Paths to Literacy

for students who are blind or visually impaired

Assistive Technology: Evaluation, Implementation, Instruction, and Progress Monitoring

Boy with iPadJohn is in tenth grade and has a visual impairment and cerebral palsy. He is attending high school in a one-to-one iPad school district, and his team would like to investigate the effectiveness of him using an iPad as Assistive Technology (AT). This device will provide needed accommodations of his learning materials and provide a digital learning environment for completing his assignments. John’s special education teacher is very excited about him using his iPad and notes how motivated he is to use it. Before John started using the iPad, he would wait more than a week to obtain materials and have his paraprofessional read them to him. John was struggling to keep up with his classwork. His IEP educational team, composed of John’s parents, a general education teacher, a special education teacher, a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI), and an occupational therapist, gave John the iPad and went over some basic accessibility features. Lastly, team members helped him bookmark his class websites. The team does not have, however, a structured system for AT implementation and instruction for John’s iPad. Many features would benefit to John, such as using the iPad’s text-to-speech feature for importing reading materials each week, but his team is not equipped to set up these features, so the iPad cannot be used to its full potential. Without regular support to become proficient using his iPad as AT, by the end of the year, the team noticed that John seldom chose his iPad for reading and completing assignments. John has given up trying to use his iPad as his AT device, and the IEP team does not know how to help him use it more efficiently. The IEP team decided to stop using it, and resorted to pairing John with a one-to-one paraprofessional that reads his texts to him. John now has less independence and confidence and continues to fall farther behind due to how much time he spends waiting.


How Can We Create AT Implementation That Works?Graphic of assitive technology implementation

John’s story is not uncommon. Several issues are affecting our students in special education regarding the use of AT services. How can we create AT implementations that work? The team can pose simple questions and move forward with a plan. Let's list the issues and actionable steps for each.   Follow this step-by-step guide to having stronger AT implementations:








1.  How do I know what my student needs to know and be able to do?

  • Use academic standards and the Expanded Core Curriculum to guide programs.
  • Choose an evaluation that will best assess present levels of both academic performance and accessibility using AT, i.e. my student needs to access his textbooks using text to speech and a reading app such as VoiceDream Reader. My questions and evaluations are:
  • Evaluate student's reading level using a basic reading inventory (reading inventory should be in the media appropriate for my student, such as braille, large print or auditory).
  • Evaluate student's listening comprehension level, if already not assessed, using both computerized voice and a human voice.
  • Evaluate student's ability to access his reading app independently and navigate.
  • Collect this information in the form of an AT Evaluation Report to include in my student's IEP.   Include baseline information for progress monitoring. What are the student's reading, listening comprehension levels and current AT abilities?  Those are all the baselines that will be used to monitor the student's growth.
  • Determine an AT goal connected to John's listening comprehension and AT abilities. This objective will be employed by the team for progress monitoring John's AT growth and reading.


2. Use an instructional cycle to teach the student to use AT devices.

The model is a sequence of instruction that repeats as skills build upon each other. I call it the SIC, which stands for Sandwich Instructional Cycle. With the sandwich metaphor, teams can think of teachers supporting students through the process, illustrated by two pieces of bread introducing and following up the learning activity.  See my previous blog post about using this instructional cycle.

3. Monitor progress with Assistive Technology

The final piece of the puzzle when implementing AT are for teams asking the question, every day, how is John's AT going? Progress monitoring is part of the SIC model, but it deserves its' own numbered bullet! How do teams progress monitoring? The rules of thumb and actionable steps are:

  • At a minimum, every ten days of instruction, teams should progress monitor using baseline data to gauge student progress. Since we assessed John's reading and listening levels, and AT abilities we need to conduct a progress monitoring probe to check on his progress.
  • Use the same probe, the amount of time, and environment that was used to collect baseline data. For instance, if I did a listening comprehension activity at the 10th-grade level, using a short passage, and his iPad's reading app, VoiceDream, then... have him read a 3-minute passage on his iPad and answer listening comprehension questions. What do teams include in their progress monitoring?
    • Can he navigate his device more efficiently?
    • Has his listening comprehension improved?
    • Has he developed or showed low to no growth in the goals you have set for him?
    • Add notes and observations from the past two weeks regarding John's daily AT use.


4.  Plan next steps

What is next? Continue increasing AT knowledge and skills, using AT for reading every day and progress monitoring to check for growth every ten days of instruction. We need to include more rigor and systematic instruction in our AT implementations if we want students to succeed and become proficient AT users.

Collage for assistive technology



Great article. Here's how to go further

Posted by Ruth Ziolkowski

I can relate to the struggles

Posted by ander527

AT Support

Posted by whitneyashlyn

Posted on February 1, 2016
Updated on: February 7, 2018

Previous comments for Assistive Technology: Evaluation, Implementation, Instruction, and Progress Monitoring

whitneyashlyn commented on April 27, 2016


The picture you painted of John is all too common! I am currently teaching in a school that has piloted a one-to-one system. Although it has had a lot of positives, it has been similar to the situation with John. We placed the technology in students’ hands without little instruction with the hopes that they would navigate it; and, although the students are very capable of stumbling upon and figuring out things faster than a lot of students, it was a mess!

We had many frustrated students and teachers who did not know how to navigate the technology. A lot of us thought we knew how to use them, but we didn’t realize that all the commands were different when VoiceOver was turned on. It is crazy how something seemingly easy became so difficult! I was surprised at the struggle to find simple checklists for the iPad with VoiceOver on. With the second round of students we may have gone too far the other way. We’re holding onto them and figuring them out and because of that the students are having very little exposure with them.

My favorite line from the article was “We need to include more rigor and systematic instruction in our AT implementations if we want students to succeed and become proficient AT users.” This is so true! Our goal as educators should be to get these kids the skills they need to be independent and successful on their own.

Presley, I. & D’Andrea, F. (2009). Assistive Technology for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired. NY: AFB Press. 978-0-89128-890-9

ander527 commented on April 27, 2016

I can relate to the struggles experienced by this team. I agree with Ruth that uPAR is an excellent tool for helping teams navigate the consideration process of reading accommodations, I use it often. Unfortunately, AT abandonment is real and it requires a team approach to make any tool implementation successful. I’m curious if there are any fine motor concerns with John utilizing the iPad independently. I’m also concerned that the team may not have the technical knowledge to promote the use of the device itself. Training for the team members including his paraprofessional is imperative. I think scaling down initially and focusing on one area of iPad usage, maybe accessing books would be a good start for the team.Then as they gain momentum in one area they can expand into teaching John to use other accessibility features of the product.

Sometimes we get so excited about the potential of everything that we fail to organize the implementation of anything. Finding ways to push in tech instruction throughout the day may also help. New tech tools require instruction and modeling just like any academic instructional level.  Developing an AT implementation plan that identifies in writing who is responsible for what could be helpful. I would also considering starting him with a few leisure books before jumping hard core into the academic content. This strategy may make him a believer in the tool. I do this a lot with reading tools, I start with high interest content thus “selling” the product to the student.


Ruth Ziolkowski commented on February 22, 2016

Great article. We have worked with Dr. Denise DeCoste to create a process as you mention. uPAR Universal Protocol for Accommodations in Reading does this process the big difference is that it can gather the data for groups of students which is so much more effective for schools. Even more importantly it goes to help educators and administrators at a system level the various needs of students. This in turn drives the need for accessible materials, change in teachers perceptions about what students CAN do and finally is changing students self efficacy. Students don't feel like they are the only student in need of these tools!