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Meeting Summary


Textbooks and related instructional materials are essential tools in all educational settings. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a public school classroom in which students would be expected to achieve academically without the benefit of textbooks directly related to the subjects being studieHowever, for students who are blind or have low vision, this scenario is all too frequent. Despite everyone's best efforts and advancements in access technology, many visually impaired students do not receive textbooks in braille, large-print, audio or other needed special media at the same time as their sighted classmates.

Recognizing the importance of timely provision of instructional materials in appropriate media, authors of the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those With Multiple Disabilities identified this as one of the eight most critical national issues affecting the education of students with visual impairments. Based upon input received via a national survey of teachers, administrators and others the National Agenda: A Report to the Nation, recently published by AFB Press, includes the following observation:

"The Goal 7 survey revealed very few surprises to individuals currently providing specialized materials to students with visual impairments. It is apparent that instructional materials can (be) and are offered to our students in specialized formats, but these instructional materials certainly are not provided at the same time as those for their sighted peers."

Recognizing this as one of the most critical issues affecting the education of students who are blind or visually impaired, the American Foundation for the Blind, (AFB) is acting as catalyst in the development of the Textbook and Instructional Materials Forum. Textbook publishers, producers of specialized media, assistive technology experts, educators, Instructional Materials Resource Centers, parents and others are examining the multi-faceted process of producing and delivering educational materials in accessible mediTextbook and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum participants have initiated and expressed commitment to a coordinated action plan for assuring equality of access to instructional materials for all students with impaired vision.

IParticipants and Agency Affiliation

*Participated via Telephone

  • Chair: Susan Jay Spungin, American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
  • Jim Allan, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)
  • Marie Amerson, Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER)
  • Christine Anderson, American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
  • Katie Blough, Association of American Publishers (AAP)
  • Bob Brasher, American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
  • Rod Brawley, California Department of Education (CDE)
  • Diane Croft, National Braille Press NBP)
  • Natalie Hilzen, American Foundation for the Blind Press (AFB)
  • Phyllis Campana, Braille Authority of North America (BANA)
  • Eileen Curran, National Braille Press (NBP)
  • Frances Mary D'Andrea, American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
  • Warren Figueiredo, Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired (LSVI)
  • Phil Hatlen, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)
  • George Kerscher, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D)
  • Susan LaVenture, National Association for Parents of Visually Impaired (NAPVI)
  • *Scott Marshall, American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
  • *Chuck Mayo, Texas Education Agency (TEA)
  • Barbara McCarthy, Association of Instructional Resource Centers for the Visually Handicapped (AIRC)
  • Mary Nelle McLennan, American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
  • Pearce McNulty, Houghton Mifflin Company (HMC)
  • Herbert Miller, Council of Schools for the Blind (COSB)
  • Michael Moodie, U.S. Library of Congress National Library Service (NLS)
  • Steve Noble, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D)
  • *Mark Richert, American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
  • *Madeleine Rothberg, National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM)
  • Frank Ryan, American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
  • Mary Ann Siller, American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
  • Larry Skutchan, American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
  • Mary Lou Stark, U.S. Library of Congress National Library Service (NLS)
  • Ian Stewart, Association of State Education Consultants for Visually Impaired (ASECVI)
  • Tuck Tinsley, American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
  • Robert Winn, Hadley School for the Blind (HSB)

IIGoal and Objectives

The over-arching goal of this national effort is to assure that students who are blind or visually impaired have access to textbooks and other instructional materials in appropriate media and at the same time as their sighted classmates.

The following were identified as specific objectives for this initial meeting:

  • An open discussion among individuals from organizations and agencies which play key roles in the selection, production, distribution and/or use of educational materials for students who are blind or visually impaire
  • Identification of priority issues and factors to be addresse
  • Identification of the next steps in this collaborative process.
  • Commitment by participants to achieve the goal through resolution of the issues.

IV. Issues and Factors

The group brainstormed the many issues, concerns, and challenges relating to textbooks and specialized materials. Attachment A lists those determined to be of a high priority. These issues and factors were grouped into six general categories, with the realization there is some overlap or crossover. Each participant identified specific categories in which his or her agency or organization has particular interest or expertisFollowing are the categories and indications of agency commitment:













V. Next Steps

The following general commitments were made:

  • The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) will establish a system for ongoing communication, sharing of information and networking among participants. AFB will continue to serve as a catalyst in this collaborative effort.
  • Participants, together with others to be identified, will address the issues and factors through working within six category- specific work groups.
  • Activities and progress over the next few months relative to these issues and factors will be reported upon and further developed by the Education Work Group at the 1999 Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute (JLTLI). JLTLI convenes in Washington, D.March 5 through 7, 199

The following were identified as priority activities or tasks to be accomplished by the respective working groups for each category.

  • Define the Category
  • Identify "lead individual(s)," i.facilitator, recorder, contact person. et
  • Identify and prioritize both immediate and long-term needs, resources, strategies, etc.
  • Search for, collect and disseminate information regarding whatever work is going on or which has been done relative to the category.
  • Identify additional individuals and organizations that can bring expertise to the category work group.
  • Develop an "action plan" which is proactive in approach and includes assignments for individuals and/or organizations.
  • Report on the above tasks to the Education Work Group at AFB's Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute (JLTLI), March 5 - 7, 1999, in Washington, D.C.


Category A

Electronic Files

  1. Formatting/preparation of files for production of books in Specialized mediComment: Publishers do not provide files which are pre-formatted for conversion to braille, large print, digital recording, etc.
  2. Consider establishment of a National Repository for electronic files.
  3. Instructional materials other than textbooks need to be included when considering the uses to which electronic files can be put.
  4. Procedures for obtaining, "cleaning up" and outputing of e-text files in multiple formats need to be specified and standardized; e.specify the mark-up language used in the conversion process.
  5. Identify what is needed to make the overall production process flow.
  6. Explore development and implementation of an Electronic Data Management System (EDMS) which has applications for all special media and formats. Chart was presented by George Kersher of RFB&D and modified by Jim Allan of TSBVI.
  7. Special formatting problems encountered with math, science, foreign language and tactile graphics need to be addressed.
  8. Availability and timely delivery of files from publishers need to be assured.
  9. Availability of and access to copyrights in excess of 3 years old need to be assured.
  10. Accessibility of materials presented in multi-media and via the Internet needs to be "built-in" to the instructional packages.
  11. 1Publishers' concerns regarding security of copyright privileges need to be alleviated.

Category B


  1. Uniformity among states' legislation and regulations is lacking.
  2. Copyright law provisions are not fully and universally understood.
  3. 3 . Large-print and certain categories of book subjects are not addressed in recent copyright legislation.
  4. International Copyright laws need to be considered.
  5. What impact will Se508 of Rehab Act have on web sites?
  6. What are the implications of universal accessibility for the World Wide Web Consortium?
  7. As a matter of policy, states' with textbook adoption programs should include requirements that publishers must assist in making their books available in accessible formats as a condition for inclusion on their state adoption lists. This could specify the type(s) of accessible format(s) to be referenced.
  8. A model set of textbook adoption processes would benefit states which currently do not have them. The adoption process could be extended to instructional materials other than textbooks.
  9. Encourage and/or require states with textbook adoption programs to share electronic production files with other states. States which do not have adoption programs especially need this.
  10. Pull costs from federal government spending to help publishers with costs of formatting files or disks.
  11. 1Include parents in all advocacy efforts.

Category C


  1. Braille is not the only specialized medium.
  2. Costs and related financial concerns need to be addressed.
  3. Duplication of efforts exists.
  4. Consider the impact of emerging technologies.
  5. Encourage publishers to make files available which are pre-formatted for various specialized media so as to cut production costs.
  6. Special production issues exist for tactile graphics. Guidelines for preparing tactile graphics need to be standardized.
  7. Synchronize with current RFB&D developments relating to DAISY/NISO.
  8. Demands for special format textbooks is not uniform throughout the school year ("spikes" and "lulls").
  9. Due to insufficient resources for purchasing specialized textbooks and materials, state departments of education and school districts direct existing resources to areas of greatest need or urgency, i.the "squeaky wheel" concept.
  10. Due to heavy use of graphics, many preschool and primary grade textbooks and materials do not lend themselves to specialized format or media production.
  11. Accessibility of standardized tests and other assessment instruments also need to be addressed.
  12. Production of textbooks in specialized formats is no longer a "cottage industry." It needs to be recognized and professionalized as "big business."
  13. "DTD" (document type definition) needs to be standardized early in the textbook production process so that electronic files can be formatted for specialized mediNote: Dialog has already begun on this with some publishers. Question: Will braille translation software accept this mark-up language?
  14. Quality control, especially relating to braille codes and formats, must be exercised throughout the process.
  15. "Documents on demand" is becoming the plea in many schools and classrooms.
  16. Consider providing students with appropriately formatted disks and laptop computers and/or refreshable braille display devices.
  17. Supplemental instructional materials also need to be included; e."trade books", work or studybooks, and other ancillary items which frequently accompany the actual textbook.
  18. Special accessibility problems are presented by interactive multi-media programs.
  19. Educational materials with built-in sound capabilities can benefit many students with unique learning styles.

Category D


  1. Pre-service and in-service training for braille transcribers is needed to both update their access technology skills and increase their numbers.
  2. Evaluate the role/future of braillists and others who currently produce books and other instructional materials in special media.
  3. Provide training for Teachers, braille transcribers and others as appropriate in the following areas:
    1. Expansion of course offerings relating to braille in personnel preparation programs.
    2. Use and applications of new access technology.
    3. Best use of E-text files for meeting specialized media needs of students.
    4. Use of standard file format conversions
    5. "Tagging" or "marking up" of E-text files
    6. Formatting of electronic files
    7. Tactile graphics production
    8. Transitioning into an auditory/digital arena
    9. Analysis of pictures, charts, graphs, etfor conversion to tactile representation
    10. Best use of E-text for production of materials in special media
    11. Unified Braille Code and other code revisions as they tie- in with and/or impact production of specialized medi
  4. Training of visually impaired students in following areas:
    1. Use of new technology and access devices
    2. How to "read" tactile graphics
  5. Training of publishers as to the needs of visually impaired students with a view toward improving production capacities and appropriateness of products.

Category E


  1. Match solutions to needs of students and teachers.
  2. Dialog regarding input and evaluation must be open and ongoing between and among:
    1. braille code specialists and producers of specialized materials,
    2. publishers, producers of specialized materials, educators (both regular and special education), personnel preparation programs and the end users, i.visually impaired students.
  3. Universal definition of "Accessibility" is neede
  4. Provide an updated list of states which have enacted legislation relating to braille or other specialized media.
  5. Impress upon publishers the access problems presented by the extensive use of graphics and visuals in textbooks.
  6. Get to agreement upon and implementation of Document Type Definition (DTD) ASAP.
  7. Public education and awareness of the need for, costs of and problems related to providing textbooks and other instructional materials in specialized media.
  8. Establish a system for contacting/notifying key contact persons at publishers and vice versa.
  9. Educators and producers of specialized media need to be proactive in informing publishers of accessibility issues.
  10. Accessibility must be "built-into" the publishing process at the earliest possible stage so as to avoid costly retrofitting after the textbook is completed.
  11. Working with publishers of multi-media and educational software involves a different "cast of characters" than for traditional textbooks.
  12. Awareness by educators and producers of all that is involved on the publisher's end as textbooks progress from concept to product.
  13. "Turf" issues need to be replaced by collaboration.
  14. Visual impairment field should collaborate with other disability areas regarding benefits from and needs for materials in specialized formats or media; the "strength in numbers" concept.
  15. Collaborate with the Web Access Initiative (WAI) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
  16. Create a listserve for communication and networking among Forum participants to keep this momentum goin

Category F


  1. Issues relating to Tactile Graphics,
    1. What constitutes good graphics? What are best production precesses? How to teach people to read them.
  2. Issues relating to refreshable braille displays and speech devices,
    1. "paperless books", multi-line displays of refreshable braille, etc.
  3. Issues relating to electronic transmission of files/documents, and training needs.
  4. Create central database of work/research already underway.
  5. Get to Document Type Definition (DTD) ASAP.
  6. Explore refinement and implementation of the Electronic Data Management System (EDMS) suggested by George Kirscher.
  7. Research and training in what constitutes "readability" of materials produced in specialized media and integration of audio descriptions with tactile graphics.