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…