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Chapter 14: NIMAS Files and Nimpro


What Are NIMAS Files?

NIMAS files are electronic files for K-12 textbooks. NIMAS is a technical standard used by publishers to produce source files (in XML) that may be used to develop multiple specialized formats (such as Braille or audio books) for students with print disabilities.

Since a NIMAS file contains component files, it is often called a NIMAS fileset. The source files are prepared using Extensible Markup Language (XML) to mark up the structure of the original content and provide a means for presenting the content in a variety of ways and styles. For example, once a NIMAS fileset has been produced for printed materials, the XML and image source files may be used to create Braille, large print, web (html) versions, DAISY talking books using human voice or text-to-speech, audio files derived from text-to-speech transformations, and more.

While NIMAS files can be used to produce braille, it is important to realize that braille production is not the sole reason for the generation of NIMAS files. A braille transcriber will quickly notice that a fair amount of manual work is needed to produce quality braille.

The various specialized formats created from NIMAS filesets may then be used to support a very diverse group of learners who qualify as students with print disabilities. It is important to note that most elementary and secondary educational publishers do not own all of the electronic rights to their textbooks and related core print materials and a copyright exemption allows them to deliver the electronic content of a textbook and the related core print materials to the NIMAC, a national repository which began operations on 12/3/06, as long as the publishers possess the print rights. NIMAS applies to instructional materials published on or after 7/19/06

A vast amount of information about creating NIMAS files is available at aem.cast.org.

Legal Background

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) of 2004 requires states to address the critical difficulty in obtaining accessible textbooks for students with disabilities by adopting a new file format, the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS). This same legislation offers a means to assist states in this responsibility by establishing a national repository to collect and store these files and make them available to states. This repository is the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC), and it is being established at the American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. (APH) with support from the U.S. Department of Education. The legislation directs the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to establish to center at APH.

What is the NIMAC?

The NIMAC is a central repository that contains NIMAS files. It has an automated system for allowing publishers to deposit NIMAS files within the repository. The staff at the NIMAC uses a system to check to confirm that they are valid NIMAS, and then the files are cataloged into a web-based database. Those who have been authorized for access have user identifications and passwords. These authorized users are able to search the NIMAC database and to download the file(s) they need to convert to accessible instructional materials for those students who are in elementary and secondary schools and have qualifying disabilities.

What does the NIMAC do?

The NIMAC receives and catalogs publishers' electronic files of print instructional materials in the NIMAS format. The NIMAC serves as a national repository for NIMAS files and as a conduit through which the files are made available to authorized users to convert the files into fully accessible textbooks for students.

How do files get into the NIMAC?

Files do not come automatically to the NIMAC. The legislation does not seem to require that publishers send NIMAS files directly to the NIMAC. Publishers must provide the files to the NIMAC if required to do so by educational agencies. The key here is that the way files will get into the NIMAC is primarily through having educational agencies write contracts that direct the publishers to send NIMAS files to the NIMAC. In cases where an educational agency has produced its own NIMAS files, those educational agencies may contribute files to the NIMAC.

How Do I obtain Files from the NIMAC

NIMAS Files are available through your state's Authorized User(s). Go to http://www.nimac.us

Anyone can search for content by title, publisher, or ISBN. Authorized Users (AUs) can obtain content as required under contract with the publisher. Alternate Media Producers (AMPs) including braille transcribers can obtain content assigned by an AU. You may or may not use the NIMAC directly.


What is NimPro?

NimPro is a stand-alone software application produced by Duxbury Systems that acts as a bridge between NIMAS files and the braille translation software products MegaDots and Duxbury DBT. NimPro imports NIMAS files and then exports files for use with MegaDots or Duxbury DBT. A copy of NimPro is available at http://www.duxburysystems.com/nimpro.asp

Using NimPro

The instructions for Using NimPro are installed with NimPro. NimPro will continue to develop in new ways to serve those who produce braille. At the time of this writing, the features and possibilities of NimPro are still being defined. But the following aspects should be kept in mind:

Saving MegaDots files from NimPro

NimPro offers three different MegaDots file formats: Native MegaDots file, MegaDots-Markup Textfile, and a MegaDots-Ready Files. Of these, the preferred file is the Native MegaDots file.

There was concern that Nimpro produced .meg files might be confused with MegaDots produced .meg files. So when NimPro produces MegaDots files, the default is to produce read-only files with the special file extension of .nmg (nmg is short for "native mega"). You can change the defaults in NimPro to change the file extension, and you can also make the created files write-able. No matter what they are named, the content of the file remains the same. For example, if you save an nmg file from NimPro, and then change the defaults, and save as an meg file, you get the exact same file. If you choose to save using the .nmg file extension, it is hard to avoid calling them "nutmeg" files.

To produce a Native MegaDots file, NimPro needs to locate a fully-functioning copy of MegaDots on the computer. If that is not possible, NimPro gives you an error message.

If you do not have a copy of MegaDots on the computer with NimPro, you can choose two other file types for saving files for use with MegaDots. You can save files in those formats and copy them to another computer for use with MegaDots.

Which is better? That depends. They are quite similar. The MegaDots-Markup Textfile probably works better with earlier versions of MegaDots. The MegaDots-Ready Files is easier to read and understand.

MegaDots files created from NimPro may contain brailler graphics. Embossing brailler graphics can raise special issues about page size, character spacing, and other issues. See Chapter 16 for the details about brailler graphics. If you are doing a big project using brailler graphics, run some small tests first, so that you do not hit any technical glitches close to your production deadline.

A Word About Math Files

Math files coming from NIMAS can be frustrating. Standards for encoding math files have been slow in coming. Sometimes math segments are encoded graphically, which means they need to be retyped in MegaDots. Sometimes unique approaches are done on a book by book basis.

Sometimes advanced math symbols will be encoded in Unicode. For example, an integral sign would appear as ~[222B] (the Unicode for an integral sign is "222B"). Use the supplied rules file fixmath.mdr to fix all of these symbols in one operation. Using this rules file saves you a lot of manual work.

This rules file cannot fix fractions, square roots, or exponents, since we have no idea how the file creator may have encoded these. So even with a rules file, there is still a lot of manual work to make a braille math book from a NIMAS file.