Technology is leveling the playing field for students with visual impairments and blindness. Accessibility features are being built into mainstream devices; enabling any device to be instantly customized to meet each student’s unique needs. With digital materials, students with visual impairments can access materials at the same time as their peers – without waiting for the materials to be converted to braille. Classroom teachers can instantly access their student’s work without waiting for the work to be transcribed into print. Refreshable braille displays provide digital materials in braille for students whose preferred learning medium is braille. This braille output is especially important when it comes to digital math. Students with visual impairments have instant access to digital books and internet content; students can read, create, edit and collaborate using word documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
There are growing pains as classrooms transition to online and digital educational resources and assessments. Tech and software developers are collaborating with educators to resolve the remaining issues of making digital diagrams, charts and graphs fully accessible. Besides including appropriate alternative text descriptions, new developments such as full screen braille displays and interactive diagrams on touch screen devices are being developed and field tested. In recent years, software has been released that enables users to navigate and glean information from charts and graphs – including the use of sonification which provides a “glance” or overview of the image. As technology and software applications continue to evolve, there will be additional solutions to these issues.
In this post, we will look at tech skills for both general education students and students who are visually impaired. The goals listed for visually impaired students lean towards students who use a screen reader. Best practice dictates that most students with low vision will benefit from a screen reader. These students should receive screen reader training early on and should not wait until the high reading demands in high school and college make readers a necessity.
Students with visual impairments and blindness should be expected to master the same tech goals at the same time as their peers. TSVIs will need to pre-teach commands and concepts that are unique to screen readers and/or magnification software in order for students to successfully access educational materials in mainstream classrooms. TSVIs will also need to teach students with visual impairments how to trouble shoot and how to stay current with devices and applications. Technology will continue to evolve and improve; tech goals will also evolve. The school closures during the pandemic had a huge impact on educational technology causing even kindergarten-level tech goals to become more robust.
An assistive technology assessment should be done prior to purchasing equipment and software and periodically updated as the student progresses. It is important for the TSVI to document the student’s tech skills, preferred tech features/accessibility settings, and needs. The TSVI should also learn how to use the device/software and ideally should receive training on the device/application and how to teach the skills at an age-appropriate level to the student. Not all TSVIs are tech savvy and comfortable with learning and teaching assistive technology. Many students are now receiving remote instruction for their assistive technology.
Students with visual impairments and blindness should be expected to master or exceed the same reading speed and keyboarding speed as their peers. Yes, exceed their peers! Students who regularly use a screen reader should push for faster screen reader speech speeds. Being able to listen to auditory text at high rates of speed is a ‘superhero’ skill for visually impaired students.
Updated information about reading speeds: Do You Read Fast Enough to Be Successful? Forbes article states an increase in reading rates of average students and adults with vision:
Previously taught in upper elementary school, keyboarding is now being introduced in kindergarten with finger positioning and basic touch typing. Finger dexterity of young students will improve throughout elementary school grades.
While keyboarding benchmarks vary, the following are general grade level typing benchmarks:
3rd grade: 85% – 100% accuracy, 15 WPM
4th grade: 90% – 100% accuracy, 20 WPM
5th grade: 90% – 100% accuracy, 25 WPM
6th grade: 90% – 100% accuracy, 30 WPM
According to typing.com last updated 8/29/22.
High school students should be typing at least 60 words per minute.
The following are standard, general tech skills for all students in general education classrooms – skills are not specifically for students with visual impairments. These skills should be engrained into every student’s daily tech use – across a variety of devices. Students with visual impairments and blindness should have the same tech proficiencies as their sighted peers.
The skills listed below are general tech skills – most of which have been taught and mastered in earlier grades – and are critical tech skills that students should have before graduation.
The Common Core State Standards K-12 Technology Skills Scope and Sequence is an excellent resource that breaks tech standards into categories, each with specific skills listed; all skills are further broken down by grade levels. The Scope and Sequence lists 47 tech skills for secondary students (students in 6th grade – 12th grade). Out of these 47 skills only 5 of these skills are “reinforced” in 9th grade and mastered by 10th grade. The other 42 skills are mastered before entering high school. Please refer to the Scope and Sequence for a more detailed list of tech skills expected to be mastered in high school for general education students.
Research indicates that it takes three years to truly master a tech skill. The first year Introduces the skill, the second year Reinforces the skills, and the third year Masters the skill.
In addition to the general education tech skills listed above, students with visual impairments should also master these tech skills:
The Common Core State Standards K-12 Technology Skills Scope and Sequence lists 39 tech skills for elementary students (students in kindergarten through 5th grade). No new skills are listed in 4th or 5th grade and 29 the total skills are mastered by the end of 4th grade.
The following general categories are standard tech skills for all students in mainstream classrooms. Students should be independent and proficient with the following tech skills:
Tech goals for visually impaired students in early elementary school may focus on one device or a device paired with a braille device and/or external keyboard. However, students should know computer basics before middle school and should be proficient on a computer and multiple devices before high school. Students should know which device and accessibility settings to use for which activity/goal. Students should be able to accomplish the same classroom tasks as peers using gestures, keyboard commands, and if appropriate, braille display commands or zoom/magnification commands.
By 5th grade, students should understand their unique eye condition and be able to describe how various tech features/applications help them access educational materials in the classroom and at home. Students should be learning to self-advocate for accessible materials and communicate directly with classroom teachers. Students should take ownership of their devices, the care of their devices, and be able to problem-solve tech issues.
By the end of 5th grade, students with visual impairments tech skills should also include:
High stakes assessments begin in third grade and are no longer traditional paper and pencil assessments. These online assessments require that students have mastered basic tech skills by the end of third grade in order to access the assessments. Research indicates that it takes 3 years to fully master individual tech skills. The first year is introduction, the second year is reinforcing and the third year is mastery, which is often defined as the ability to teach others. High stake assessments are driving the need for tech mastery by the end of third grade. Students need to know how to navigate through items on the page, select items, use radio buttons, complete short answers, navigate tables and charts, use alt text/image descriptions, navigate through the assessment pages/app, etc. Some assessments require additional commands such as drag and drop.
Currentlymany assessments have built-in accessibility features and claim to be accessible with a screen reader, the questions with visual images – especially math – may or may not be fully accessible in a digital format and may require supplemental braille tactile graphics.
By third grade, students are no longer learning gestures and commands; instead, they are using their tech skills to access applications and complete assignments.
By third grade, the items that were introduced in kindergarten should be mastered. In addition:
Keep in mind that it takes three years to master individual tech skills. Tech skills should be introduced in kindergarten or preschool; the student should have these tech skills mastered by the end of third grade.
Touch screen devices such as smart phones and tablets have been game changers for preschool and kindergarten students. Students with vision are now entering kindergarten with independent technology skills. They are using smart phones and tablets to access educational games, videos, and websites. This early-on exposure to tech has completely altered the expectations of when and what tech should be mastered for students with visual impairments!
Students with visual impairments should ENTER kindergarten with basic tech skills, including screen reader skills. This places the responsibility of introducing access technology to the preschool TSVI, K12 TSVI working the preschooler and/or family members. Using age-appropriate apps, students with visual impairments should be introduced to tech with basic screen reader skills in preschool.
Kindergarten: General education
Let’s take a look once again at the popular Common Core State Standards K-12 Technology Skills Scope and Sequence. This year, more items have been added to the evolving Scope and Sequence, especially under the Digital Citizenship category. According to the Scope and Sequence, kindergarten students are introduced to:
The majority of preschool and kindergarten students begin on a tablet or smart phone; however, some students will start on a computer or braille notetaker.
There are checklists available for gesture commands, Bluetooth keyboard commands and braille display commands. These cheat sheets and checklists can be found on Paths to Technology, on the individual device/application websites and through internet searches. Use these command cheat sheets and checklists when teaching these commands and for recording student progress.
Ideally, students should be introduced to a refreshable braille display (if appropriate) and/or a Bluetooth keyboard paired with their touch screen device. Students should be familiar with the basic commands for these peripheral devices.
Keyboarding is introduced in kindergarten, starting with the Home Row. Keyboarding is not typing using the on-screen keyboard on a tablet. Students with visual impairments can use Bluetooth keyboard paired with their tablet and should be introduced to learning the keyboard commands (with or without the screen reader). Students who are emerging braille readers should learn the braille display commands and reading and writing braille using the braille display. It is critical for these students to have access to braille (traditional print braille and refreshable braille) along with developing auditory/listening skills. It’s all about tools in the toolbox!
Editor’s Note: Many educational resources were reviewed to identify what tech should be mastered and when these goals should be mastered. Long-term research on tech skills for students with visual impairments is not yet available and technology continues to evolve rapidly. The goals mentioned in this post were the common goals overlapping from a variety of educational sources. If the goals were taken from a specific website, the link to that website is include with the information.
Educational technology goals will continue to evolve as more educational resources – including digital textbooks and online assessments – are developed, more schools become paperless and as research becomes available. Stay tuned for updates as tech goals evolve!
(Original article published 8/21/2017; updated 1/27/23 and updated again 09/27/23)
By Diane Brauner
Back to Paths to Technology Home page