Paths to Literacy

for students who are blind or visually impaired

Overview of Learning Media Assessment

Overview of Learning Media Assessment

A girl and her teacher look at a book with bright colors and sounds.

The Learning Media Assessment (LMA) offers a framework for selecting appropriate literacy media for a student who is visually impaired.  A Functional Vision Assessment (FVA) should be done first, in order to determine what the student is able to see and how he or she is using his or her vision. These two assessments should be used together to help to guide the team decision about the best instructional medium for a given student, such as braille, print, dual media (both print and braille), auditory, tactile or some combination.

Learning Media Assessment...

  • is an assessment for selecting the appropriate literacy media for students with visual impairments.  "Literacy media" refers to the way in which students access the general education curriculum and includes braille, print, auditory strategies, objects, and pictures.

  • offers teachers and educational teams a framework or decision-making process for the selection of literacy media.

  • provides a decision and monitoring tool for both conventional and functional literacy for students with visual impairments.

  • involves a team process and the collation of medical, educational, family and student-supplied data to make informed decisions.

What exactly does the LMA assess?

The LMA assesses a student's learning style, or the way in which he or she uses vision, touch, hearing, and other senses, either singularly or in combination, to gain access to information. This is where LMA has often been misunderstood.  One of the key things that is assessed is the student's learning style, which is particularly useful when working with young children with visual impairments.

Where and when should the LMA be done?

The LMA scale should begin no later than age 3, when a child begins the transition to preschool. It should be updated annually and/or as visual functioning changes.

This scale can be used academically for students who are in the general education curriculum and proceeding along an academic track. However, it should also be used with children with more complex disabilities in looking at functional literacy.

LMA takes a broad definition of literacy, which includes reading and writing in some form, such as using drawing or  expressive communication.  Some Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVIs) only look at the braille/print decision, but the Learning Media Assessment goes much further than that to look at the preferred sensory channels of ALL students.

Why perform Learning Media Assessments?

The primary reason to perform a Learning Media Assessment is to ensure that all children have access to literacy and to education.  In addition, Braille Bills require the determination of literacy media exist at both the Federal and State level. These various Braille bills assume that Braille is the modality to be used unless otherwise demonstrated through appropriate assessment. Learning Media Assessment offers the tool to make that determination and monitor it over time.

For instance, the Legislative Changes in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), which was just re-authorized, states the following about Braille:

  • "Consideration of Special Factors: The IEP Team also shall -

(iii) In the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP Team determines, after a determination of the child's reading and writing skills, needs and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child's future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child." 34 CFR Section 300.346 (a) (2) (iii) and 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)

What does this mean?

This means that TVI's have to prove that, at that particular point in time, a student with visual impairments does not need braille. There exists a false assumption that every child who is blind or visually impaired needs braille. A Learning Media Assessment is designed to help TVI's make that determination. Teachers of the Visually Impaired really have to disprove the need for braille. TVI's should therefore be documenting that a child with, for example, cortical visual impairment or severe cerebral palsy, does not need braille, but needs to be evaluated with an LMA and can learn in other ways. The key point here is that TVI's document that their students do not need braille, but that they do need other intervention.

LMA's Primary Goals, as outlined by Koenig and Holbrook:

  • "Examine efficiency with which student gathers information from various sensory channels"
  • Types of general learning media the student uses, or will use to accomplish learning tasks
  • "The literacy media the student will use for reading and writing" (Koenig, Holbrook, 6)


Learning Media Assessment Presentation 
 by Tom Miller, Perkins School for the Blind

Photograph of Tom Miller standing to present about LMA.This presentation by Tom Miller details the many aspects of the Learning Media Assessment given by Teachers of the Visually Impaired. Tom delves into the LMA itself and gives detailed descriptions of the individual forms in the assessment itself.  Power point slides

To view a video of the presentation, see: Learning Media Assessment.

Using the Learning Media Assessment to Guide Educational Planning

Once a Learning Media Assessment has been performed, the team should gather to weigh various considerations in order to determine what medium is most appropriate for each student.  Some students may learn better through a tactile mode and thus braille may be recommended, while others have sufficient vision to learn to read print.  Still others may benefit from dual media, in which they learn both print and braille.  For other students auditory channels may be the most appropriate.

For more information about Learning Media Assessment, see also:

Braille/Print Literacy Issues and the Learning Media Assessment
By Eva Lavigne and Ann Adkins, TSBVI Outreach; See/Hear (Spring 2003)

Parents and teachers of students with visual impairments often have questions about how the choice is made regarding a student's literacy medium. They express concerns about whether a student should be primarily a print reader or a Braille reader, and want to know how and when decisions about reading media are made.  This article explains what a Learning Media Assessment is, and how it is used in planning for an individual student.

Clarification Regarding the Choice of Braille as a Reading and Writing Medium
By Dr. Phil Hatlen, TSBVI; See/Hear (Winter 2001)

Dr. Hatlen discusses how the choice is made among learning media.

LMA collage