What is CVI?


Access to Learning

How do we learn?

To understand this, we first have work backwards and answer a different question...

  • 1. What is "what we know"?

But to answer this we have to take yet another backwards step and ask

  • 2. Where is "what we know"?

Much of what we know is stored in our temporal lobes.

Our temporal lobes hold our personal huge libraries of knowledge, every memory from every experience is stored in our temporal lobes.

So that answers the where question.

But what is what we know?

What is all this stuff in our libraries we call knowledge?What is all this stuff in our libraries we call knowledge?

Again, to understand what knowledge is we have to go back yet another step and ask...

  • 3. How did it get there?

How it got there is through a very simple two step process:

  • a) We experience things
  • b) These experiences are processed in our brains and turned into memories, which are stored in our temporal lobes.

That's it.

Think of anything, what you are doing right now - reading, drinking a cup of coffee, loading the washing machine, sitting on a train.

Everything that you remember, think about, recognise and know how to do, comes from experiences which have been stored in memory, but there's a third step in this process...


There's not much point in having vast libraries of books that are never read. All of your knowledge, stored in your temporal lobes, is accessible all day every day to inform everything you do and is matched to help you.

And this is how we learn...through a three part process of....

We used a very simple example of this process in our Recognition section, demonstrating how a person learnt what a Westie dog was (note, here we used filing cabinets as an alternative metaphor to libraries, for the temporal lobe storage facility we describe)...

Successful Recognition Process


Experience - I stroke a cute and friendly dog in the park. The owner tells me the dog is a Westie.


Memory - I remembered the breed name, the softness, and the friendliness of both the dog and owner.Memory - I remembered the breed name, the softness, and the friendliness of both the dog and owner.

So, this experience has been processed by the brain and filed and stored in the temporal lobes as a memory set.


Recognition - Another day in a different park I saw a different dog. It was a close enough match for me to correctly recognise the dog as another Westie.Recognition - Another day in a different park I saw a different dog. It was a close enough match for me to correctly recognise the dog as another Westie.

The recognition stage also of course includes another experience, the experience of seeing the other, similar dog. Because a memory was formed following the first experience of meeting the dog, when encountering a similar dog there was a memory, and matching the new experience with the memory led to a correct recognition.

This is how we learn.

This is how we learn everything.

This is how we learn even more abstract things like how to behave in a classroom and how to develop successful social relationships.

If it was learnt, then it went through this process.

So, it follows that if we aren't learning, or things seem unnecessarily difficult, then something or some things are not working in this process.

Why We Don't Learn

1) Problem with Experience
There is an order. For example, if we don't experience what something looks like because we have a visual impairment, then when we see it again we may not recognise it, because we have not had sufficient visual information to create a successful match. Here the problem is with the experience (we follow this example further in the Recognition & CVI section).

2) Problem with Memory
Something can be experienced, but if there is a problem with the person's memory, for example due to a degenerative disorder like dementia, or a brain injury, then when it comes to experiencing the same thing again, the memory simply isn't there for a match. After an injury, for example, some people lose the capacity to remember certain letters that were known prior to the injury, making reading and writing challenging.

3) Problem with Recognition
Recognition is a process, a bit like a game of snap (the children's card game where we match pictures). So, the experience might be complete, and the memory has been stored, but if this process of matching is not working, then the successful recognition match cannot be made. This is the case for people who are affected by the condition called prosopagnosia, where, when meeting someone , they can't match the experience of a face with the memory of their face, so the person can't be recognised by vision, even though they may be very well known.

Problem with Experience

To experience something successfully, so as to learn successfully, three things are needed:

  • a) It must be perceivable
  • b) It must be meaningful
  • c) It must be motivational

We perceive though our five senses. The sense that is most helpful in learning is our vision, it is estimated that 75% of our learning is visual. It is generally accepted that second to our vision, our next more useful sense for learning is our hearing. Many experiences are of course multi-sensory - the dog in our example was:

  • Seen (visual)
  • Stroked (tactile / touch) and...
  • The owner talking, heard (hearing)

So, the first question to ask if learning is not happening, is whether the thing to be learnt, be it recognising a type of dog or learning not to push other children, is perceivable, so it can form a memory that can be recalled for future recognition.

Here is a symbol

You may be able to see this symbol very clearly, and describe the detail, but if it doesn't mean anything to you, then all you remember is no more than a black and white thing with markings. For optimal learning, things need to be perceivable and they need to be meaningful. Similarly, you might hear the sound of a woodpecker, but if you do not know what the tapping noise is due to, and no one is there to explain what it is, it is no more than a rapid tapping noise, and you don't learn that it is the sound of the woodpecker boring into the tree, even though it is heard clearly (perceived)

This relates to how we are feeling. There are conditions where our learning is optimal, including where we:

  • Feel safe
  • Feel relaxed
  • Feel comfortable
  • Feel in control

Equally there are conditions where our learning is made challenging, including where we:

  • Feel confused
  • Feel under pressure
  • Feel frightened
  • Feel threatened

For optimal learning, in addition to things being perceivable and meaningful, we need to feel motivated to learn.

So to learn:

The following subsections describe a number of actual examples where a person with CVI has failed to learn, or found learning challenging, due to the experience part of the learning process being too challenging, particularly due to things not being made perceivable.

With each real example we will summarise

  • Why was the experience challenging for the person?
  • How was the experience made accessible for the person?
  • The successful approach.

We have separated the issues into three key areas which relate to the Three Rights we described in a previous section.

  • 1) Learning & Education
  • 2) Independence
  • 3) Social Relationships


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About Us

At CVI Scotland we are devoted to helping people understand cerebral visual impairments, and together working towards developing the understanding of this complex condition.