Get out the suits and sunscreen, it’s pool time! Swimming is a welcome reprieve from the heat and a phenomenal no-impact exercise for the entire family. But don’t take it from me: Letticia Martinez, Paralympian swimmer who is blind, shares her story to encourage parents.
Let’s dive into accessibility considerations for your child who is blind or visually impaired!
General Swimming Considerations
- Swim goggles are beneficial, whether your child is blind or visually impaired. [If the pool is outside or in a bright environment, individuals with light and glare sensitivity will benefit from swim goggles with tinted lenses.] Goggles will keep water out of sensitive eyes, and allow children with low vision the opportunity to see contrasting stripes on the bottom of pool lanes.
- Talk to your child about sunburns and the importance of sun protection. Because children who are blind will not see pinkening skin, help your child devise a plan for systematically applying sunscreen at regular intervals. For additional protection at the pool, your child may wear a sunhat and/or SPF swim shirts. The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) provides helpful information about sun protection; also useful is the recommendation of many of NOAH’s members for Blue Lizard sunscreen.
- Talk about what you see while at the swimming facility. What body parts are covered? Where does changing and drying off take place? Are there people showering, and how can they do so modestly? Are there different standards for modesty in the locker room? Are you able to see others underwater, and what are they doing? If there are lifeguards, what are they doing, and can they always see your child? To learn more, read Knowledge is Power for Children with Visual Impairments.
- Your child should use their cane or sighted guide to prevent tripping into the water. Upon entering the water, the child can rest the cane in a specific location (if the facility isn’t bustling) or hand it to a parent or friend to rest it on the child’s chair.
Swim Lesson Considerations
- It will be helpful if your child is taught the basics of a swimming motion or stroke before entering the pool. Holding their breath can be practiced in the bathtub; strokes can be roughly introduced from home while they are lying on their belly on a couch.
- If your child is in group lessons, ask the coach if they can meet with your child prior to the lesson. The coach can provide hands-on instruction for what would otherwise be presented visually to the group.
- Talk with the coach about providing feedback to your child with physical instruction or modeling instead of visual, verbal directing/ correcting. Let the coach know to warn the child before touching them.
- If your child permits, the coach can use them as the model for teaching the team or class a new technique. Your child will receive hands-on instruction.
- Orient to the swimming pool and facility (including bathrooms and locker rooms) prior to lessons. For specific advice, don’t hesitate to talk with your child’s orientation and mobility specialist.
- If your child is exceptionally sensitive to sunlight, consider lessons at an indoor pool or at an outdoor pool during off-peak hours.
Lap Swimming Considerations
- Floating lane markers provide tactile feedback for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. If your facility doesn’t use them, consider working with the facility to purchase them or make your own using rope and intermittent pool noodles.
- The end of the lane can be marked auditorily with music from a waterproof speaker, and/or visually using a color-contrasting element.
- Some individuals who are blind or visually impaired count the number of strokes it takes to swim the lane.
- Competitive swimmers often use a “tapper”. A tapper is an experienced individual who taps the swimmer using a long pole, indicating the time to turn.
For open water safety considerations, such as always swimming with a buddy, read VisionAware’s article, Swimming: Tips for Swimmers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired.
Giving your child opportunities to gain swimming skills provides your child with pool/swimming concepts and a recreational-fitness pursuit for life.