2020: The Year in Which Education Changed

As we begin a new year, our thoughts turn to reviewing the previous year and thinking about New Year’s resolutions. On January 3, 2020, Paths to Technology posted TVI and O&M Professional New Year’s Resolution which discussed four professional goals for 2020:

  1. Personal Assistive Technology Skills
  2. Joining Professional groups and participating
  3. Collaborating to Improve our Field
  4. Step Back (Provide opportunities for students to develop independence and self-advocacy!

Five days later, the CDC issued its first public alert about the coronavirus.

Coronavirus Impact on Education Timeline (Spring 2020)

  • January 8, 2020: CDC issued its first public alert about the coronavirus
  • January 20, 2020: First recorded U.S. case of the new coronavirus (American citizen traveling from Wuhan, China to Washington State.)
  • March 11, 2020: More than 1 million U.S. students impacted by school closures
  • March 13, 2020: 16 states closed all public-school buildings
  • March 16, 2020: 27 states closed all public-school buildings
  • March 25, 2020: All U.S. public-school buildings closed
  • April 17, 2020: More than half of US public schools announced  that school buildings would be closed for the rest of the school year
  • May 6, 2020: Nearly all states close schools for the academic year (exceptions: Wyoming and Montana)
  • May 7, 2020: Remote learning becomes commonplace

Source: Time line Education Week

As the pandemic spread and schools closed, there was a radical transformation to remote instruction. For some, this happened literally overnight. COVID-19 forced institutions into using technology without the luxury of research and best practice guidelines. During those early days - when it was believed that school closures would be a temporary two week procedure -educators were scrambling to transition to remote instruction. As schools were closing, many TVIs were frantically gathering and dispersing AT and educational support materials for students to use at home. It quickly became apparent that schools would be closed for the end of the school year and districts began rolling out new classroom management platforms and educational applications to support distance learning. For many educators, using technology was a new experience. Educators had to spend countless hours constructing new materials in new formats for online instruction. Teachers of the visually impaired had to deal with making these new materials accessible (in a digital or tactile format) for students, teach the students how to access these digital materials using assistive technology (for those students who were not proficient in using AT), and how to deal with online resources that were not fully accessible. Students with visual impairments had an additional hurdle as parents and family members were typically not familiar with AT.

The pandemic crisis also gives opportunities for change.

Pandemic Changes

  • TVIs and COMS networking and actively participating with social media groups and online communities
  • Increase in webinars/virtual meetings/online resources for TVIs and students (locally, across the U.S. and Internationally)
  • Increase in TVI/COMS participation in social media groups and online discussions
  • Paths to Technology created the Resource Library with accessible digital books, non-visual digital maps, and lessons for students with visual impairments
  • More students with 1:1 technology and the ability to use their school-issued tech at home
  • Publishers and companies provided their educational applications for free during school closures
  • Numerous TVIs, COMS and VI-related agencies opened online classes to students outside of their school/agency
  • Awareness of accessibility needs and increase in app development accessibility (including new applications specifically for students with visual impairments)
  • Students’ tech skills and independence improved
  • Students with low vision embraced additional tools such as read aloud and screen readers (increased screen time caused an increase in eye fatigue, requiring the need for additional AT)
  • Higher parent involvement in education for students with visual impairments (and awareness of and advocacy for accessibility)
  • COMS embraced more digital tools to support O&M-related concept development and independent living skills for the 21st century traveler


New applications in 2020 for students with visual impairments

Note: Prior to COVID-19 kindergarten students with vision entered kindergarten with independent, age-appropriate tech skills and there was a push for rising students with visual impairments to have similar tech skills prior to kindergarten. With remote instruction, ALL students – including kindergarten students – need strong tech skills in order to participate in virtual classes. It’s exciting to see that several developers have created accessible apps in 2020 specifically for young students with visual impairments!

In addition, 2020 brought new accessible map software that enables educators and COMS to create customized non-visual digital maps that can be used in mainstream classrooms and for O&M purposes. The initial maps were used in the spring/summer of 2020 to help rising freshman with orientation to college campuses. Note: the Paths to Technology Resource Library has a section dedicated to teacher-created customized accessible maps (and map lesson plans!) that can be downloaded at no cost!

2020 and 2021 Professional Resolutions

How did you do with the 2020 professional resolutions? Did the pandemic give you a push towards accomplishing the resolutions below? How did 2020 change the way you teach?

  1. Personal Assistive Technology Skills
  2. Joining Professional groups and participating
  3. Collaborating to Improve our Field
  4. Step Back (Provide opportunities for students to develop independence and self-advocacy!




Read more about: Assistive Technology