Purpose. Detecting and recognizing three-dimensional (3D) objects is an important component of the visual accessibility of public spaces for people with impaired vision. The present study investigated the impact of environmental factors and object properties on the recognition of objects by subjects who viewed physical objects with severely reduced acuity. Methods. The experiment was conducted in an indoor testing space. We examined detection and identification of simple convex objects by normally sighted subjects wearing diffusing goggles that reduced effective acuity to 20/900. We used psychophysical methods to examine the effect on performance of important environmental variables: viewing distance (from 10-24 feet, or 3.05-7.32 m) and illumination (overhead fluorescent and artificial window), and object variables: shape (boxes and cylinders), size (heights from 2-6 feet, or 0.61-1.83 m), and color (gray and white). Results. Object identification was significantly affected by distance, color, height, and shape, as well as interactions between illumination, color, and shape. A stepwise regression analysis showed that 64% of the variability in identification could be explained by object contrast values (58%) and object visual angle (6%). Conclusions. When acuity is severely limited, illumination, distance, color, height, and shape influence the identification and detection of simple 3D objects. These effects can be explained in large part by the impact of these variables on object contrast and visual angle. Basic design principles for improving object visibility are discussed.