MO NIMAC - Valerie Whitney

skip this story

Missouri Students with Qualified Print Disabilities Gain Access to Digital Textbooks through Special School District (SSD) Computer Access Program

SSD St. Louis Computer Access Facilitators: Valerie Whitney, Kathy Lalk, Katie McGinnis, Malinda Cavallo, Elizabeth Hawkins-Chernof, Julie Osherow, Debra Fitzgibbons and Robin Heimos

Computer Access Facilitators at St. Louis County, MO, Special School District (SSD) have identified a new computer access program to provide digital books and textbooks in support of students with qualifying print disabilities.

Valerie Whitney, SSD Area Coordinator, supervises seven Assistive Technology Facilitators who provide special education services and technical hardware, software and training on assistive technologies and devices throughout the county.

This year, her team will implement a new computer accessible instructional materials program (AIM) to support qualified students in compliance with the IDEA 2004. (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) “The Missouri Assistive Technology Project and SSD are developing processes to get accessible instructional materials into the hands of students as quickly as possible,” explained Ms. Whitney.

IDEA governs how states provide services to children with disabilities and requires students with qualifying print disabilities to be given timely and appropriate access to general education materials. In addition to compliance with IDEA, the Missouri team adopted the NIMAS standard (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard) to serve these students. NIMAS was created for publishers to provide digital files of textbooks in one standard format to ease the process of creating accessible student-ready versions of textbooks appropriate to a student’s disability.

Books and textbooks in the NIMAS file format can be found in the NIMAC, the National Instructional Materials Access Center ( Educators can search the NIMAC for textbooks and ask an Authorized User (AU) to assist with the process of getting the book ready for the student. Missouri frequently calls on Bookshare, the world’s largest accessible online library of electronic books, textbooks and teacher-recommended reading for individuals with print disabilities, to assist them with the book conversion process of the NIMAC books into student-ready accessible formats. Recently, Missouri named Bookshare as one of their Authorized Users of the NIMAC to expedite the book conversion process.

“When we find a required digitized book in the NIMAC, we make a special notation to send it to Bookshare. Within a week, the books come back in a more reader-friendly format. This is one of the real benefits of working with Bookshare,” said Ms. Whitney.

The SSD team works side by side with educators in their surrounding school districts who create Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for students with print and learning disabilities. They travel to 23 school districts and five special education schools, approximately 270 schools in all, to provide assistive technology services for students, including students with a print disability due to a specific disability in reading and/or a physical disability.

“Last year, we spent time researching and understanding which students qualify and who is a competent authority to certify them,” continues Ms. Whitney. “As a first step, we had to develop a process for obtaining verification. Now that Bookshare has been designated as an Authorized User of the NIMAC for Missouri, we will work with our staff and colleagues to establish a concurrent system to request accessible books.”

Elaine Houtman Byron, Assistant Director for Missouri Assistive Technology and the NIMAC Coordinator for Missouri Public Schools, said, “Working with Bookshare has been a wonderful experience for me; from the state managers to the technical support team.” Ms. Houtman Byron did not know much about the accessible instructional materials (AIM) program or the NIMAC/NIMAS process. She said, “Bookshare helped me fully understand how the library works and the benefits it provides for students with qualified print disabilities. Our state wants to streamline our systems and make advances toward providing accessible books for students in a timely and efficient manner as required by the IDEA law. Eliminating the middle man was a natural choice for us because we believe the fewer the steps in our process, the better for educators who don’t have time to look for accessible books. We go directly to Bookshare as our one source for the latest DAISY 3.0 (Digital Accessible Information System) file or BRF (Braille Ready Format). This process has proven to be a time-saver. We make one book request and in 2 to 3 days we download the converted file in a student-ready format from Bookshare. Our students are ready to read the same book as their peers. We are pleased with the quality of conversion formats and the turn-around time. I’ve just trained 40 districts. I tell educators that Bookshare has set a new industry standard for obtaining accessible books, plus it’s free for qualified students.”

Bookshare offers a variety of membership options for schools, organizations, qualified students and individuals. To register visit the signup page.

This Bookshare Member Story was written by Valerie C. Chernek in July 2009