Nonverbal signs of mobility visual impairment

Mobility visual impairment is defined as an inability to visually avoid obstacles. Children who are blind or whose vision impairment makes using vision to avoid obstacles while in motion a danger exhibit similar motor outcomes including the following:

1. An unwillingness to move even though physically able to bear weight.

2. A preference to hold on to an object or person to move across open space

3. A negative reaction to walking such as:

  • delayed or poor gait, slow pace, and/or unbalanced posture

  • self-created taut extremities (hands like fists)

  • self-injurious hand rubbing, poking face (eyes, ears)

  • lack of walking, asks to be picked up and carried (hypotonia)

  • preference to push objects (chairs, toys) to cross space

Wall collision

Video excerpt from  Anthony, T., Lowry, S., Brown., C., & Hatton, D. (2004) Developmentally Appropriate O&M UNC. No explanation was provided with the video. This is  O&M instruction when belt canes are not used.

Unsteady, poor gait

This one-year-old toddler has mobility visual impairment and blindness (MVI/B). He is unsteady on his feet and has poor gait pattern.


Corner collision

Madison is two and blind. Her parents only used the belt cane when outside the home. This corner collision occurred at home after a day of using her cane at the playground and in a superstore. 

Stress signals

Child with MVI/B shows signs of stress when asked to cross open space without touching anything. His hands held high, near face, his other hand holds on to couch.


Plays in place

Playing in one place is a sign of mobility visual impairment and blindness (MVI/B). Typically developing two and three year old children are highly active movers. They walk, run and explore seven hours a day.

Poor gait

Child with MVI/B shows signs of stress when asked to cross open space without touching anything. Her hands held high, her head held back and feet wide-base support.


 Poor gait

Léa is three years old and has cortical visual impairment. Her manner of walking persists in spite of her IFOs and other restrictive garments provided by the physical therapist.

Stressed affect

Wade demonstrates signs of stress when asked walk across open space without path information. Why is he called "a cheater" because he would prefer to hold a hand to walk with confidence across a path he cannot see?


Avoids walking

Wade is blind and shows the stress signal of remaining stationary even when prompted and staying connected to the wall (once located).  For Wade, the wall is a safe place.

Difficulty with stairs

Very short video of difficulty with ascending stairs without path information. Wade is blind, he is five years old. He needs tactile path preview to know exactly where and how high the stair is.

Stress signals

Wade exhibits multiple stress signals during this session of walking across open space. His posture, reaction, and hesitancy communicate this activity is scary upsetting.

Stress signals

Landon is seven years old. He shows extreme signs of stress walking without any path information. For seven year he has had to walk without any visual or tactile path information.

Stress signals

Wade exhibits signs of stress walking in open space. His shows extreme signs of stress is from not knowing what is on the floor. He is blind, he lacks trust after five years of falls.

Still cruising at three

Reeti is 36 months old. Cruising is a 12-month motor skill. She has cortical visual impairment. However, without path information she is unable to gain confidence to walk freely.

Reeti lives in India. She is unable to walk across open space without assistance from a guide.

Walks with assistance

Crawling age three

Reeti is able to crawl across open space. However, she appears reluctant to crawl. Her parents give her lots of prompts to encourage her, she is unable to walk freely across open space.