USF Teacher of the Year puts face blindness into national focus

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In her classes at the University of South Florida, Dr. Heather Sellers challenges her students in creative writing.

The students are also helping Sellers, who is dealing with her own challenge.

She has a rare neurological condition known as face blindness.

"Face blindness is a condition that affects probably 5 % of the population some people much more severely than others I have a very severe case. I'm not able to recognize my fellow humans by face", explained Dr. Sellers.

Her students wear name tags to class so their professor can easily point them out.

"The students are amazing", said Sellers. "They tell me who they are when they come by my office".

While face blindness sounds like it would be a vision problem, Dr. Sellers said that isn't the case.

"Face blindness is a processing disorder so in your brain you'll see the face come in and your memory knows every face you've seen before and it will make a match. My brain can't do that. It's a hardware problem. It's a memory problem", said Dr. Sellers.

A problem she's had since childhood.

"I always knew something was wrong when I was a kid I couldn't recognize my classmates. I had trouble recognizing my mother in the pickup line. I couldn't recognize my teachers reliably", said Dr. Sellers.

"When I was married I didn't recognize my husband. I would go up to the wrong man at a grocery store".

Sellers couldn't pinpoint the issue until later in life.

"I knew something was wrong. I had no idea what it was until I stumbled on those two words face recognition  just by chance in a psychology textbook", said Dr. Sellers.

She said she isn't certain what caused her face blindness, but she's hoping to be instrumental in the cure. 

"I was part of a research study at Rockefeller University. they are close to finding treatment", said Dr. Sellers.

She has become a nationally renowned author on the subject. She penned the memoir "You don't look like anyone I know".

"One of my friends calls me the face of face blindness", she joked.

Diagnosing the problem can be tricky.

"The most common way it manifests would be watching TV or movies. If your partner or your kid isn't able to track the characters in a show. Cop shows and hospital shows are the most difficult because everyone is in a uniform", said Dr. Sellers.

While face blindness may sound frustrating and difficult to deal with, Sellers sees the silver lining. 

"I love my disorder. For me it's been like this great Zen teacher. It's forced me to interact with my fellow humans in an authentic way. I'm all for it, I really do like it", said Dr. Sellers.

For more information on face blindness, go to