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The purpose of the Forum Proceedings is to highlight information from the Spring 2004 Meeting of the AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum which was held March 4 in Washington D. C.

The AFB Solutions Forum continues to attract stakeholders concerned about providing the “right book at the right time” to students who are blind or visually impaired and this year’s meeting, which was held just prior to AFB’s Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute, brought together 40 participants for the day.

Highlights of the Forum included review and development of an important guideline document which will help states develop a strategic plan for delivering accessible textbooks; information on national and grassroots legislative efforts; and training to help participants keep the messages from the Solutions Forum alive.

Look for more details about each of these activities in the Forum Proceedings.

– Mary Ann Siller, Director, National Education Program, AFB


Mark Richert, Executive Director of AER and Facilitator for the Legislative and Policy-Making Work Group led the discussion concerning the progress of instructional materials legislation and its relationship to the pending reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Along with Steve Driesler, Executive Director, School Division of AAP, Richert briefly described how the Senate’s version of IDEA would, if it survives the legislative process, establish not only a single national file format for publisher-provided electronic materials, but also the much-needed national repository of such files. Joy Relton, Government Relations Representative, AFB Government Relations Group, rounded out the overview by offering some observations about amendments likely to be offered when the Senate IDEA bill goes to the floor.

In general, the legislative work group report was structured around frequently asked questions about the IMAA, how it is currently in play in Congress, and how we can ensure its ultimate enactment. Topics included an update about the current status of the IMAA provisions which have been included in the IDEA reauthorization legislative language (H.R. 1350 and S. 1248). Differences with the provisions in H.R. 1350 and S. 1248 were discussed. Two key provisions from the IMAA concerning a mandatory National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) and the creation of a National Repository/National Access Center for publishers’ files are part of the Senate’s bill called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2003 (S. 1248). However, H.R. 1350 (Improving Education Results for Children with Disabilities Act of 2003) only has the NIMAS standard. The presenters stressed the importance of both the standardized file format provision and the repository provision surviving the upcoming process in the House and Senate to reconcile both IDEA bills. Richert urged the AFB Solutions Forum attendees to celebrate the victory, nearly made official, of having the standardized file format language in both bills; this is an accomplishment that demonstrates the hard work of the Solutions Forum and that of our many stakeholder partners. For more information about the suggested steps the AFB Solutions Forum stakeholders must take to reach their Representative and Senators, go to and to the AFB Solutions Forum web page at

However, without S.1248 coming to the Senate floor soon for a vote, IDEA will not move forward during this 108th Congress. If it does not move quickly, there will not be time to complete the legislative process to reauthorize IDEA before the elections in November 2004. Therefore, all legislative work would completely start over after January 2005.

The Senate has postponed taking S. 1248 to the floor for a vote numerous times. There has been no solid date given by Senator Majority Leader (Frist, R-TN). After the Senate brings their IDEA bill to the floor for a vote, a conference committee with members from U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce will be convened and the IDEA language will be negotiated. Richert and the legislative team emphasized that we are in a holding pattern, but must be ready to address our points to the conference committee when they are selected.

Skip Stahl, Co-Director of the Universal Learning Center, CAST, reported on the status of the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) report. He offered this update: At the direction of the Office of Special Education Programs of the United States Department of Education (DOE) and with the assistance and leadership of the National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum (NCAC) at CAST, the forty member National File Format Technical Panel was given a charge in October 2002 by the DOE to present the Secretary of Education with a set of technical specifications to facilitate the efficient delivery of accessible, alternate format versions of print textbooks to PreK–12 students with disabilities, a timeline for implementation of the proposed standards and process for assessing the success. The Technical Panel represented educators, publishers, technology specialists, and advocacy groups. Many of the AFB Solutions Forum stakeholders were selected to be on the panel. The panel unanimously believed that the adoption of the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard Version 1.0 will significantly enhance the opportunity of students with disabilities to access, participate and progress in the general education curriculum.

The Panel added an important statement that the creation of a National Repository to facilitate the secure and efficient validation and distribution of NIMAS-compliant digital source files was necessary.

The Panel delivered its report in October 2003 to the DOE. Thus far, no acknowledgment of the report has been received by NCAC, even with ongoing communication to OSEP. Recommendations were made by the March 2004 AFB Solutions Forum participants to immediately write a letter to OSEP stating the necessity to have the NIMAS report publicly acknowledged by the DOE. The letter was immediately drafted by committee that day.

Mary Ann Siller gave an update on the successful and ongoing state network activities intended to reinforce the message that we need both the file format standard and the repository. Important phone meetings have been held with team leaders and stakeholders in numerous states to share workable steps they can take to make the objectives embodied in the IMAA the shared goals of advocates and policymakers. Working with team leaders to strengthen efforts in their communities has been the organizing principle. This effort will continue and increase in importance once the conference committee members are chosen. This committee will oversee the IDEA negotiations between the House and Senate. A complete legislative packet emphasizing our message and the tools for delivering it is available by contacting Mary Ann at .


After the October 2003 meeting of the AFB Solutions Forum, work group leaders used information generated by Forum stakeholders to draft a document as requested by the group. The draft, Statewide Implementation Strategies for Delivery of Textbooks and Instructional Materials to Children with Visual Impairments, was reviewed and work groups considered additional elements needed for a final document. The purpose of the final document will be to provide guidelines for states as they implement instructional materials accessibility principles of the IDEA reauthorization. Elements identified by the work group included Background Information to identify the challenges related to this issue; Framework for Action, to assist the reader in developing an action plan for their particular state; Summary of Guidelines, the specific suggestions for addressing instructional materials accessibility; and References and Resources to direct readers to additional information.

The next step identified for development of the Guidelines Document is to put the elements together and determine if the proposed document is helpful enough, while at the same time offering enough flexibility to be useful to individual states.

Lorri Quigley, Facilitator for Production Work Group, led a discussion of the introduction to the guidelines document which will provide background information to readers new to the issue of accessible textbooks and instructional materials.

Another work group led by Larry Brown, Facilitator of the Training Work Group, focused efforts on identifying suggestions for ways to use the guidelines document in various states.

Jim Allan, Facilitator for Electronic Files and Research and Development, worked with a group to summarize the major points of the guidelines document.

Information developed by all of these work groups will be incorporated into the guidelines document projected to be made available to state textbook administrators, school personnel, state directors of special education, families, teachers, and others involved in the education of students who are blind or visually impaired.

It is expected that the guidelines document will include a consideration checklist or decision tree to assist the user in looking at their individual situation in order to develop strategies that will be most effective for students in their state.

Watch for more news on this guidelines document in the future.


A new feature of the AFB Solutions Forum was the opportunity for participants to be involved in media/message training. The purpose of this activity was to provide pointers on how to keep the message of the Solutions Forum viable and how best to communicate to legislators, education personnel not familiar with the issue, and other intended audiences.

Kelly Parisi and Carrie Fernandez from the AFB Communications Division presented the session.

Five major steps to developing effective messages were identified:

  • Set goals
  • Identify target audience
  • Identify a news hook
  • Develop the message
  • Deliver the message

Participants learned about the “message triangle” which suggests that a message should always: 1) identify the problem; 2)note the importance of the problem; and 3) suggest action or resolution targeted to the goals of your message.

Parisi and Fernandez noted the importance of keeping the message short and always staying on the three most important points of the message. They suggested the use of stories as opposed to statistics, as well as reminding participants to avoid jargon that might not be familiar to the audience. According to the presenters, noting shared values — fairness, equality, family, education, opportunity, justice, safety/security — makes the message stronger and relates to a larger number of people.

The media/message training provided an opportunity for participants to practice developing messages related to passing IDEA with language of two key IMAA principles included (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard and an access center for publishers’ files). One result of the practice session was the draft of a letter sent to Dr. Troy R. Justesen, Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the U.S. Department of Education. Go to the AFB Solutions Forum web page at to view a copy of this important letter.

AFB Solutions Forum stakeholders can look forward to ongoing opportunities for media/message training as this service continues to be offered.


  • Mary Ann Siller, Director, National Education Program, American Foundation for the Blind (AFB); Coordinator of the AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum
  • Marie J. Amerson, Facilitator for the Communications and Collaboration Work Group; representative for Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER)
  • Larry Brown, Facilitator for the Training Work Group; Director, Oregon Textbook and Media Center
  • Lorri Quigley, Facilitator for the Production Work Group; Director, Utah Educational Resource Center
  • Jim Allan, Facilitator for the Electronic Files and Research and Development Work Group; Texas School for the Blind Web master
  • Mark Richert, Facilitator for the Legislative and Policy-Making Work Group; AER Executive Director
  • Joy Relton, Government Relations Representative, AFB Government Relations Group
  • Steve Driesler Executive Director, School Division, Association of American Publishers
  • Skip Stahl, Co-Director, Universal Learning Center, Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST)
  • Kelly Parisi, Vice President, Communications Department, AFB
  • Carrie Fernandez, Senior Communications Manager, Communications Department, AFB

The American Foundation for the Blind Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum is a collaborative national effort on behalf of children who are blind or visually impaired. The 44 stakeholders represent textbook publishers; educators; access technology specialists; producers of braille, large print and recorded textbooks; parents of children who are blind or visually impaired; and adults who are blind or visually impaired. They are focused on finding ways to ensure that students have “the right book at the right time.”

For additional information about the AFB Solutions Forum or to volunteer in this effort, contact Mary Ann Siller, Director, AFB National Education Program, 260 Treadway Plaza, Dallas TX 75235, Phone: 214-352-7222 or email at

Hold this date for the next meeting of the AFB Solutions Forum in Louisville, Kentucky October 13, 2004

Sidebar notes:

AFB Solutions Forum Work Groups

  • Legislative and Policy-Making
  • Electronic Files and Research and Development
  • Training
  • Production
  • Communication and Collaboration

For more information or to volunteer for one of the work groups, contact: