Special Education

Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires school districts to provide accessible versions of instructional materials to students who are blind or otherwise unable to use printed materials.  Students with disabilities should receive materials in accessible formats at the same time as their peers receive their textbooks.

Instructional materials

Instructional materials include textbooks and related core materials such as workbooks.

Accessible formats

Accessible formats include Braille, large print, audio and digital text.  Accessible instructional materials afford the flexibility to meet the needs of a broad range of students, even those without disabilities.  Fully accessible format means that:

  • All text is digital and can be read with text-to-speech, modified with regard to font size, and navigated by unit, chapter, section and page number (or other appropriate segments).
  • Images include alternative text and long descriptions when appropriate (alternative text is a replacement for an image that serves the same purpose as the image itself.  It is read by a screen reader in place of the image).
  • Math equations are provided as images with alternative text or in the content file using MathML.
  • Content reading order, levels and headings are determined by publisher tagging.
  • Text can be converted to Braille.

School districts should note that just because a document is digital or online, it is not inherently accessible.  File types to consider, from most to least flexible are:

  • Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY)/ National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) with cascading style sheet;
  • HyperText Markup Language (HTML);
  • Portable Document Format (PDF), (unlocked, embedded fonts, single page); and
  • Rich Text Format (RTF)/Word document.


The acronym NIMAS stands for the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard.  It is a technical specification, endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education that publishers must use in preparing files.  NIMAS files are then sent to the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC), as requested by a school district.  Please note that a NIMAS file is not student ready; it requires conversion to the desired specialized format.

For more information, visit National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS).external link


NIMAC is the National Instructional Materials Access Center, and is the repository where all the NIMAS files are stored.  It is funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and was created through amendments adopted to IDEA.  The purpose of NIMAC is to make it easier for districts to obtain materials for students with disabilities, and to do so in a more timely manner.  Once a NIMAS file is downloaded from NIMAC by an authorized user, it must be transformed into the required accessible format for the student.  NIMAC houses files for printed textbooks and related core instructional materials published primarily for use in elementary and secondary school instruction.

School districts should note that there is no obligation on the part of a publisher to create NIMAS files or upload them to NIMAC unless specific language is included in the contract/purchase agreement with publishers. To search the NIMAC go to http://www.nimac.us/ external link

Accessing NIMAC

Only authorized users (AUs) of NIMAC can download NIMAS files.  New York’s AUs are Sophie McDermott at the New York State Education Department (NYSED), Office of Special Education, Lisa DeSantis at the Resource Center for the Visually Impaired, Bookshare, Learning Ally and the New York City Department of Education.

Students eligible to use materials from NIMAC

NIMAC relies on an exemption to copyright law, and as such materials are only available to elementary and secondary students who are blind, visually impaired, have a physical disability, or have a reading disability resulting from an organic dysfunction.  In addition, these students must have an individualized education program (IEP).

Students with a 504 plan and NIMAC

Students who have a 504 plan are not allowed to use materials from NIMAC.  Only students with a qualifying disability and an IEP can use these materials.

Students who are not eligible to use materials from NIMAC

School districts are responsible for providing accessible instructional materials to students with disabilities who need them, regardless of whether the students are eligible for materials from NIMAC.  Schools can purchase accessible materials directly from the publisher, make their own or use materials in the public domain.

School districts should note that all students can access materials purchased directly from publishers or through other commercial options.

Obtaining accessible instructional materials in New York State

There are four basic steps in regards to AIM.  First, a school district must determine if there is a need for AIM.  Second, the district must decide on the format necessary to meet the individual student’s needs.  It is possible that an individual student may need different types of formats based on the environment in which he will be using the material.  Third, the district must determine the appropriate route for acquiring the specialized format(s).  Fourth, the school district must determine what, if any, additional assistive technologies are needed and develop a plan to implement these technologies.

NYSED has developed two flowcharts that demonstrate the acquisition process.  There is one flowchart for obtaining Braille and large print, and another flowchart for obtaining audio and digital text.  Each flowchart has links to resources embedded within the document; it is recommended that districts use these materials together to provide a full understanding of the process.

Flowchart for Braille and Large Print
Flowchart for Audio and Digital Files

Building the resources housed in NIMAC

In order to build the resources available in NIMAC, districts should include contract language when ordering textbooks that ensures publishers will be asked to create a NIMAS file of any textbook and related core materials and submit those files to NIMAC.  As NIMAC grows, students will receive their instructional materials in a more timely manner.  Resources embedded within the flowcharts offer school districts guidance on potential contract language.

Section 200.2(b)(10)(i) of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education indicates that school districts must ensure that preference in the purchase of instructional materials is given to those publishers who agree to provide such instructional materials in alternative formats.

This important step of consistently ordering textbooks and related core materials in NIMAS format will help to inform publishers that there is a market for accessible materials.  By demonstrating demand, school districts will ultimately assist not only those individuals who cannot access materials from NIMAC, but also those individuals who may prefer accessible files aligned with such initiatives as Response to Intervention (RtI), Differentiated Instruction, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  It is the goal that school districts will eventually be able to purchase these files directly from the publisher.

School district resources

  • The National Center on Accessible Educational Materialsexternal link:  A resource for state- and district-level educators, parents, publishers, conversion houses, accessible media producers, and others interested in learning more about and implementing AIM and NIMAS. 
    • The National Center on Accessible Educational Materials has created the AIM NAVIGATORexternal link.  It is an interactive online tool that facilitates the process of decision-making about accessible instructional materials for an individual student. The AIM Navigator guides teams through a step-by-step process and provides just-in-time support with Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), resources, and links to other helpful tools at each of four major decision-points:  determining the need for accessible instructional materials; selecting format(s) that address student needs; acquiring needed formats; and, selecting supports for use (technology, training, instructional strategies, support services, and other accommodations and modifications).
    • The National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials has also created the AIM Explorerexternal link.  This is a free simulation that combines grade-leveled digital text with access features common to most text readers and other supported reading software.  It is designed to assist teams to understand reader preferences.

District resources from the flowcharts are as follows:

Sample Contract Language

Reference During the Identification Period

Talking to a Publisher

Other Sources of AIM

Large Print Questions and Answers


Federal Guidance

New York State Regulations and Guidance

Relevant Part 200 Regulations of the Commissioner of Education 


Section 200.2(b)(10) regarding alternative formats, NIMAS, and preference to publishers.

Section 200.2(c)(2)(vi) regarding district plans for ensuring materials provided at same time as peers


Copyright considerations

NLS Fact Sheets

Other Resources

To search for available books

Last Updated: March 9, 2022