Everyone knows that it is important for kids to get daily physical activity, either with sports or hobbies or just play time recreation activities, but what do you do when your child is visually impaired? They will enjoy the sports just as much as sighted children but which sports are safe for them and which ones will allow them to be a competitive sports player if they wish to do so? And how do you encourage visually impaired kids to play sports? These are all things that were addressed in NOAH’s Conference session titled “Get off the Bench and into the Game”. We attended this session because even though my husband was never really into sports growing up he is a big nature bum at heart and loves to be outdoors. We want to teach Liam how to play sports and do outdoor activities for fun if not one day competitively in school. So here are my notes:
• Staying active in sports: boosts confidence, self esteem, and strength.
• 70% of disabled individuals DO NOT work/hold a job; 50% of those who are disabled but play sports DO work/hold a job.
• For disabled individuals there are many sports in the Paralympics and also some on local levels. (The USABA.org is an organization for blind/visually impaired athletes.)
• Some visually impaired sports:
Hiking -a stick/cane is often needed
Frisbee -large, brightly colored soft frisbees are available
Track and Field – for hurtles they typically count steps, often a guide runner is needed or used to run along side the runner verbalizing instructions throughout the course
Tandem Biking/Tri-cycling- is a competitive sport but can be done for leisure (need one sighted biker)
Beepball- blind baseball only with two bases (1st and 3rd) only one will sound an alarm to let the batter know which way to run (they sound at random not in numeric order)—also the pitcher is the only sighted player the others are all blindfolded to make sure the game is fair for those who are blind and those who are partially sighted. The ball also beeps to let players know where it is in play. For more about Beepball click HERE.
Goalball- everyone again is blindfolded to level the playing field for blind vs. partially sighted players, bells are inside the ball which is the size of a basketball and there are two goals just like in soccer but players roll the balls like in bowling. There is tactile tape (often duct tape) on the court to allow the players to find their positions since they are not allowed to leave the “play zone” when on defense. For more about Goalball click HERE.
Judo- only 1 modification is made and that is that both players must remain in contact the entire time. You can also talk with the child’s coaches about using verbal instruction and/or changing the lighting in the room to help with glare.
Rock Walling- great for visually impaired kids already hooked into safety harness.
(*These are just a few but even something as simple as getting outside and rolling/tumbling around playing Nerf gun wars is an activity and it gets the child off the couch!)
There are many camps for visually impaired/blind individuals to learn sports using guide skiers, runners, swimmers, etc. Look up “Camp Abilities” which is an organization that holds camps for disabled kids such as “Learn to Surf”, and “Learn to Cycle”.
In all sports the competitive nature gets stronger as the children get older so often it gets harder for children with visual impairments to stay in sighted sports as they grow. Always reinforce that it is great to play just for fun and not competitively and that you are proud the child made the team and tried their best and that it is not always about winning. Often there are problems with regulations on wearing hats and shades during sports, know that they have the right to participate with these accommodations and if you face troubles in this area don’t hesitate to speak with the board. Sometimes it is an issue of having all the players matching or the game can be forfeited, so in cases like this all players could wear the sun gear as well.
P.E. in school- Make sure the child’s P.E. teacher knows not to use gestures, to make adaptations to the sports but not to single the child out when doing so. It is easy to do activities with each child using a guide runner or one child being blindfolded and the other verbalizing commands to them, these can be fun for all and teach good team work skills. (A great book about this is “Going Places” from APH.)
*During any outdoor sport, children with Albinism need to make sure to take protection from the sun with hats, shades, and sunblock.