Editor’s note: Join the United States Association of Blind Athletes for National Blind Sports Week (Sept. 28-Oct. 3), a six-day virtual experience focused on participation and awareness of sports and opportunities available to athletes who are blind or low vision. The week culminates with the 3rd annual National Blind Sports Day on Saturday, Oct. 3. Today on the blog, Addie Evers shares her personal experience and thoughts about accessible sports.
National Blind Sports Week: Running Towards Accessible Sports
Running is something that people either love or hate, but I believe everyone should have the chance to decide for themselves. I thought I was one of the people who hated running, but I learned that it wasn’t the physical activity that I despised; it was the horrible fear that came with not being able to see well enough to know what I was running at. Once I got an accommodation for a sport I hated, it became one of my favorite pastimes.
Usually when accommodations for those who are blind or low vision are discussed, they are focused on education or the workforce. These are incredibly important, and these critical conversations need to continue, but there is very little talk about making sure hobbies are just as accessible, specifically, athletics or other physical activities.
Staying physically active is a hobby, but it is also important to a person’s mental and physical health. Instead of having students who are blind or low vision sit on a bench in PE classes, we should teach them how they can harness the power of their bodies through different sports and activities.
Accommodations for athletics are sometimes harder to come up with, but I think they just require some creative thinking. Take baseball. Traditionally baseball is a very visual sport, and, yet, beep baseball is completely adapted for those who are blind or low vision.
Creativity does not mean that there has to be a complete revamp of the sport, like how there are only two bases in beep baseball, but rather creativity just means not assuming someone who is blind or low vision cannot participate in a sport based solely on how easy it is to come up with accommodations.
Let’s return to running. Running is an easy sport to accommodate, as it is similar to walking, but the traditional sighted guide system would be cumbersome when running (trust me, I’ve used it). Both the guide and athlete get sweaty when running making it hard to keep a firm grip, not to mention the guide has the chance of elbowing their partner in the side while running (also trust me on that one). So, a different accommodation came into the picture: running with a tether. This way there is still a guide, but both runners will still have the space they need.
Swimming is another example of a simple accommodation that has blown away every sighted peer I’ve told. When swimmers who are blind are nearing the end of the lane, they are tapped on the top of the head to know they are good to turn. This prevents any head injury from someone slamming their head into the side of the pool. This simple change to the sport makes swimming a completely viable option for someone who is blind or low vision.
If these simple accommodations were more widely known, I believe there could be a huge increase of individuals who are blind or low vision participating in athletic teams. Already I’ve explained two, no-tech, accommodations for two incredibly popular sports.
But I do not want to limit any individual who is blind or low vision to just these two sports. I want to challenge coaches, teachers, and the athletes themselves to find ways to participate in any sport that comes to mind. There is always to make at least one part of the sport accessible to someone who is blind or low vision.
I believe this so adamantly because I have lived it. I am on my university’s tumbling team, and I am legally blind. There are some things the team does (like jumping through a ring of fire) that I cannot do, but with the creative thinking my coaches and I used, I am an active member of the team.
Together we realized that if there was reflective tape on the mat, I would know when I was supposed to start my trick. That one addition made a world of difference and saved me a trip to the hospital with a turned ankle after stepping off the mat weirdly.
That’s not all, though. I use a sighted guide to move about on and off the mat to avoid any collisions with others on my team; my coach will come work with me one on one when I need to learn a new skill or stunt; and whenever we are doing free time, the person behind me in line will tell me if the lane is free.
Whenever someone finds out I am a blind tumbler they usually think my vision is not as bad as I say it is, and I hate that. People who are blind or low vision can participate in any sport with the proper accommodations and expectations. Tumbling is not just for the sighted world. There are ways to get people who are blind and low vision involved beyond bench warming.
Being physically active or a part of organized athletics can bring anyone a sense of empowerment for anyone, sighted or otherwise, which is why we need to have more accommodations in athletics. Physical activity is important to everyone’s health, and it is not right to have an entire community of people excluded from things like classes or grade sports teams. It is time for us to come up with as many creative accommodations we possibly can because athletics are for everyone.