Visually impaired students (VIS) run the risk of being left out of athletic activities just because of their disabilities. Besides just being wrong and discriminatory, it is also a health concern for those affected. Physically, lack of exercise can subject VIS to poor circulation and muscle tone, diminished lung function, posture and weight problems, and poor balance. Mentally, sports and physical activity are an important part of the maturation of a child in terms of attitude and outlook. That’s why a VIS should be involved in a suitable physical activity or sports program from an early age. The goal is to have young graduates who have well-developed motor skills and are capable of living independently.
Students who are visually impaired but not totally blind have more options. They can be introduced to sports in a measured way that builds their skill and confidence. For instance, teaching a VIS to catch a softball involves measured steps in which you first start with a brightly colored balloon instead of a ball. Eventually you graduate to a large soft ball that is first bounced to the student, then gently lobbed from a short distance. Always give a sound cue when tossing the ball. Over time, you can graduate to smaller balls and perhaps end up with a regulation softball. It may help to paint bright colors on the balls to increase contrast. These activities should take place in well-lit facilities devoid of obstacles.
Tag is another good activity for partially-sighted student. Participants should wear brightly colored clothing and the person who is “it” should carry a bell. The area should be well-lit, and carpeting or grass is best in case someone falls.
Those totally without sight should not be left out of the sports curricula. There are many adaptations that can easily include the blind in athletic activities. Pairs-running is a classic example, in which a sightless runner is paired to one with normal vision. They run together, either holding hands or tethered by a soft rope or cord. The sighted pair member uses vocal cues to warn of changing directions or terrain. Another appropriate sport is lap swimming, in which a bell or other device is repeatedly sounded so that the VIS swimmer known his or her position relative to the pool walls. Lane markers should be brightly colored soft ropes and the pool should be well-lit.
Organized physical activities that have been modified to use appropriate equipment and rules can be a very important adjunct to the education of VIS. Besides contributing to the physical and emotional well being of VIS, sports and activities are fun, develop skill and instill self-confidence. We want VIS to develop a sense of well-being and competence, and sports are one important factor in that quest.