Adventures in AltFormat

In this first of a four part series, Ron Stewart brings us up to speed on the changing face of Altformat provision across the world, starting with the USA.

30th Apr, 2007

Ron Stewart, Vice President for Operations – Dolphin Computer Access Inc.

This column is intended to be the first of many intended to keep you apprised of our efforts and endeavors in regards to Alt Format, Audio Publishing and E-Text production in the Dolphin World.  In the last year the activities around the production of Alt format and in particular DAISY based materials for students with print related disabilities has been advancing at a fast and furious pace. 

Just to bring you up to speed, over the next few weeks, I am going to introduce you to the major activities in the English speaking world as I see them.  In future editions of this column we will provide you with and introduction into activities and adventures in other parts of the world including Scandinavia, Japan and Africa. 

The United States

In America there are currently three major projects going on, each with a different focus but all have complimentary objectives.  Today we are going to take a look at the National Instructional Materials Standard or NIMAS as it is commonly called, and the AHEAD E-Text Solutions Group sponsored by the Association on Higher Education and Disability, and finally in the next edition we will investigate the Alternative Format Solutions Initiative which is an effort of the American Association of Publishers and what is going on with our neighbors to the North, the Canadian Library Association and its efforts in this regards.

NIMAS - National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard

NIMAS was adopted as a part of IDEA 2004, the national law that governs primary and secondary education in the US, basically for students with disabilities ages 5 to 18.  NIMAS is a technical standard, that is a derivate of the DAISY Digital Talking Book protocols, and is used by publishers to produce source files that then can be converted into a variety of specialized formats (such as Braille or audio books) for students with print related disabilities.

These source files are prepared using Extensible Markup Language (XML) to create a structure for the original content and provide a means for presenting the content in a variety of ways, types and styles that are conducive to the use by students with visual and print related disabilities. For example, once a NIMAS fileset has been produced for printed materials, the XML and image source files may be used to create Braille, large print, HTML versions, DAISY talking books using human voice or text-to-speech, audio files derived from text-to-speech transformations, and more.

The separation of content from presentation is an important feature of the NIMAS approach, and is an inherent requirement of all materials created with accessibility in mind. In most cases, a software tool such as Dolphin EasyConverter can be used for the initial conversion but then some wetware (the human brain) will need to enhance the source files to provide additional features needed by the diversity of learners we all work with. The various specialized formats created from NIMAS filesets may then be used to support a segment of the population of very diverse group of learners who qualify as students with print disabilities.

It is important to note that most elementary and secondary educational publishers do not own all of the electronic rights to their textbooks and related core print materials and a copyright exemption allows them to deliver the electronic content of a textbook and the related core print materials to the NIMAC, a national repository which began operations on 12/3/06, as long as the publishers possess the print rights. NIMAS applies to instructional materials published on or after 7/19/06.

The AHEAD E-Text Solutions Group

Begun as a strategic initiative of AHEAD in 2004, the AHEAD E-text Solutions Group focuses on policies, procedures, and best practices in providing the accommodation of digital text for those students who have disabilities that limit their ability to access print in standard ways: blindness, visual impairment, learning disability, and certain mobility impairments.

The E-text Solutions Group is committed to finding solutions to the issue of providing students with print disabilities access to books and other media in a manner that is timely and accurate and, as nearly as possible, allows the disabled student to obtain the information needed for his or her education in a manner equivalent to that of non-disabled peers.

Group Activities:

The group is involved in a wide variety of projects that include:

  • National Stakeholders Meetings
    Following a very productive meeting in December of 2005, regular meetings have been conducted in relation to keeping the process moving forward.  The AFSI and the publisherlookup.org website are direct outgrowths of the initial meeting of over 50 representatives from the Publishing, Advocacy, and Postsecondary Educational Communities.
     
  • AHEAD E-Text Survey
    In the summer of 2005 an initial survey was conducted of colleges and universities to begin collection of the data necessary to begin making effective and efficient decisions in regards to the provision of alternate format materials to the community that requires them.  While there were some initial data collection issues with the foundational work it did provide us with some interesting information which can be found on the AHEAD E-Text Website.

    A more comprehensive survey will be conducted in the summer of 2007, and it is hoped that the initial data presentation will be available for the AHEAD 2007 conference.  This revised survey includes additional questions that were included at the request of state governments and the publishing industry.
     
  • E-Text Institute Trainings
    A standardized curriculum has been developed and approximately two trainings a month are being conducted across the United States and Canada.  The E-Text institute is a two day activity with the first day being a lecture based session on Administration and Management of Alt Format Production and the second day is a hands on lab featuring the development of a standardized file format and the creation of DAISY DTB based materials using the Easy family of DAISY tools from Dolphin.

    The Dolphin tools were selected by the curriculum development group of the E-Text Solutions Group as those best suited for use in the Postsecondary Disability Services offices due to their robust nature and ease of use design.  The group continues to evaluate the various tools in this space, and as new or better tools surface they will be added to the ones used in the hands on training.

    If you are interested in bringing an AHEAD E-Text Institute to your area please contact me.  The basic requirements are the provision of the training space, including the computer lab and the provision of the local logistics for the training.  The trainers travel costs are covered by the sponsors of the E-Text Solutions Group.
     
  • Best Practice Identification and Awareness
    The primary focus of the E-Text Group is the development and promulgation of “Best Practices” and awareness building activities for the AHEAD membership.  A collection of resources and information is being developed and they are included in the E-Text Trainings and the resources that can be found on the E-Text website.

    If you have programs or materials that you feel should be included in this resource base please contact us and they will be submitted for review of the Group’s members.  We are also working in cooperation with the AFSI of the American Association of Publishers to expand our awareness and education activities to other members of the Alt Format Community.
     
  • National and International Partnerships
    The members of the AHEAD Group are also the key players in many of the national conversations and efforts around increasing curricular access for students with print related disabilities.  We are also exploring and developing relationships and partnerships with other groups both on a national and international basis.

    A variety of research and development relationships are being developed with both private and public sector agencies, institutions and groups to further the expansion and development of materials and technology in regards to DAISY, Alt Format and E-Text Production

Resources introduced in this column: