I have a passion for bringing the world of sports and physical activity into the world of individuals with vision loss. Much of my professional life has been devoted to supporting the inclusion of students with visual impairments and blindness in physical activity and sport. I founded Camp Abilities, a developmental sports camp for children who are visually impaired, blind, or deafblind, in 1996. There are now eight Camp Abilities programs across the nation and in three other countries. Camp Abilities empowers children with visual impairments to become involved in physical activity and sport and teaches future teachers how to teach children with visual impairments.
It is important that children be given these experiences for all the benefits they provide to improve both their physical well being and the self confidence that results from these skills. You may explore the FamilyConnect directory of agencies to locate programs and the FamilyConnect calendar of events will help you to find activities. This article provides a deeper look into the subject of getting children with visual impairments involved in physical activities. For more detailed information, including audio interviews and book recommendations, visit Lauren Lieberman’s advice on recreation and leisure skills.
It should be noted that many teachers do not learn how to teach children with visual impairments. Physical education teachers often do not receive very much or any instruction on how to teach children with visual impairments in their professional preparation courses. But research has shown that the best way to learn how to teach children with visual impairments is to teach them.
Children with visual impairments will learn best in any setting with a 1:1 ratio for instruction and feedback purposes. This 1:1 can come in the form of a peer tutor or a teacher assistant/paraeducator.
If your child has a visual impairment severe enough to impede their ability to see a demonstration, it will take longer to learn the basic elements of a skill or sport than their peers. For example: a child who is learning to play volleyball may take 30 minutes to an hour to feel the court, understand positions, learn the different skills used, comprehend the serve, the scoring, and rotation of players. By the time the child who is visually impaired learns the basic concepts, his/her peers will already be learning the bump, serve, and set skills.
By adding an additional class and some one-on-one instruction, the child with a visual impairment will have a clear idea what volleyball is and the variables that are involved in a game so they can keep up with the pace of the instructions and so the class does not have to slow down for them. These classes could be before school, for 15 minutes before each class, or other open spots in the child’s schedule. It would be best to schedule these at the beginning of the year.
When your child knows how to play the same sports and recreational activities as their peers, they have more in common with them and can have conversations and keep up with social discussions. If they do not know basic sports and recreational activities, they are often left out of everyday conversations.
There are many sports opportunities for children with visual impairments. Children with visual impairments have the right and often the ability to play after-school sports and have been successful in swimming, track and field, soccer, wrestling, football, basketball, and gymnastics. In addition to after-school sports, they can participate in any community sports programs.
Nationally and internationally, children with visual impairments can compete against their peers who are visually impaired through the Unites States Association for Blind Athletes (USABA). The USABA sports consist of swimming, track and field, 5-a-side football (soccer), goal ball, Showdown (a sport similar to air hockey but with a ball with bells and no air), Judo, tandem cycling, wrestling, power lifting, skiing, and ten pin bowling.
In order to get involved in USABA, the athletes must try many of these sports and determine which one(s) they like the most. Then they must find a place to practice and gain skills, either with other individuals with visual impairments or with their sighted peers. A great book to help them gain this information is Going PLACES: A Transition Guide to Community Recreation and Sports for Adolescents who are Visually Impaired, Blind or Deafblind (2006) Lieberman, Modell, Ponchillia, and Jackson through the American Printing House for the Blind.
The following are a few websites that may be helpful to instructors, parents, and vision teachers who are helping children with visual impairments to become physically active:
- Project INSPIRE provides information about adapted physical education, adapted aquatics, and sports for children of all disabilities.
- Camp Abilities—Check out the video “Teaching Children with VI, Blindness, or Deafblindness in Physical Education” which includes information on assessments, instructional strategies, guide running techniques, and more.
- United States Association for Blind Athletes has videos of guide running techniques and Judo, and includes information about Sports Education Camps.
- Blind Judo Foundation has information for parents and instructors about the benefits of Judo and instructional strategies.
- Texas School for the Blind offers ideas on how to teach children who are visually impaired or have multiple disabilities in physical education.
- The American Printing House for the Blind Parent/Teacher Resource for Children with Sensory Impairments offers an entire resource list, including everything from equipment companies, organizations, research, books, and products. If you click on products you will see a list of APH products that will help promote sports and physical activity. Many of these products are on quota funds.