2 images: Student sitting on a stack of books reading and listening to a book on a phone with ear buds.

Dual media or multimedia?

Which is the most appropriate?

Dual Media is the traditional term for students with visual impairments who have the ability to read print and braille. Some dual media students prefer print (regular print, large print, or magnified print) while other students prefer braille. Ideally, the individual student will know which reading medium to use for a specific task at a specific time. As an educator, I often see the term “dual media” used on media assessments, IEPs and other paperwork. The “dual media” term leads me to think that a combination of print and braille is best practice for students with visual impairments. Is this still true in 21st century classrooms?

Multimedia is defined as “content that uses a combination of different content forms such as text, audio, images, animations, video and interactive content. Multimedia contrasts with media that use only rudimentary computer displays such as text-only or traditional forms of printed or hand-produced material.” (Wikipedia’s definition of multimedia) All general education students are using technology with multimedia formats; digital/online textbooks, educational resources and assessments have all embraced multimedia formats. Do our Learning Media Assessments, IEPs, and even daily work reflect multimedia best practices?

Replace dual media with multimedia?

When we use the term “dual media” it seems that the term automatically sets the limit to two formats (in the VI world those formats are traditional print and braille), while “multimedia” broadens to accept more than two formats. Please do not misunderstand – students learn to read using print and/or braille! However, do we need to limit students to only print or braille? Should audio (listening to text) be an acceptable format for absorbing new information?

Take a minute and consider educational resources for young children – preschoolers are being introduced to educational apps before they know how to read. What do these apps have in common? The apps tend to have fun songs and sounds, uncluttered backgrounds, bright colors, and repetitive activities/learning. This sounds good for students with visual impairments, right? These apps are not limited to only text (print). Even emerging reader apps which introduce letters and words have “multimedia” format. In the classroom, static chalkboards and dry erase boards have been replaced by engaging interactive whiteboards. Students are being taught through these interactive tools and popular educational resources include multimedia formats such as videos and interactive tutorials! As students master reading and writing, they begin to create their own multimedia PowerPoint presentations that often include videos and images.

Mainstream listening

Today’s “on-the-go” society embraces a variety of auditory formats, including audio books, podcasts and digital assistants (Alexa or Google Home) as people who are commuting, running/exercising or multitasking. Vehicles are now equipped with Car Play or Android Auto for hands and eyes-free connection to your smart phone or in-car technology.

Podcasts – on demand audio content series – topics range from recreational topics to self-help to in-depth learning. Podcasts officially began in 2004; currently there are more than 700,000 active podcasts with over 29 million episodes. (Podcasts Statistics, 2020)

Listening to glean important information is not just for students who are visually impaired!

Benefits of listening for students who are visually impaired

Are there benefits from solid listening skills? You bet! Let’s dive a little deeper into how listening skills can be a “super power” for students who are visually impaired. It is common for students who are visually impaired to have extended time and modified assignments due to the time these students may require to complete the same task as their peers. While this might work in the K-12 classroom, this need for extra time is detrimental in competitive work environments. Is YOUR student on target with his reading rate compared to his peers?

Reading rates

The statistics for college-bound students who are not visually impaired vary: average college reading silent rate is 350 wpm with “good” reading speed around 500 – 700 wpm (nwmissourri.edu) while Reading Horizons  states 12th grade silent reading rate 250 words per minute.  There is limited research on reading speeds for students who low vision and students who read braille. Low vision students are 1.5 – 2 times slower than their sighted peers (Gomple, Van Bon, & Schreuder, 2004) and braille students are one third to one half the reading rate of their sighted peers. (Ferrell, Mason, Young, & Cooney, 2006). While high school students using compressed speech (screen readers) average 350 – 550 words per minute; good screen readers users run around 700+ wpm.

So what does this actually mean when it comes to plowing through textbooks and assigned reading texts?

The classic book, Moby Dick has 206,052 words:

Now, tack on 1.5x or so for students who are visually impaired who are reading print or braille. So a good reader (without visual impairments) and a good screen reader have a huge advantage over readers who are typically significantly slower.

Just think about a book like War and Peace, which is 587,287 words!


Print and braille will never become obsolete; however, audio is the new kid on the block! Just like libraries with print books have expanded to become full “Media Centers”, we – professionals in the vision field – should update our language and our thought process from dual learners to multimedia learners. Our students should be successful in a variety of modes (print, braille, and audio) in order to access all 21st Century multimedia formats (podcasts, videos, PowerPoints, interactive tutorials, online textbooks, assessments, etc.) This transition begins with recognizing that there are more than two formats for reading and gleaning information! It is all about providing tools in the toolbox that will enable our students to be successful in school and competitive in work environments!

Additional resources

By Diane Brauner

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