From MDE-LIO Education Consultant Amanda English

Have you ever been in this boat? You find out you have a functional vision, learning media, or orientation and mobility assessment that needs to be completed for a student who is Blind/Visually Impaired (BVI) in a few weeks, but you are not sure you have the materials to get started.

Assessments can feel nerve-racking if you don’t have the materials you need to begin. Below are brief descriptions of these assessments and a list of materials you might want in your toolbox to get started.

What Are These Assessments?

  • Functional vision assessment (FVA): This assessment examines how a child uses their vision to perform academic tasks and daily living skills.
  • Learning media assessment (LMA): This assessment assists the teacher in choosing a student’s literacy media.
  • Orientation and mobility (O&M) assessment: This assessment is used to determine a student’s orientation skills and travel needs in a variety of environments, both in the community and in the school setting.

Getting Started

Whether you start with the FVA or the LMA first is a personal decision. One thing is for certain: You will want documents to help you through the process. Here are some books and resources to explore:

If you’re not sure which resource to use or purchase, you can borrow many of the resources above from the Michigan Department of Education – Low Incidence Outreach (MDE-LIO) to make a decision. Visit the Blind/Visually Impaired Resource Library for more information.

Functional Vision Assessment Tools

Pre-Literacy: Many teachers graduated from their programs with charts to test near-vision and distance-vision acuity for students who can read letters and numbers. But what if your student is not yet literate? What can you use beyond a Snellen Acuity Chart? LEA Symbols are helpful for testing the acuity of young children. These symbols, designed by Ophthalmologist Dr. Lea Hyvärinen, have proven to work well for many children. Like the Snellen chart, the LEA Symbols are arranged on a graduated chart, starting with larger symbols at the top and decreasing in size as you move to the bottom. LEA puzzle pieces and flashcards are available to purchase with the apple, pentagon (house), circle, and square that will complement the graduated chart and give you a helpful teaching tool you can use prior to testing the child.

Color Vision Assessments: These assessments can be done with formal testing materials, such as the Ishihara Test or Farnsworth Color Vision Test, or with informal tests such as paint strips or swatches of primary colors. The Color Vision Made Easy assessment is a good test for younger students and can be used even if the child’s language skills are not fully developed. Have a young child trace the shapes with their finger if they are unable to name the shapes.

Figure-Ground Perception: This is the ability to perceive the foreground from the background in a visual array or picture. There are many ways to examine this, but Eye Spy books can be a fun option for students, as well as APH’s Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI) Complexity Sequence Kit. Ask students to point out one or two pictures and examine how long it takes them to find the objects. Do they find certain colors or sizes faster?

Background Color: A black or white cloth is helpful for reducing complexity and creating contrast. Having a patterned cloth is helpful to see if a child can locate items with more complex backgrounds.

Various-Sized Toys: I usually keep a few wind-up toys in my kit to help look at tracking, crossing midline, and hand-eye coordination, but many small toys ranging from a half inch to five inches may be useful. You can observe how the child engages with the toys close up and from a distance. Which item size can a child find from 20 feet away? Does the child slide their hand across the table to locate the item, or do they pick it up directly?

Measuring Distances: This can be done in a few ways. A tape measure is always helpful. To easily measure 20 feet for testing distance, I use a thin rope or yarn that is cut to 20 feet. I fold the string in half to find the 10-foot mark for students who cannot visually identify icons from 20 feet away. Fold the string in half again for five feet. I keep this in a folder that travels with me to every assessment.

Learning Media Assessment Tools

Print Media Options: In your toolkit, include varying levels and sizes of print for the student to read. I also usually bring a trade book that is around the student’s age level. Grab some of the student’s textbooks, too.

Rulers and Tape Measures: These are a good way to look at how well a child can see small increments. APH has large-print and tactile rulers you can use if needed.

Access to a Computer: This can also be handy for testing learning media. Examine how close the student needs to be from the screen and what size print is on the screen.

Orientation and Mobility Assessment Tools

Tape Measure: Be sure to have a good tape measure to capture cane heights or to document distances.

Balls, Rattles, and Toys with Bells: These items are always useful for catching a child’s interest and allowing you to examine their travel skills, assess their ability to see moving objects, and explore gross motor skills. Toys that can be pushed, such as a shopping cart, are helpful to use with small children when looking at their potential for traveling with an alternative mobility device or preparing for using a mobility tool.

Stair Travel: Assessing stair travel can be tricky if you are struggling to locate a set of stairs. We all know how challenging it can be to find a set of stairs with a sturdy rail. Here are some ideas:

  • Head to the playground or a gross motor room.
  • Look for stairs leading to stages in auditoriums or cafeterias.
  • There are often stairs at a student’s home, so this could be an option.
  • Find a local unfamiliar building you can use to assess the student that might have a safe staircase. Public libraries are often great places to find a set of stairs.

More Toolkit Ideas

If you are looking for more ideas of what to have in your kit, check out this FVLMA Kit Materials post from Teaching Students with Visual Impairments.

Upcoming Assessment Workshops from MDE-LIO

Starting this month, MDE-LIO will offer free online workshops all about essential assessments. Each webinar is free, but registration is required. Visit MDE-LIO BVI Events for more information.