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An Overview of Federal Quota

In the mid-1800’s, when schools for the blind were being established in the United States, each school was responsible for embossing the books and manufacturing the appliances necessary for the instruction of its own pupils. School leaders soon recognized this as a great waste of effort and resources and saw the need to consolidate efforts to provide embossed materials for blind students. In 1858, in an act of unprecedented cooperation and foresight, seven states established a centralized national printing house to meet their combined demands, thus founding the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville, Kentucky.

This successful endeavor set the stage for even further cooperation and consolidation of effort. The US Congress, at the strong urging of the American Association of Instructors of the Blind, passed the 1879 "Act to Promote the Education of the Blind." This Act set up a system to provide free school books and tangible apparatus for blind students and named the American Printing House for the Blind as the national central source of these educational materials.

By this Federal Act, Congress created a permanent annual appropriation for the specific purpose of "manufacturing and furnishing books and other materials specially adapted for instruction" of students who are blind in the United States and its Territories. As the first law enacted by Congress to support the education of students with visual disabilities, it has become a landmark. The Act and its resulting programs administered through the American Printing House for the Blind make specially developed educational materials more available and more effective today than ever before.

Initially, APH was chartered to emboss tactile books and to produce simple tangible apparatus. Today, APH continues this proud tradition by producing hundreds of textbooks in a variety of media — braille, large type, electronic, and recorded form — and by manufacturing and maintaining an extensive inventory of commercially-unavailable educational aids, tools, and supplies.

Federal Quota Program

The system through which these specialized materials are distributed is known as the Federal Quota Program. Through it, textbooks and aids are provided free to eligible blind students in educational settings ranging from early intervention programs for visually impaired infants to rehabilitation for elders who have age-related vision loss, from center-based and residential school programs to the regular classroom.

What is available through Federal Quota?

A wide variety of specially designed and adapted materials are available from APH… core curriculum materials for teaching reading, social studies, mathematics, and science…materials for assessing and improving the use of low vision…expanded core curriculum materials for cultivating emergent literacy and concept development…for facilitating sensory, motor, and perceptual development, for developing self-help and prevocational skills. Other examples of available research-based materials are braille teaching programs, talking computer software, low vision development programs, infant intervention materials, and motor skills improvement kits.

Educational tools include adapted audio recording equipment, devices for writing braille, and talking computer hardware. Special supplies such as braille and bold-line papers, special binders and notebooks, and other consumable materials used in the classroom are also available.

New and adapted materials are developed at APH by the Department of Educational and Technical Research. Formed in 1952, the Research Department conducts ongoing basic and applied research which results in the development of new products and in the improvement or adaptation of existing products needed by the field.

The demand for specific products is determined by needs assessments based on input from consumers, teachers, Ex Officio Trustees, and other professionals in the field. These assessments actively monitor needs in various areas of curriculum and skills development. They assess the requirements of the a diverse student population — from infants and preschoolers to adventitiously blinded senior citizens.

The identification of a needed product that is not commercially available leads to research that develops a prototype of the item and to field testing that refines its effectiveness and safety. From the research department, the product is manufactured and inventoried for sale.

How are these materials distributed?

The distribution of materials available on Federal Quota and the determination of programs eligible for them follow a distinctive and very effective model.

The American Printing House for the Blind is responsible for the overall administration of this law that provides educational materials. This is accomplished through an impressive network of professionals designated as Ex Officio Trustees of APH.

Originally, the Ex Officio Trustees were superintendents of residential schools for the blind–but as education and rehabilitation programs have evolved, so has the administration of the Act. In 1906, adult rehabilitation centers were declared eligible for Federal Quota funds, as were public school programs in 1912. Private and parochial schools were ruled eligible in 1970. Thus, the Ex Officio Trusteeship has expanded to include the heads of state departments of education, rehabilitation agencies, private, nonprofit schools for the blind, and programs for students who are multi-handicapped, in addition to superintendents of residential schools for the blind.

A Federal Quota account is established for each umbrella school or agency. The Ex Officio Trustee is legally entrusted with the administration of the Federal Quota Program for students within his or her system. This includes determining the manner in which Federal Quota funds are spent, approving and processing all orders for Federal Quota materials, and conducting the annual census of eligible students. Also the Trustee is entrusted with the public role of defining the provisions of the Act of 1879 to interested parties as well as with advisory responsibilities for future textbooks, products, publications, and services.

How does the Federal Quota Program work?

As prescribed by the Act to Promote the Education of the Blind, Congress makes an annual appropriation for the provision of the special Federal Quota materials. This appropriation is divided by the total number of eligible students in educational programs on the first Monday of the preceding January. This division results in a per capita amount of money that is then multiplied by the number of eligible students in each Federal Quota account. The resulting total is credited to each respective account, thus establishing each agency’s annual "quota" to be used for the purchase of APH materials.

By law, no part of the appropriation can be used for the erection or leasing of buildings. The Printing House, out of its own funds, provides the buildings and equipment necessary for the production of the materials supplied through the Federal Quota Program.

Who is eligible?

The determination of eligible students and the distribution of materials available to them on Federal Quota follows a distinctive and very effective model.

In order to determine who is eligible for Federal Quota Materials, an annual national census is taken. The effective date of this registration is the first Monday of January each year.

For students to be eligible to participate in the Federal Quota Program, they MUST fulfill the following requirements.

Several factors to remember are:

How are eligible students counted?

Each Ex Officio Trustee is responsible for collecting, compiling, and submitting to APH the annual census of eligible students. State departments of education are responsible for reporting students in public school programs.

For each student, the following information must be reported:

APH processes the data reported by the Trustees by electronically screening all records, eliminating ineligible students and duplicate registrations. After review by the respective Trustee, the final number of eligible students is determined.

The cycle then continues…The appropriation from Congress is divided by the total number of eligible students, thus determining the per capita Federal Quota allocation.

How are these materials accessed?

All orders for materials to be purchased with Federal Quota funds must be directed through the Ex Officio Trustee. Each Federal Quota order must carry the Trustee’s approval as the Trustee bears the responsibility for the manner in which these monies are used.

Trustees and other professionals have created a variety of effective methods for materials delivery to numerous students. One particularly effective approach has been the establishment of educational materials centers which centralize the distribution and recirculation of these valuable educational resources.

Teachers, administrators, students, parents, and service providers are encouraged to call an Ex Officio Trustee or the American Printing House for the Blind for consultation on educational materials, needs, or services.

Specialized advisory and consultant services are also provided through the Act to Promote the Education of the Blind . A highly knowledgeable staff is in place at APH to provide assistance and direction to Ex Officio Trustees, to the field, and to all who provide materials and services to learners who are blind or visually impaired.

This specialized division of APH is the Department of Field Services. The role of Field Services is

Through Field Services, APH personnel are available to conduct training sessions, presentations, and workshops in availability, teaching methodology, and prescriptive use of the specially-designed materials

The Louis ( database compiles more than 370,000 records of accessible media materials for people who are blind or visually impaired. These records include the most recent publications of more than 140 different specialized media agencies. Contributors to the Louis Database include volunteer, government, non-profit, and commercial agencies from all over the nation. This database provides one quick, complete, and centralized source of information for K-12 educational materials in accessible media.


For more than a century, the Act to Promote the Education of the Blind has been affecting change in the lives of Americans who are visually impaired. Through materials that range from accessible books to fine motor development materials, from braille writing equipment to talking computer products, and an outstanding network of Ex Officio Trustees, APH and the Act address the specific learning needs that a vision loss creates. It is the purpose of the Act and its Federal Quota Program to place the most appropriate educational aids, tools, and supplies in the hands and lives of each person who is visually impaired.