What blindness really looks like

Blindness is rarely absolute. It's a spectrum.

A blurry, shaky-looking scene resembling several trees in the distance.

When most sighted people think “blindness,” they think of a world in total blackness. But, this is far from accurate. A variety of eye diseases, genetic disorders, and birth defects, as well as aging or suffering an injury, can interfere with healthy vision. And these visual impairments don’t all “look” the same.

Explore what 6 different types of blindness might look like below — then subscribe to our newsletter for insights and updates right to your inbox.

A dark image with a blurry dog’s face just barely visible in the center. Text: Glaucoma
A little girl on a swing next to her mother with a dark cloud obscuring the middle of the scene. Text: Macular degeneration
A yellowed scene of a mother helping her son roll dough in a kitchen partially obscured by blurry white spots. Text: Cataracts
A black-and-white and brightly lit scene of a dog and cat snuggling. Text: Achromatopsia
A scene of a father pushing his laughing young son around in a cardboard box partially obscured by a series of dark blurry spots. Text: Diabetic retinopathy
A dim and blurry scene of a green field, a pond, and trees. Text: Blindness is rarely absolute.

People who experience total darkness all the time have “total blindness” whereas those who may be able to see some light, colors, and/or shapes are commonly referred to as having “low vision.” You might have a blind or blurry spot in the middle of your field of vision. Or your peripheral vision may be impaired. Or maybe, your visual impairment may be one, or a unique combination, of a myriad of other possibilities. Therefore, blindness is a spectrum of visual impairments affecting millions of children and adults worldwide.

CVI: The leading cause of blindness in children

Cortical/Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) is the leading cause of blindness in children today.

CVI causes some to see the world as distorted and unrecognizable while others can focus but might struggle to understand what they see. It manifests differently for everyone. Here are a few examples of what several people with CVI experience:

Tina has CVI in addition to 20/100 vision, nystagmus, and optic nerve atrophy. Image by Tina Zhu Xi Caruso
Omer cannot see faces, so he must rely on other identifiers, like hairstyles or voices, to recognize people he knows.
When she’s fatigued, Dagbjört’s vision becomes comparable to a view looking through a straw.
Some experience visual field loss in upper, lower, left, or right fields. In Krish’s case, he cannot see below eye level.

Often, people associate blindness with ocular — or eye — impairment. However, CVI is neurological. For kids with CVI, the eye’s connection to and in the brain doesn’t work correctly. There isn’t a cure for CVI, but a child’s ability to use his or her vision may improve with the right assessment and educational programming.

This is why Perkins is hard at work designing new ways to teach kids who have CVI. And, we’re dedicated to supporting their parents, educating teachers, and collaborating with experts to reach more kids with CVI where they are today.

To help us reach these families and to help them reach each other, we created CVI Now, a website and Facebook Group to help families understand CVI, learn how to help their children every day, and find other families who share their experience.

What learning with CVI looks like

A student touching a light up board with touch sensors with a teacher
This is one way we teach kids with the leading cause of blindness, by controlling light and contrast using specialized equipment.

A student looking at different colored cylinders on a bright desk
The right tools and techniques make it possible for our teachers to help kids retrain their brain to understand what their eyes see.

A student looking at a light bulb inside a clear vase filled with water
If caught early, kids with CVI can often improve the use of their vision through controlled environments, use of color and contrast and the dedicated attention of a teacher trained to address this kind of visual impairment.

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Every month, #FridayForward looks at the unique challenges in the world of disabilities and visual impairment, and the people who are working to solve them. Subscribe today to learn how you can help build a more inclusive, accessible world.


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