CVI: Access to People

Learn about the how CVI impacts access to people, what this assessment area looks at, general ideas for accommodations, and what we’re learning from current research.

Written by: Rachel Bennett

Access the video transcript

At Perkins, we are a gathering place of ideas. The CVI visual behaviors synthesize current research and build on the work of leading theorists in the field. CVI is a lifelong disability and we want to ensure that all individuals with CVI are fully understood. The CVI visual behaviors are an ongoing need, they can change and they can improve for some, but the need never goes away. No one area is separated from the other—the CVI visual behaviors are highly connected and all can impact the individual with CVI at any time.

What is Access to People?

Some people with CVI may have difficulty or inability to:

  • look at faces and make eye contact.
  • recognize faces. 
  • interpret facial expressions or understand facial cues.
  • understand body language, mood, visual cues (e.g. slumped shoulders), and gestures (e.g. high-fives, handshake).
  • identify familiar people in photographs.
  • understand the speed, distance, and direction that someone is coming toward them. 
  • follow fast movement—including being able to follow people walking towards them, as well as communication signs and gestures.
  • respond appropriately within social situations

The difficulty with access to people can cause social anxiety, reduced self-image, and self-esteem. 

I missed social cues, I misinterpreted people’s reactions and I couldn’t always recognise the person that was talking to me… I often found it difficult to process what people were saying, especially if I was in a visually cluttered environment, or if there were too many people involved in the conversation.

Nicola McDowell, “CVI and mental health

What are some compensatory strategies related to Access to People?

Many with CVI build incredible strategies to recognize others when they can’t recognize faces or recognize emotions, or when they can’t interpret facial expressions. Some of these strategies include:

I can see everything about [people], except their faces. When I’m at a party, I’ll see people but I won’t see their faces so it’s very hard for me to see who they are.

Young adult with CVI

What are some look fors/questions when observing your child with CVI?

I can’t see pedestrians moving. I’m quite likely to bump into them. Or suddenly there’s a person in my face and I’m still walking and I have no idea what to do to avoid them, so it can be very stressful to even just walk along a sidewalk.

Student with CVI

What are some examples of adaptations and accommodations? 

All accommodations must be based on individual assessments. The following are meant to inspire and provide a general idea. Accommodations and instructional approaches must be student-specific. Access is individual. 

Examples from a guide to common CVI IEP accommodations:

Prosopagnosia is not only the inability to recognize faces, it can also involve experiencing faces as twisted and contorted… trying to look at people made it impossible for me to pay attention to what they were saying. If I really wanted to hear them, I had to tune out visually.

Nai, “On Social Anxiety and Cultural Norms”

Following the science

Connecting current research on the brain, our visual system, and CVI to better understand the CVI visual behaviors.

Learn more about the diverse ways CVI can impact face and object recognition from Dr. Corinna Bauer’s webinar on Ventral Stream Functions in CVI: Object and Face Perception.

Until I learned about my son’s CVI, I never knew why he didn’t recognize me when I came into a room or came to pick him up at school. Why he went up to strangers thinking they were me or his dad. If I’m standing in a group of people, he’ll go up to each of us until he can find me. If I stay quite in a room at home, he won’t know I’m there until I say something.

CVI parent
A short video about face blindness. Filmmaker James Robinson shows us how Paul navigates social interactions, his strategies for managing face-blindness and how society can better respond to the needs of people living with the condition. Paul uses secondary traits to support recognition of people like how they walk and their pitch and tone of voice. But he also needs someone to introduce themselves and say how they are connected; for example, “We met at the Blue Moon restaurant or talked about Ulysses for an hour.”


Boy creates a vase of flower

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