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  • The Dyslexia Initiative

Alfabet Soop (April, 2020)

Amy Traynor, OTR, M.A., ATP

A column dedicated to facilitating an understanding of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and Assistive Technology (AT) and what each might look like for individuals with dyslexia.

Released in the April, 2020, Issue 2 of The Dyslexia Revolution,

the quarterly newsletter by The Dyslexia Initiative

The introduction of this column, dedicated to facilitating an understanding of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and Assistive Technology (AT) and what each might look like for individuals with dyslexia, could not have been more impeccably timed. As we are all forced to embrace a “new school normal” the need for understanding of UDL, AT and how technology can support ALL learners has been highlighted and I suspect will lead to positive changes in the future. But, for now, we are in the midst of an unexpected transition to virtual learning platforms undoubtedly revealing the precise needs as we sort out what the “new normal” will be and for how long.

What is Universal Design for Learning? First laid out in the 1990's by Anne Meyer and David Rose, UDL principles have now, as of the passing of the Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) in December 2015, been endorsed and defined in the nation’s general K-12 education law. As found on CAST (2016), the definition found in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 was adopted by ESSA to include “Universal Design for Learning (UDL) means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that (A) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the way students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and (B) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient”. In short, they are a researched-based set of principles to guide the design of learning environments that are accessible and effective for ALL; designed to minimize barriers and maximize learning.

And Assistive Technology? Firmly rooted in IDEA 2004 is the requirement that every child must be “considered” for assistive technology (AT) and that devices, services or both are made available to a child with a disability if required as a part of the child’s special education, related service or supplementary aids and services. So what exactly IS AT? IDEA defines assistive technology device as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” IDEA 2004 also references UDL law and regulations as outlined in the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 which states “The term ‘universal design’ means a concept of philosophy for designing and delivering product and services that are usable by people with the widest possible range of functional capabilities, which include products and services that are directly accessible (without requiring assistive technologies) and products and services that are made usable with assistive technologies.” Most significantly to our students with dyslexia, with the 2004 revision of IDEA included the added provision that all students who are blind and individuals with print disabilities in elementary schools and secondary schools have access to print instructional materials-including textbooks- in accessible format, free of charge.

BIG picture regarding the relationship of UDL and AT is this: with AT, it (services/devices) is for the individual to help overcome barriers existing in the curriculum, environment, etc,, where UDL focus is on the learning environment for all students with the purpose of reducing barriers and embedding flexibility from the initial design of environment, curriculum, etc.

You might be asking yourself, so what? Why is this important? The use of technology, whether provided through UDL framework or as AT, is not to take the place of direct and explicit instruction but rather provide access to grade-level and course curriculum while skills are being developed through explicit reading and/or writing instruction (Hecker & Engstrom, 2005). No surprise to anyone reading this article, that dyslexia is a high-incidence disability. A recent research study, The National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (Bouck, 2016), reveals WHY UDL and/or AT is important. When analyzing post-secondary outcomes for students with high-incidence disabilities, the study revealed that those who received AT performed significantly better than those not receiving AT.


Graduation 99.8% 79.6%

Postsecondary enrollment 80.9% 40.1%

Paying job 80% 50.8%

(Table from Leading the Way to Excellence in AT Service: A guide for school administrators (p. 2) by Gayl Bowser and Penny R. Reed, 2018, Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing. Copyright 2018 by CAST, Inc.)

The purpose of education is to prepare for life after high-school and this study exemplifies why AT should be considered and provided at all levels of education; to provide our students with high-incidence disabilities the opportunity to learn what works for them and develop the independence and advocacy needed to support continued post-secondary success.

Through the implementation of UDL framework and more technology options provided to all individuals across many platforms, it is highly likely that what your student NEEDS is already at their fingertips! Putting them into play does not require an ‘assistive technology evaluation’ and in the coming issues, we will move past the legal foundation for how the provisions are made and will begin to address what UDL/AT tools support specific barriers individuals with dyslexia often experience and how to ensure your learner is provided what they need for success.

Article References:


Assistive Technology Act of 1998, as amended, Section 3, 29 U.S.C. 3002.

Bouck, Emily C (2016). A National Snapshot of Assistive Technology for Students with Disabilities. Journal of Special Education Technology, 31(1).

Bowser, G. & Reed, P.R. (2018). Leading the Way to Excellence in AT Service: A guide for school administrators. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.

CAST (2016). UDL in the ESSA. Retrieved from

Hecker, L. and Engstrom, E. U., (2005). Assistive Technology and Individuals with Dyslexia. Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, 2nd Edition, A Course Companion Web Site from Brookes Publishing.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA)

Amy Traynor, OTR, M.A., ATP: Amy is an occupational therapist, assistive technology professional, and most proud of her role as mom. She began her occupational therapy career in August 2000, committed to success and participation for ALL students in the school setting. Most of her 20 years supporting students in public schools were focused on assistive technology supports for literacy and physical access. As a parent of a child with dyslexia, she has a deep understanding and appreciation for the role technology plays for students who learn differently. Amy is also the founder of E2 Alliance, LLC, providers for educational consultation, evaluation, advocacy and training. Given her commitment as a parent advocate, the National Center for Learning Disabilities has contracted with Amy to lead their Texas Parent Advisory and Advocacy Council. Feel free to share thoughts or ask questions by emailing Amy at

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