What is CVI?

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Person: Mary

Mary (CVI Classification 3) writes:

Shopping (in a busy supermarket)Shopping (in a busy supermarket)

Supermarkets are one of the most challenging environments I have to deal with. Visually, I can only focus on one specific location or object at a time that pops out to me, before my gaze is pulled away to something else. In this picture, I was drawn to the red £2 and it was difficult to pull away from this to look at the rest of the scene. So, I ended up jumping from the sign to something else and then back to the sign again, which made it difficult to build up the whole scene. It's not that I can't see the rest of the visual scene, it just doesn't exist.

I am only be aware of one visual element at a time. There is also so much sensory information to process at supermarkets on top of all the visual information - different noises and smells, that distract me from moving around and finding the items I am looking for. Just heading into a supermarket makes me feel anxious. The more anxious I become, the less I am able to see. But when I am unable to find something I am looking for, the more anxious I become. A never-ending cycle that is difficult to stop.

Learning (in a classroom)Learning (in a classroom)

I remember finding classrooms difficult when I was at school, especially when they had lots of pictures and clutter all over the walls. I would find it difficult to concentrate on what was being taught, and my gaze would constantly be drawn to different visual elements around the room. Copying information off a board was almost impossible, as I would never be able to find the place I had been up to before I looked down at my book to write it down. If there was more than one person talking I would also find it difficult to follow along with what someone was saying, even if they were facing directly towards me. Being in a classroom all day was also exhausting for me. By the end of the day, I would struggle just to talk to other people and I certainly couldn't learn anything.

The classroom in this photo seems relatively ordered, there are not too many bright colours (other than the children's clothes) and the children are all sitting in ordered rows. However, the constant movement of the children's hands would be distracting, I was drawn to the child's hand that was holding onto a pencil and then to the girl with the pigtails. It was like being in a meeting or attending a lecture. People often comment that it seems that I'm not paying attention in these situations, as I am often not looking towards the person that is talking. Sometimes when the visual information gets too much, or I am trying to listen, I will avert my eyes to something plain in the surroundings. For example, a blank wall, or I will gaze out the window. People often have trouble interpreting this and think I am being rude.

Socialising (meeting up with a friend in a cafe)Socialising (meeting up with a friend in a cafe)

I enjoy going to cafe's or restaurants, but have to use specific strategies to help me cope with what can be quite challenging environments. It is much easier if it is a cafe that I am familiar with. Then I can use visualisation beforehand to help reduce my anxieties and think about what I will need to do to make sure I can see as much as possible. For instance, thinking about where I am sitting and what I am facing. It is important to try and face a blank wall or a less cluttered area of the cafe. It can also be hard to read the menu, especially if the writing is fancy or cluttered. Noisy cafes are generally not a good option, as it is hard to process all the visual and auditory information at the same time. If I am meeting a big group at a cafe or restaurant, I like to arrive early. This way I can build up the visual scene slowly, as opposed to trying to take in everything at the same time, which is often overwhelming.

In this particular image, I found myself quite distracted by all the glasses on the table and the visual scene in the background. This made it hard to even focus on the women sitting at the table. If I was at a cafe like this, I would find it difficult to concentrate on the person sitting opposite me and would constantly have to fight the urge to look at different visual elements in the scene. If I forced myself just to focus on the woman (which is hard to do) I would be drawn to the women's glasses and then maybe her smile.

Landscape (going on an open country walk)Landscape (going on an open country walk)

I find open spaces like this really relaxing. They make me feel calm and peaceful, which means I am able to use my vision more. When there are no pop-out visual elements to draw my attention, I do not feel so pressured to constantly scan and search the visual scene. In natural environments that are really quiet with no one around, it is almost as if I don't have CVI at all. I can use my vision to look at many different elements and might even be able to spot a bird in the trees if someone was directing me to where to look. My favourite location is the beach and I often find myself drawn to a beach landscape if I am feeling extremely stressed. Even if I am not familiar with a beach location, I would still class it as a safe place.

Mary wanted to add in relation to the images:

I've just had a look at the photos. I think they are good and connect with what I have said.

But sitting here now in my lounge where I can see everything around me, the images seem so extreme. I don't feel like I walk around only seeing one element at a time. I know that is certainly not the case at my house, I feel like I can see everything. But then I think about being in an airport or at a music concert and how I could only focus on one person's red top.

But I think it is going to be hard for people to understand when looking at the images. They are going to go away thinking that's what the world looks like to me all the time, but it doesn't. I think that is why it is so important to have the written description alongside it.

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