Future Reflections                                                                                                 Fall, 2003

(back) (next) (contents)

Textbooks on Time: A Progress Report on the IMAA and the Reauthorization of IDEA

by James McCarthy

James McCarthy
James McCarthy

Parents of blind children, educators of blind children, and the blind have advocated over the last several years for passage of the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA). This legislation would vastly improve the process by which books are provided to blind children in the formats they need. Under the existing system, most blind children receive their books late in the school year, receive relevant textbook sections after they are no longer needed, and sometimes do not receive them at all. In the present session of Congress, the IMAA was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Petri of Wisconsin and cosponsored by 107 others. The IMAA was not introduced in the Senate, but both the House and Senate incorporated provisions of the IMAA in their versions of legislation to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The prospects for passage of the IMAA are the best ever, but they are contingent on passage of legislation to reauthorize the IDEA. Due to this fact, an analysis of the IMAA, the IDEA, and the possibilities surrounding both is in order. The House and the Senate take vastly different approaches to both the IMAA and the IDEA, with the approach of the Senate preferable in both cases.

The bill passed by the House, H.R. 1350: “Improving Educational Results for Children with Disabilities Act of 2003,” incorporates the Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard found in the IMAA. Within two years of a file standard being published, states will need to adopt it. State and local education agencies must also include a requirement that publishers must provide electronic files consistent with the official standard. While the House bill could go much further toward recognizing the goals of the IMAA, the inclusion of this language in the IDEA is a significant step forward to improve the infrastructure necessary to ensure that blind children receive their books in a timely manner.

The Senate bill to reauthorize the IDEA, S. 1248: “Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2003,” takes the House bill one step further with respect to the IMAA. In contrast to the House bill, the Senate bill contains all of the critical provisions necessary to develop the infrastructure to provide books to blind children in a timely manner. The most significant provision in the Senate bill not included in the House bill would establish a national center within two years of enactment. The Center “shall coordinate the acquisition and distribution of print instructional materials prepared in the Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard.” Responsibilities of the center include:

•          To receive and catalog print instructional materials available to state and local educational agencies;

•         To provide access to these materials to authorized entities free of charge; and

•         To establish procedures to protect against copyright infringement with respect to the instructional materials it receives and makes available.

The Senate bill furthers the goals in the IMAA in other key respects. It clearly permits authorized entities to provide instructional materials in large print, which is officially not permitted by law. It enumerates the alternate formats permitted for conversion of files using the Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard. It also more clearly defines the Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard.

S. 1248 has passed out of committee and awaits a vote of the full Senate, where it is expected to pass. Both Senate Republicans and Democrats have sought to work in a bipartisan manner to develop this legislation. This is a sharp contrast to the partisan process engaged in by House Republicans when crafting H.R. 1350. If the Senate provisions in support of the IMAA, found in Sections 612(a)(22), 613(a)(6) and 675, are adopted in their entirety, the infrastructure to facilitate blind children receiving books on time will vastly improve.

While neither approach to reauthorize the IDEA is entirely adequate, the Senate version is preferable. The House would make dispute resolution an extremely unattractive option for parents while permitting schools to reduce their contact with parents regarding student progress. The Senate’s approach would more closely maintain existing law with adjustments. It strives to parallel the No Child Left Behind Act, to address paper work reduction, and to establish some model forms for Individual Education Programs (IEPs) and procedural notices. Finally, when developing an IEP for a blind child, it also requires consideration of orientation and mobility and skills in the use of assistive technology devices, including low vision devices.

At this time it is difficult to know whether agreement of the IDEA reauthorization will occur this year, but there is a second year remaining in the 108th Congress. The Senate still must pass its legislation before the end of legislative business, probably in November, and the Senate agenda is quite full. Once it does so, there are substantial differences between the two bills to be reconciled by a conference committee of the two chambers. At the time of the conference, as supporters of the IMAA we must do all we can to ensure that all the provisions of the IMAA are included in the final legislation.

(back) (next) (contents)