Adapting your home or school environment for someone with a cerebral visual impairment

5 June 2019

People with a cerebral visual impairment can face a range of difficulties in their daily life.

WESC Foundation’s Research Scientist, Dr Jonathan Waddington, has collected some ideas for simple adaptations in the home or school environment that can help these young people overcome barriers to independence (adaptations should always be made with the specific needs and abilities of the individual in mind but there are some common themes that you can consider).

Reducing background clutter and noise

Too much visual information can be overwhelming for someone with a cerebral visual impairment so background clutter and decorations should be kept to a minimum. In some cases a plain coloured tent or “CVI Den” surrounding the individual can be used as an easy way to block visual clutter.

Household items or classroom equipment can be kept out of sight when not in use. Here at WESC Foundation we try and keep rooms clear by keeping objects in clearly labelled storage or behind plain curtains.

If you are able to make changes to the room itself then you might consider using plain colour rather than patterns when planning flooring, wall coverings, and fabric coverings. Keep room layouts clear, minimising furniture to maximise space available for movement, and inform individuals with visual impairment if furniture has to be moved.

Background noise can also make processing visual information more difficult when learning to build visual behaviour so creating a quiet and calming environment is usually preferred.

Lighting, contrast and positioning

Reduced clarity of vision, reduced contrast sensitivity, and reduced visual fields are common symptoms of a cerebral visual impairment. This means you should carefully consider the use of lighting, contrast, and positioning in the home or school environment.

Natural light has many beneficial features but is not easy to control. It is important to have a good, even illumination when attempting tasks that require functional vision.

Try using a combination of dimmable lighting and task lighting to tailor the levels of artificial light. You might want to consider the individual’s needs, the activities being undertaken, and also how much natural light is available in the room. One of the downsides of lighting is glare, and high-gloss areas should be avoided. Focal light sources can be diffused with lamp shades for light fittings or vertical blinds for windows, which can help prevent any involuntary light gazing behaviour.

How can contrast help someone with a cerebral visual impairment?

Contrasts in colour and brightness allow us to see where one object ends and another begins. It can be used to raise awareness of obstacles, landmarks, important information, or small usable objects such as switches.

Examples of this might include painting skirting boards and door frames a colour that contrasts the neighbouring walls and floor. This will help boundaries to stand out, aiding orientation around the environment.

Next steps

This list is just a starting point, as no one person is going to have all the actions for creating accessible environments for people with cerebral visual impairments.

We recommend a collaborative approach involving teachers, parents, low vision specialists, and the individuals themselves to come up with ideas that might really help them to overcome environmental barriers to independence.

If you have any ideas or experience that you would like to share then why not get in touch?

Email Jonathan Waddington

About the author

Official staff photo of Jonathan Waddington

Jonathan Waddington works as a research scientist at WESC Foundation. He has a research background in neuroscience and completed his PhD thesis investigating how eye movements optimise visual perception.

His current research interest focuses on understanding the impact of cerebral visual impairments on children and young people, and working with our CVI Range team to develop interventions and adaptations to aid habilitation.

He has published papers on the participatory design, development, and evaluation of a computer game to improve functional vision for children and young people with partial visual field loss such as hemianopia.

Combining research with the multi-professional support available in special education practice, his aim is to develop an evidence base for teachers and therapists to draw on when supporting children and young people with visual impairment.


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