Black Blanket Background is Best for Teaching Students with Cortical Vision Impairment

by Kristie Smith-Armand, M.Ed, CTVI

The other day, I was thinking about the musical, “Chicago”. I for some unknown reason was singing the song, “Mr. Cellophane”. My random brain began thinking of how often the most important items that make a huge difference are often overlooked. As Pablo Casals once said
-The truly important things in life - love, beauty, and one's own uniqueness - are constantly being overlooked.

Look at the words that the author of Mr. Cellophane sang wrote:
If someone stood up in a crowd
And raised his voice up way out loud
And waved his arm and shook his leg
You'd notice him
If someone in the movie show
Yelled "Fire in the second row
This whole place is a powder keg!"
You'd notice him
And even without clucking like a hen
Everyone gets noticed, now and then,
Unless, of course, that personage should be

Invisible, inconsequential me!
Cellophane
Mister Cellophane
Shoulda been my name
Mister Cellophane 'Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I'm there.

The black blanket is one of the most underestimated items that make the biggest difference in helping to eliminate clutter for children who have cortical vision impairment (a brain processing issue and not a problem with the eyes) and as well as other eye conditions.

The BBB (Black Blanket Background) as I refer to it in this column, helps the brain to process visual information and blocks outside clutter from over stimulating the visual part of the brain. When an educator or parent places the black blanket behind a high contrast object, the visual cortex begins to notice the colorful objects and begins to make sense of it.

Children with CVI need a routine with familiar objects that represent their day, and what better way to help ease an already difficult process than to use the BBB.

Students with CVI also recognize the colors red and yellow quicker than others, so when placed on or in front of the black blanket, the item is identified without the stress of other visual objects.

Educators, like myself, have often overlooked the most obvious and helpful items that are inexpensive, easy-to-find and cost efficient. The American Printing House for the Blind has a tri-fold board and a black apron in the TOAD kit and many other items that help to eliminate visual clutter for an already troubled situation.

Some other helpful tips for students with CVI are:

  • Children with CVI see better when they are in movement
  • See colors red and yellow better than most
  • Should not face glare or an open window during processing time
  • Should have a strong routine with much verbalization throughout a structured day.

So, as the song says, “You look right through me and do not know that I’m there” can be changed to, “You look at the objects and you know that I am there”. The lyrics will probably not make it into the top ten, but as Pablo Casals says, “the important things in life are often overlooked.

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