[Athen] AHEAD E-Text Solutions group Report from AHEAD

Berkowitz, Daniel J djbrky at bu.edu
Wed Jul 25 09:25:40 PDT 2007


I have recently returned from the AHEAD <http://ahead.org/index.htm>
2007 conference and rather than confront the backlog of messages,
student files, eMails, and other flotsam awash upon my workspace I shall
instead attempt to make sense of my notes from the conference and update
my readers on the doings of the AHEAD E-Text Solutions Group. Caution -
these notes are incomplete and are fullest where my interests were
perked. The E-Text Solutions Group website
<http://www.ahead.org/etext/etext_main.htm> has been updated with much
good information and its membership
<http://ahead.org/etext/etext_bio.htm> is available to answer questions
and such.

I also recommend taking a look at the independent website AltFormat.com
<http://altformat.com/> .

There were two meetings of the group during the conference. The first
was a semi-informal Q&A session on Thursday evening. Led by Chairman Ron
Stewart <http://www.ahead.org/etext/etext_bio.htm#rstewart> , this
public forum was designed to be an "informative discussion to learn
about the continuing work of AHEAD to foster the availability of e-texts
for all college students." The second meeting took place the following
morning and was a more formal "informative session on current
activities" designed to provide "up-to-date developments in the
provision of educational materials in accessible formats". Both were
very well attended and the following notes are a combination culled from
both meetings.

Rick Bowes, representing the AAP (Association of American Publishers
<http://www.publishers.org/> ) and the AFSI (Alternate Format Solutions
), provided an update on the cooperative agreement that is being
developed between the major educational publishers in partnership with
the AHEAD E-Text Solutions Group. The slides from Rick's presentation in
both PowerPoint and Outline Format are available on the E-Text Solutions
Group webpage <http://www.ahead.org/etext/etext_main.htm> . Much good
information is also available on the AAP Higher Education Accessibility
d=40> .

Rick updated the audience to a degree but could not say much beyond what
he reported at the CSUN conference
time=1185364632> earlier in the year. This is actually good news in
that the publishers are taking his work seriously and moving forward.
Bad news he could have shared - good news needs to be kept under wraps
for the time being as the publishers discuss, deliberate and design
their next moves.

Rick did go into a brief overview of NIMAS <http://nimas.cast.org/>
/NIMAC <http://www.nimac.us/> for those who were unfamiliar with them
and noted that as worthy as this legislation is, the implementation has
not been without problems. While NIMAS is being sorted out, Higher
Education must not allow itself to become complacent to the idea that
there will soon be similar laws for us and we must learn from mistakes
made in the implementation of NIMAS and not make the same. NIMAS has had
a slow-go since the green light of December 3, 2006 and as of mid-July
2007 there are less than 400 textbook file sets in the NIMAC repository
with a total library of approx. 1,100 file sets - the majority being
supplemental materials. This is out of a potential inventory of a
quarter of a million titles.

Rick pointed out that a NIMAS File Set
<http://nimas.cast.org/about/resources/creating_nimas.html#fileset> is
not simply a single document and it has become apparent to both the
NIMAC and the publishers that there is as much interest in the
supplemental materials associated with the textbooks as there is with
the textbooks themselves. This has tempered the publishers enthusiasm a
bit as they try to figure out how to provide materials that are not
necessarily specified under the law but which are none-the-less integral
to the academic mission.

As for output, so far there have less than 300 downloads by the
educational systems of nine (9) states. Much of this has to do with the
need for individual states to decide how they are going to confront
NIMAS and incorporate it into their state education statutes. In
essence, many Attorney Generals and Departments of Education around the
country are stymied and until they figure out what to do and move
forward there could be a log-jam effect that has a negative on both
postsecondary operations and efforts.

For example, Texas recently dodged a bullet when legislation was
introduced that would have directed publishers to only provide digital
materials in ASCii format <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ascii> . A
knee-jerk reaction would be to question the technical know how of the
Texas legislation [a'la the grand Senator from Alaska
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Series_of_tubes> ], but a closer look
reveals that this is perhaps simply lazy continuation of previous
Braille legislation (circa 2001)
<http://www.tsbvi.edu/textbooks/afb/state-laws.htm> that calls for
"ASCII, ICADD 22 or SGML for Windows or DOS, or agreed format produced
upon 3.5" DDHD diskette, 5.25" Syquest, or other agreed on media."
Unfortunately lawmakers in Texas are not alone
<http://www.washington.edu/accessit/articles?243> in their inability to
keep up with evolving technology. Fortunately the right lobby intervened
and the wording was changed to something more user-friendly and

The Texas side-swipe points out a general misunderstanding in both
publishing and legislation that a mandatory one-size-fits-all solution
is perfectly applicable and acceptable. As Rick noted throughout both
sessions, the publishers want to do what is right, but simply do not
know how. Actually, it is not proper to white-wash the publishers -
perhaps some numbers will clarify. According to Rick, in terms of books
used in education, there are some 4,600 publishing organizations in the
United States producing in excess of 250,000 titles annually. These are
not always 'publishers' per se and the majority are small, independent,
affiliated with professional organizations or university presses and
more than 50% are non-profit entities. As one of the panelist pointed
out - there is no "they" when referring to publishers.

In fact, the AAP Higher Education group
includes a half-dozen of the most prominent textbook publishers who
produce 70% to 80% of the textbooks in use today. These publishers 'get
it' in terms of what they should do and must do both morally and under
the law. Unfortunately, until the dust settles on NIMAS and similar
efforts take hold for Higher Education their hands and efforts are tied.
The big publishers have a bottom line to look out for and cannot risk
moving in a direction that may turn into an unprofitable dead-end. The
small publishers are in worse straits as many of them run in the red
and simply do not have the resources or know-how to create accessible
formats. Akin to the AHEAD E-Text Institute trainings
ml> for the 3,500+ colleges and universities in the U.S., Ron Stewart
notes that there should be similar trainings for the 4,600+
organizations that publish.

One point that kept coming across through both sessions was the need for
flexibility in formats. This cannot be a one-size-fits-all proposition
as that will not work for any of the participants (publishers,
educators, and especially students). The key to NIMAS is supposed to be
its flexibility in that the source files are supposed to be able to be
easily converted to a variety of outputs (DAISY, Braille, variable
print, etc.) but creating the source files that go into the NIMAC seem
to be causing a bit of a headache for those that publish.

Time in both sessions was devoted to the rights and permissions process
as regards converting textbooks in alternate formats. Though worthy of
attention, the Publishers Look-Up Service
<http://www.publisherlookup.org/> sponsored by the AAP is only an
interim step and only contains information on less than a quarter of
publishing entities. Also throughout both meetings there was information
and discussion on a variety of topics, including activities of the
E-Text Solution Group, basics of NIMAS/NIMAC, current and pending legal
cases and OCR <http://www.dlrp.org/html/topical/FAPSI/OCR/ccsf.html>
letters <http://athenpro.org/node/37> , international
<http://www.rnib.org.uk/> interests <http://altformat.com/> , lessons
from K-12
9334> and more. Unfortunately my notetaking skills ain't what they used
to be and I was unable to keep up with the conversation. Perhaps in the
future these sessions can be recorded for pod/vodcasting. Anyway - check
the PPT/RTF of Rick's presentation
<http://www.ahead.org/etext/etext_main.htm> as it has a lot of good

Other items Rick presented include the AFSI vision of a national portal
for digital formats of materials - akin to a NIMAC for higher ed,
improving and streamlining rights and permissions procedures under
copyright, file sharing beyond immediate state systems and created a
system for trusted transactions (example Froogle
<http://www.google.com/products> ) along with a federated search
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federated_search> to improve the process
of locating materials, creating a virtual repository allowing publishers
and others to physically control their content, directed and secure
distribution points and more. All of this is covered in his slides.

The meat of the meetings - and what most people came to hear - was
Rick's report on the AFSI initiative. As he put it, he could not divulge
too much but at present the publishers involved are "gnawing on the
report" that was present in May of this year. On the Tuesday of the
conference (July 17) the AAP voted to move from a research phase to
developing a plan of action. According to Rick - the Executive Committee
has tasked a select subcommittee to determine how publishers working
with AHEAD and its members may better serve the needs of students with
print disabilities. Over the next 120 days specific action plans will be
formulated alongside evaluation process and financial requirements.

Yes -- money is an issue and needs to be openly acknowledged. As anyone
who has developed an E-Text production facility can attest it takes
money to put the technology, people and processes into place. Extend
this to a for-profit corporate entity putting out a lot of product and
needing to show a profit - or for that matter a non-profit that operates
in the red and daily fights for its very existence - and you get an idea
of one reason why things are perhaps not moving along as swiftly as we
seem to think they should. As regards the idea of a centralized entity,
there will be costs associated with the development as well as the
maintenance at least to a point where it can maintain self
sustainability (if ever).

I know there is a lot of information here and admit is is a bit jumbled
and incomplete. If anyone else out there has notes from the meetings and
would like to share their take on the things please drop me a line. I
would be remiss if i did not thank Rick, Ron and all the members of the
AHEAD E-Text Solutions group for all of their efforts and communication.

Posted By D. Berkowitz to Access Technologists Higher Education Network
ead.html> at 7/25/2007 07:18:00 AM

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