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Special Education

Providing Accessible Instructional Materials

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires school districts to provide instructional materials to blind persons or other persons with print disabilities in a timely manner. This means that districts must take all reasonable steps to provide print instructional materials in accessible formats to children with disabilities at the same time as other children receive those materials.

How can schools obtain accessible instructional materials?
Massachusetts coordinates with several providers to help schools obtain accessible instructional materials for students with disabilities. Because these providers have received federal and/or state funding, they may be able to provide the needed materials at no cost to the school district. Eligibility is restricted to students who are blind, visually impaired, have a physical disability, or have a reading disability that is physically based. To access these materials, schools can contact one of the state-authorized providers listed below.

  • Braille and large print
    If a student needs braille or large print, the district (through its Teacher of the Visually Impaired) can contact the Massachusetts Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) Library to request these materials. Before a district can request materials, it must submit documentation of student eligibility for services.

  • Digital text
    If a student needs digital text for use with text-to-speech software, educators can download files from Bookshare. Bookshare has received a federal grant allowing it to serve schools at no cost. Before files can be downloaded, the district/school/organization needs to sign up for a school or group account, certifying that only eligible students will use the materials. For questions, contact

  • Audiobooks
    If a student needs an audio, the district can download it or request a CD from Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic). Before materials can be ordered, the school needs to sign up for a membership and assure that only eligible students will use the materials. For information on state-funded memberships for Massachusetts schools, see Audiobook Services Provided through Learning Ally.

Can districts search online to find out what books are available?
Districts needing digital text or audiobooks can search the online libraries of Bookshare (digital text) and Learning Ally (previously Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) (audiobooks). If a book is not found, the district can request the book.

Must districts purchase a copy of a printed book for every student, even if some students will be using alternate formats?
The Department highly recommends that districts purchase a printed copy of a book for every student, regardless of the format that the student may ultimately use. In many cases, it will be helpful for students to have access to the printed book. In other cases, a copy of the book may be required in order to produce an alternate format, such as braille.

What kind of instruction should be provided to students who received materials in alternate formats?
Students will probably need instruction on how to access the materials in alternate formats using the appropriate technology devices. It may be helpful to provide this same instruction to the students' teachers and parents. It is also important to continue providing reading instruction (including braille instruction, if appropriate) so that students will be able to access print as they encounter it throughout their lives.

What if a student does not fall into one of the eligibility categories for using materials in alternate formats?
School districts are responsible for providing accessible instructional materials to students with disabilities who need them, regardless of whether the students fall into one of the eligibility categories. Schools can investigate purchasing accessible materials directly from publishers, obtaining permission from publishers to adapt existing materials, or adapting materials that are in the public domain (and thus free of copyright restrictions). The resources at the bottom of this page provide suggestions.

What is NIMAS?
The National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) is a technical standard that curriculum publishers began using in 2006. NIMAS is designed to make it easier and faster to obtain accessible instructional materials. Publishers will send NIMAS files to the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC), when requested to do so through a purchasing contract with a school district. The NIMAS files can then be used to produce alternate formats, including braille, large print, digital text, and audiobooks, for students with disabilities.

  • Are districts required to participate in the NIMAC?
    No, each district has the option of participating in the NIMAC. Whether a district does or does not participate, the district will be responsible for ensuring that each child who requires instructional materials in an alternate format receives those materials in a timely manner. The Department recommends that districts choose to participate, because this national effort will help guarantee timely provision of such materials to students. Additional details are available in a memo to Superintendents and Administrators of Special Education.

  • How can districts participate in the NIMAC?
    To participate in the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC), a district needs to include a NIMAS provision in its contracts or purchases orders with publishers. When purchasing new textbooks, the district should require the publisher to send NIMAS files to the NIMAC, on or before delivery of the books. By doing this, districts will help to build a library of files at the NIMAC.

  • What books are available through the NIMAC?
    According to IDEA 2004, the NIMAC will maintain a catalog of "printed textbooks and related printed core materials that are written and published primarily for use in elementary school and secondary school instruction and are required by a state educational agency or local educational agency for use by students in the classroom." The NIMAC depends on participation by school districts to help to build its library.

  • Which students are eligible to use NIMAS materials?
    NIMAS files are available only to blind or other students with print disabilities in elementary schools and secondary schools. See Documenting Student Eligibility for Use of NIMAS Files.

  • How can districts access NIMAS files?
    In most cases, districts will access accessible materials created from NIMAS files, rather than accessing NIMAS files directly. The organizations listed above will coordinate the conversion of NIMAS files into several formats, which districts can access on behalf of eligible students with disabilities.

Last Updated: June 6, 2013

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