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The following appears on web pages of the AFB Solutions Forum and is used with permission.

Recognizing that timely provision of textbooks and instructional materials in the appropriate accessible media continues to be a major problem confronting students who are blind or visually impaired in America's classrooms, the American Foundation for the Blind formed the Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum. This collaborative national effort addresses one of the most serious issues affecting the education of students with visual impairments today. The AFB Solutions Forum is represented by agencies and organizations involved in the production and distribution of textbooks and instructional materials and has as its goal the development of a coordinated action plan for ensuring equality of access to instructional materials for students who are blind or visually impaired.

The AFB Solutions Forum is directly related to Goal #7 of the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including those with Multiple Disabilities. The National Agenda identified timely access to textbooks and instructional materials as a critical issue needing direct solutions.

October 14, 1998--Louisville, KY--Initial Meeting of the AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum Held

Textbook publishers, producers of specialized media, assistive technology specialists, policymakers, educators, representatives from the Instructional Materials Resource Centers, parents, consumers, and others joined with AFB to identify the barriers impacting students who are blind or visually impaired from receiving accessible textbooks and instructional materials at the same time as their sighted peers and to initiate a coordinated plan of action for ensuring equal access to instructional materials for this population. Thirty-five representatives participated in the initial meeting. Five work groups were formed:

  1. Electronic Files and Research and Development
  2. Legislative and Policy-Making
  3. Production
  4. Training and Other Needs
  5. Communication and Collaboration

Each of the five work groups was asked to examine the multifaceted process of producing and delivering educational materials in accessible media and to determine ways to improve the delivery of textbooks and instructional materials in appropriate media.

January 1999--Nationwide--Work Groups Held Teleconferences

Each work group held teleconference meetings to discuss the issue of accessible learning media and ways to address topics particular to their area of concern. Each of the five work groups began outlining a plan of action specific to the issues associated with their areas of concern.

March 6 & 7, 1999--Washington, DC--AFB Solutions Forum Featured at the Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute's (JLTLI) Education Work Group Session

As the leading policy conference in the field of blindness, the JLTLI provided an opportunity for 125 Education Work Group participants to discuss the issue of accessible textbooks and instructional materials and identify the most significant areas needing solutions within the framework of the AFB Solutions Forum's five work group areas: electronic files and research and development; legislative and policy-making; production; training and other needs; and communication and collaboration. A plan of action for the AFB Solutions Forum was identified with significant input by the Association of American Publishers.

April 22, 1999--Dallas, TX--Administrative Structure is Defined for the AFB Solutions Forum

The administrative structure for the AFB Solutions Forum was defined to include five work group facilitators:

  • Electronic Files--Jim Allan, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
  • Legislative and Policy-Making--Mark Richert, AFB Governmental Relations
  • Production--Phyllis Campana, Braille Authority of North America (BANA)
  • Training and Other Needs--Frances Mary D'Andrea, AFB
  • Communication and Collaboration--Marie Amerson, Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER)

July 26, 1999--Nationwide--Solutions Targeted

Beginning in May 1999, eighty-five stakeholders provided input into the wording for the five work groups' statements of purpose. Short and long-term solutions to the most critical issues with time lines for implementation were finalized in July 1999. The statements of purpose include:

Electronic Files --The Electronic Files and Research and Development Work Group is primarily concerned with exploring and defining the following critical issues: The creation, production, and distribution of electronic files provided by textbook publishers for the production of textbooks in braille and other special media and identifying new trends, technologies and research that will positively affect production, accessibility, and delivery of textbooks to students with visual impairments.

Legislative and Policy-Making --The Legislative and Policy-Making Work Group is primarily concerned with the analysis and development of public policies impacting the Solutions Forum's goal of ensuring equal access to the printed word, and more specifically, to the full range of educational materials. This work group is the Forum's point of contact for ongoing efforts among representatives of the publishing industry, blindness advocacy organizations and the National Library Service to determine the appropriate electronic file format and markup language to efficiently produce braille, large-print and audio textbooks. Additionally, this work group will serve as a mechanism to package, present and disseminate the Solutions Forum's outcomes for future advocacy efforts.

Production --The focus of the Production Work Group is to identify the processes involved in the production and dissemination of textbooks and instructional materials in specialized media needed by students who are visually impaired. This work group will recommend guidelines and strategies for acceptable quality braille transcriptions; appropriate adaptations of materials for producing textbooks to ensure they are educationally sound for visually impaired students; and eliminating duplication of efforts.

Training and Other Needs --The Training Work Group focuses on the training needs of those who create and use textbooks and instructional materials for students who are blind or visually impaired. The work group will identify the necessary steps required to increase the number of qualified braille transcribers and identify the skill sets needed in training people associated with the creation and use of textbooks and instructional materials for students with visual impairments. The target audiences include among others: braille transcribers, textbook publishers, producers of specialized materials, parents, and educators.

Communication and Collaboration --The Communication and Collaboration Work Group serves as a clearinghouse for sharing information related to the activities of the five Solutions Forum work groups. The primary focus is to inform and educate the field of blindness, publishers, and the general public regarding issues and strategies for ensuring equal access to textbooks and instructional materials in accessible formats.

October 21, 1999--Louisville, KY--AFB Solutions Forum Met and Defined the Essential Questions for Three National Surveys

Work group committees developed questions for three national surveys to reflect the following:

  • Investigation by the Electronic Files and Research and Development Work Group of how students with visual impairments currently access multimedia information and to identify initiatives that will increase students' access to multimedia presentations;
  • National review of issues associated with the production and delivery of textbooks by the Production Work Group in order to focus on improving production and
  • acquisition of specialized textbooks and instructional materials in all 50 states;
  • Identification of up-to-date information regarding the training needs of braille transcribers by the Training and Other Needs Work Group, including data on the number of braille transcribers from each state, the skill sets needed by transcribers, the training currently available to transcribers, the resources for continued training, and suggestions for recruitment and retention of braille transcribers.
  • Various organizations and publications were identified for receiving articles and information about the data from the surveys, as well as other AFB Solutions Forum activities.

November 10, 1999--New York, NY and Austin, TX--AFB Solutions Forum Web Sites Launched

Information about the AFB Solutions Forum appeared on the Internet sites of the American Foundation for the Blind and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired with pages dedicated to the AFB Solutions Forum. Go to www.afb.org/info_documents.asp?CollectionID=8&KitID=124 and www.tsbvi.edu for current information and a summary of AFB Solutions Forum activities.

November 15, 1999--Nationwide--New Facilitators Took Charge

Two of the five work groups welcomed new facilitators. The new facilitators are Alicia McAninch (New Mexico) for Production, and Larry Brown (Oregon) for Training and Other Needs. They both represent the Association of Instructional Resource Centers for the Visually Handicapped (AIRC).

December 1999--New York, NY--National Press Release Announced Alliance with Publishers

A national press release was developed that noted the strategic partners in the AFB Solutions Forum and outlined six major barriers in equal access to textbooks and information. The major barriers identified were:

  • Lack of standardization of electronic file formats provided by textbook publishers;
  • Inaccessibility of multimedia textbooks, especially those delivered via the Internet and CD-ROM;
  • Variation in state textbook regulations regarding accessible instructional materials;
  • High expense of producing specialized materials and the lack of fiscal incentives to develop new technologies; and
  • Shortage of qualified braille transcribers and production resources; and communication and collaboration barriers, including duplication of efforts.

March 2, 2000--Dallas TX--AFB Solutions Forum Meets at Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute (JLTLI)

Prior to the annual JLTLI, 45 people representing textbook publishers, producers of specialized media, educators, parents, assistive technology specialists, and consumers met to discuss outstanding issues and work from the July 1999 work plan of the AFB Solutions Forum. In addition, participants reviewed the three surveys in preparation of the pilot study being conducted in March 2000.

April 10, 2000--Nationwide--AFB Solutions Forum Surveys Distributed

Three national surveys were finalized and distributed. Final reports of the surveys will supply general information to encourage states to create policies and procedures for producing textbooks and other instructional materials in accessible media. The final reports will be ready in October 2000.

Multimedia Survey --The multimedia survey was distributed throughout the United States to 2,500 teachers of students with visual impairments. The purpose of this survey is to provide national data on how multimedia textbooks and presentations are used in educational settings. The survey asks for information on teachers' methods of adapting multimedia information and on the training needed for the use of such presentations in classrooms with students who are visually impaired.

Production Survey --The purpose of the third survey is to assist in long-range planning to improve production and acquisition of textbooks and instructional materials for students who are visually impaired. It was sent to one stakeholder in each state who was asked to coordinate answers with all entities within the state.

Training Survey --This survey was sent to a stakeholder responsible for braille transcription in all 50 states. The stakeholder was asked to coordinate answers throughout the state. The purpose of the survey is to provide a national overview of the numbers of trained braille transcribers, skill sets for the job, recruitment and retention issues for braille transcribers, and the tasks they typically perform.

April 18, 2000--Washington, DC--Federal Legislation Emerges

AFB Solutions Forum stakeholders began defining legislative language with the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), among other organizations. The goal was to develop a consensus on federal legislation that would provide students with greater access to textbooks and other instructional materials.

May 5, 2000--Washington, DC--National Legislation Moves Forward

Major steps were taken to develop a consensus among the field of blindness, publisher representatives, and NFB concerning national legislation.

May 10, 2000--Macon, GA, and Dallas, TX--Training Segment Developed for National Project

The AFB Solutions Forum's Communication and Collaboration Work Group developed a training segment on accessible textbooks for a project coordinated by the Council of Schools for the Blind (COSB) and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, Inc. (NASDSE). The state training project was developed to provide administrators, parents, and professionals throughout the United States with information about educational guidelines for students who are visually impaired.

May 19, 2000--New York, NY--AFB Solutions Forum Partner, George Kerscher, Selected to Chair Open E-Book Forum

By unanimous vote the prestigious national organization, Open eBook Forum (OeBF), selected George Kerscher, Senior Officer, Accessible Information, Recording For the Blind & Dyslexic ( RFB&D) as chairperson. The OeBF is an association of hardware and software companies, publishers and users of electronic books and related organizations whose goals are to establish common specifications for electronic book systems, applications, and products that will benefit creators of content, makers of reading systems, and consumers. Mr. Kerscher, a long-standing member in the AFB Solutions Forum, will chair the OeBF. The OeBF is helping to catalyze the adoption of electronic books, encourage the broad acceptance of specifications on a worldwide basis, and increase awareness and acceptance of the emerging electronic publishing industry. The OeBF develops the specifications for electronic books.

June 10, 2000--Nationwide--Work Groups Develop Fact Sheets and Position Papers

Members of several AFB Solutions Forum Work Groups developed four fact sheets and/or position papers, including:

  1. Production of Braille Textbooks;
  2. Common Acronyms Used When Speaking About Accessible Textbooks;
  3. What Is ASCII?: An Outdated File Development System, An Outmoded Communications Medium, An Outgoing Accessibility Tool;
  4. Surpassing Gutenberg: A Historic Opportunity in Access to Published Information for Blind Readers.

Text of these papers is available on both AFB Solutions Forum web sites at www.afb.org/education.asp and www.tsbvi.edu and as part of the Accessible Textbooks Tool Kit.

June 15, 2000--Washington, DC--Meeting Held to Build Collaboration Among Publishing Industry and the Field of Blindness

The Joint Technology Task Force, co-hosted by the Association of American Publishers, the American Foundation for the Blind, and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Inc., met to discuss important news in electronic publishing. The 41 participants, two-thirds of whom represented publishers, discussed new technology and capabilities for electronic file conversion that allows greater accessibility to the visually impaired community. Development of a cross-platform standard for electronic files, dual stream publishing (both print and eBook), synchronized audio and text, and how organizations serving people with disabilities can work together with innovative publishers were among the topics discussed.

June 22, 2000--Washington, DC--Consensus on Federal Legislation Moves Forward

Experts in publishing textbooks, state issues, electronic file format, access technology, production of textbooks in specialized formats, and policy-making met to discuss potential language for the "Instructional Materials Act of 2000" with discussion about the best policy solutions to achieve the objectives.

July 5, 2000--Princeton, NJ--Microsoft Announced Support for DAISY Consortium

The Digital Audio-Based Information System Consortium (DAISY Consortium) announced that software giant, Microsoft Corporation, has pledged financial and technical support for the consortium's ongoing work to establish global accessibility standards for the next generation of digital talking book technology. Several AFB Solutions Forum partners (including AFB, American Printing House for the Blind, National Library Service, and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) are members of the DAISY Consortium, a group of nearly 40 nonprofit libraries and organizations worldwide that produce and distribute books, journals and other types of information in accessible formats. Its mission is to identify and create global standards for information technology for people with print disabilities such as blindness.

July 17, 2000--Denver, CO--Presentations Relevant to AFB Solutions Forum Were Presented at International AER Conference

Several presentations were made by AFB Solutions Forum partners at the biennial international conference of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). A central theme included new technologies being developed that will strengthen accessible textbooks for every child who is blind or visually impaired.

July 19, 2000--Denver, CO--AER Accepted "The Accessible Textbooks and Instructional Materials Resolution"

Membership of AER unanimously accepted "The Accessible Textbooks and Instructional Materials Resolution," a document that expresses the commitment of the members of AER to support cooperative efforts within the field of blindness and visual impairment and within the publishing industry to improve timely provision of braille, large-print and audio textbooks and instructional materials to students who are visually impaired. The resolution notes that literacy is basic to successful education for children, that textbooks and instructional materials provide the foundation for education of all children, and that new technology exists that is designed to hasten the transfer of information into accessible formats. The resolution also concedes that, despite recent technological advances, many students who are visually impaired still do not receive accessible textbooks and learning materials at the same time as their classmates, and this discrepancy needs to be eliminated.

August 25, 2000--Nationwide--Consensus Building Continues Through the AFB Solutions Forum

Continuing the discussions on the development of language for federal legislation, a broad-based review was held with stakeholders in the blindness community representing state issues, electronic file format, braille software developers, access technology, production of textbooks in specialized formats, and policy-making.

September 19, 2000--Washington, DC--Joint Technology Task Force Formed

From the compelling demonstrations at the Emerging Technology meeting held on June 15, 2000, AFB, AAP, and RFB&D formed the Joint Technology Task Force (JTTF). The task force was created so that publishers and stakeholders from the AFB Solutions Forum could discuss the testing and use of emerging technologies and the utilization of those files by the visually impaired community for the production of accessible textbooks. The two main goals of the JTTF are:

  1. To analyze the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) Extensible Markup Language (XML) file format to determine its suitability for converting textbook content into braille and other accessible formats.
  2. To promote and demonstrate to accessible book producers and braille transcribers the efficiency and benefits of using publishers' files in NISO XML format.

Stakeholders in this effort have expertise in Extensible Markup Language (XML), which is used for all modern IT systems. The Digital Audio-Based Information System (DAISY) Consortium and the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) both use the XML notation. The DAISY/NISO XML 3.0 Document Type Definition (DTD) is used to define markup for textbooks. The structure guidelines of DAISY clarify the usage for braille applications and for Digital Talking Books (DTB). In addition, expertise is from braille software developers; expert users of braille translation software with publishers' electronic files; and publishers of textbooks.

Stakeholders include: American Foundation for the Blind; American Printing House for the Blind; Association of American Publishers (with Harcourt, Houghton Mifflin, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Scholastic); Braille Authority of North America; Duxbury, Inc.; Ed-IT PC; National Braille Association; National Library Service; Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic; Texas Education Agency's producers of alternate formats; and educators of children with visual impairments.

September 21, 2000--Flint, MI--Accessible Technology Demonstrated for President Clinton

AFB President, Carl Augusto, was with President Clinton as AFB's Director of Information Systems and Research and Development, Janina Sajka, demonstrated an innovative electronic book technology. The technology is part of an initiative of Time-Warner Trade Publishing and AFB to release to the general public the first commercial title using the NISO/DAISY publication format. This format will enable readers to see the text of the book displayed on screen or read it in braille, while fully synchronized with the audio of a narrator. President Clinton cited Time-Warner Trade Publishing and AFB for their leadership toward accomplishing a joint partnership to provide equal access to information.

October 11, 2000--Louisville, KY--AFB Solutions Forum Held Third Annual Fall Meeting

The fall meeting of the AFB Solutions Forum was attended by 77 people, including seventeen by phone. The meeting featured the significant findings from the three national surveys conducted during the spring/summer 2000, an update on national legislation concerning the "Equal Access to Instructional Materials Act of 2000" and the goals of the Joint Technology Task Force.

The Production Work Group welcomed a new facilitator, Lorri Quigley, director, Educational Resource Center for the state of Utah.

1999-2000--Ongoing--AFB Solutions Forum Reports Appear in Publications

  • June 1999--AER Report
  • September 1999--JVIB, Vol. 93, Number 9
  • October 1999--JVIB, Vol. 93, Number 10
  • Fall 1999--NAPVI Awareness
  • November 1999--JVIB, Vol. 93, Number 11
  • Spring 2000--NAPVI Awareness
  • April 2000--AER Report
  • June 2000--JVIB, Vol. 94, Number 6
  • August 2000--JVIB, Vol. 94, Number 8
  • September 2000--AAP newsletter
  • March 2001--JVIB, Vol 95, Number 3
  • November 2001--AER Report
  • April 2002--JVIB, Vol 96, Number 4

March 15, 2001--Washington, D.C.--AFB Solutions Forum National Meeting

Eighty-four participants took part in the spring meeting to build work plans for 2002. Twenty-five goals were identified.

May 2001--San Antonio, Texas--Partnership to Develop a New Career

AFB, Northwest Vista College in San Antonio, Texas, and the Texas Education Agency began a partnership to develop a new profession/career of a braille textbook transcriber through a curriculum and a series of college courses.

June 27, 2001--Nationwide--Instructional Materials Accessibility Act IMAA

Representatives of the American Council of the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, American Printing House for the Blind, Association of American Publishers, Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, National Federation of the Blind, Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, Texas Education Agency, and other major stakeholders of the AFB Solutions Forum reached final agreement on both the text of legislation to take to Capitol Hill and to work collaboratively to achieve its enactment. This legislation will dramatically improve access to instructional materials required for classroom use in elementary and secondary schools.

July 2001--Atlanta, GA--Design of the National Training for Braille Transcribers

Twenty-three experts in web-based learning, DAISY/NISO/XML file format, and braille transcription began developing a national training program for braille transcribers to learn how to use electronic files produced by commercial textbook publishers.

August 2001--Texas--Development of Job Skills for the Career of a Braille Textbook Transcriber

Northwest Vista College in San Antonio, Texas, conducted two meetings with eighteen experts with firsthand knowledge of the requirements of a braille textbook transcriber. The goal was to develop an occupational profile of a braille textbook transcriber. The end result was a list of 31 tasks that are critical to the job and the identification of a series of job skills needed to perform the tasks.

October 2001--Louisville, KY--National Meeting

Seventy-five stakeholders met in Louisville to discuss the critical next steps in moving the IMAA forward on Capitol Hill and the upcoming college program of a braille textbook transcriber. Representative from ACB, AAP, AFB, and NFB spoke about the strategies.

January 2002--Nationwide--Development of a National Training Manual on How to Work with Publishers' Files

Expert braille transcribers assisted in developing a training seminar and manual that offers new skills to current braille transcribers. The contents identify key steps in managing publishers' electronic files. The manual and seminar will become a web-based, self-paced program on AFB's web in the spring of 2003.

March 6, 2002--Washington, D.C.--ANSI/NISO Standard for the Digital Talking Book (DTB) was Approved

The DTB is a collection of electronic files arranged to present information in a powerful, flexible reading system. The system easily adapts to different types of documents and different user needs. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) unanimously adopted a DTB standard that allows for files to be arranged presenting information to the target population via alternative media. These media include: human or synthetic speech, refreshable braille, or visual display (i.e. large print).

March 7, 2002--Washington, D.C.--AFB joins the Get Caught Reading Campaign

Two new celebrities joined the Association of American Publishers' long list of people who "get caught reading." Patty Duke and Erik Weihenmayer are part of the public service campaign to show that reading is cool and braille literacy is fundamental.

March 14, 2002--San Diego, CA--National Training for Braille Transcribers

Training was conducted at the California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped (CTEVH) Conference for braille transcribers who were knowledgeable about textbook production, but who were not experienced in working with publishers' files.

April 10, 2002--Alexandria, VA--National Training for Braille Transcribers

Training was conducted at the National Braille Association Conference for braille transcribers who were knowledgeable about textbook production, but who were not experienced in working with publishers' files.

April 24, 2002--Washington, D.C.--Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA) Press Conference

National legislation that will dramatically improve access to textbooks for students who are blind or who have other print disabilities in elementary and secondary schools was introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. The purpose of this bipartisan legislation is to ensure that instructional materials for blind or other people with print disabilities are received in an accessible medium at the same time as their nondisabled peers. Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Thomas Petri (R-WI) and George Miller (D-CA) are the lead sponsors of this legislation.

June 5, 2002--Dallas, TX--AFB and Verizon National Campaign for Literacy, Textbooks, Transcribers and Technology

Verizon Communications announced a three-year partnership with AFB to build a public awareness and advocacy program that will promote the new career (braille textbook transcriber) at the federal and state levels, and raise general awareness of the needs of blind and low-vision schoolchildren for timely access to textbooks and learning materials. Erik Weihenmayer, first blind athlete to summit Mount Everest, has agreed to serve as the national spokesperson and Verizon Literacy Champion.

July 1, 2002--Ogden, UT--Accessible Textbooks Tool Kit is now Available

The Communication and Collaboration Work Group spearheaded the development of a resource kit of information about the AFB Solutions Forum, issues, critical resources, and potential solutions for the right books at the right time. Expert assistance from the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind was given through the graphic design and production of the Accessible Textbooks Tool Kit.

Communication and Collaboration Work Group
Marie Amerson, facilitator; Alicia McAninch; and Mary Ann Siller

For more information, contact the American Foundation for the Blind, Mary Ann Siller, .