unprecedented Accomplishments, Uncertain Future

In February 2014, the NIMAS (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard) board met for the last time, marking the end of a ten-year initiative to establish a national library of accessible textbooks and educational materials. The task of the NIMAS board was to define a technical standard for instructional materials, so that materials from different publishers and creators would be able to be easily converted or translated into various accessible formats (such as Braille, large print, or audiobooks). The NIMAS meetings were open to the public, and combined representatives from special education, general education, government, and industry.

Dave Schleppenbach, CEO of gh, LLC, is one of the original members of the NIMAS board. Dave brought experience in physics, programming, education, and assistive technology to help fulfill new federal efforts to provide accessible education for all Americans.

 “The board’s most important achievement was probably the NIMAS standard itself,” Schleppenbach said. “When we established it in 2005, it was the first federally legislated standard for accessible electronic files, and its creation required consensus and compromise between all the various members of the board.”

In 2006, the NIMAS standard led to the formation of the NIMAC (National Instructional Materials Access Center), a huge repository of files for the states to use to produce media.

“The committee also made great strides in accessible mathematics, working to create robust guidelines for online math content,” Schleppenbach said.

With the end of the NIMAS board’s functions, the future of the NIMAS /NIMAC is now under review. Schleppenbach hopes to see the board’s mission be taken up by a successor, and for further development of accessible educational materials, especially for blind and visually impaired people.

“It’s definitely important to improve computerized Braille translation for STEM subjects,” Schleppenbach said. “As online education becomes the norm, there will be an increasing need for a specification to enable teachers and Braille-using students to communicate online using the symbols and languages of math and science.”