Blindness / Visual Impairment

Why Physical Activity is Important to People Who are Blind or Have Vision Loss

Being physically active and exercising is beneficial for individuals of all abilities in a variety of ways including socially, physically, physiologically, and psychologically. Ensuring everyone, including those with a visual disability, can have the opportunity to effectively engage in physical activity is essential to their personal development.

Creating a barrier free environment to enable those who are blind or have a loss of vision to benefit from physical activity is definitely attainable.

Teaching and Communication Techniques for Physical Activity Leaders

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  • When beginning an activity, make sure to introduce someone with a visual disability to their surroundings.
  • A person with a congenital visual disability may adapt to new environments more comfortably than someone who acquired their disability.
  • Use appropriate, clear verbal instructions, as people who are blind or have vision loss may not see movements associated with verbal instructions so descriptive instructions are important.
  • Ask first, and then use your hands to guide the movement of the person who is blind as needed.
  • If any equipment moves during activity, make sure to inform the participants.
  • Always ask if the individual needs help, don’t just assume it.
  • Identify yourself when speaking to the person, encourage others to do likewise
  • Be creative for inclusive play.

Modifying Leisure, Sport and Recreation Activities

Any sport can be played by someone who is blind or has vision loss – it just takes a little ingenuity! Many sport-specific adaptations can be made to include those living with a disability. Typical adaptations in blind sport include audible equipment (ex. beeping, bells, buzzers) and other sound-based directives, support personnel (ex. designated ‘spotters’ or ‘guides’), equipment alterations, and more.

  • Athletics: In running, guide runners and the athlete with a visual disability each hold an end of a tether. The guide runner directs the pair around the track. In jumping events such as long jump, a 1 meter take off area is added. 
  • Blind Hockey: The parasport of blind hockey is a variation of ice hockey for athletes who are blind or partially sighted. The sport uses some modified rules and equipment, most notably the adapted puck that makes noise and is larger than a traditional puck.
  • Soccer: Today, there are a variety of forms of the game for players with a disability, including those who are blind and have vision loss (5-a-side soccer with a sound-making ball).
  • Power Lifting: Weight training may be the most accessible sport for all as it requires little start-up expense and can be experienced at a local gym or even at home. For the competitive athlete who is looking to excel on a platform with sighted individuals, power lifting is one of the few sports – aside from judo – where an athlete with a visual disability can compete on equal ground with sighted counterparts.
  • Swimming: Swimming for persons who is blind or has loss of vision is a sport that has been practiced for many years. Swimming offers many benefits and can be enjoyed and practiced by people of all ages. This sport has been and continues to grow in popularity in Canada and worldwide. At the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, 70 swimmers participated and since then this number has grown dramatically; at the London 2012 Paralympics, 604 swimmers participated in over 148 events.
  • Combative Sports (Judo and Wrestling): There are very few modifications made to these sports, other than the athletes always beginning the competition touching rather than separated. If contact is broken, the official halts action and places the participants back in contact. In fact, most competitions are completely integrated with sighted athletes.
  • Goalball: Goalball is a sport specifically designed for athletes with visual disabilities. It is also one of the only team sport options for these athletes.

 

How to Adapt Equipment

  • Use balls with bells in them to make it easier to locate and track.
  • Use a sound device on stationary equipment for easier navigation.
  • Use objects with different textures and weights to distinguish them.
  • Increase the size of targets, bases, and nets to locate them more easily.
  • For those with a loss of vision, use equipment with colours that contradict the activity area. Make sure to ask the individual their preferences.

How to Adapt Rules

  • Make the playing area either larger or smaller to accommodate (IE, blind soccer is played on a much smaller surface than a regular pitch).
  • Put blindfolds on sighted participants (IE, goalball requires all participants to wear a blindfold).
  • Add additional referees and aids during play.

More About Blindness / Vision Loss

What is Blindness / Vision Loss?

Blindness is the condition of lacking visual perception (the ability to perceive our surroundings through the light that enters our eyes). There are varying degrees of blindness, from having zero percent of visual perception, to having a slightly higher percentage. An individual with zero percent light perception is considered blind.

Vision loss means that even with eyeglasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery, a person will not be able to see well. Vision impairment can range from mild to severe. .

Individuals can either be born with a visual disability (congenital) or can acquire one later in life (acquired). Typically, it takes more time to teach a new skill to someone who has a congenital disability rather than someone who acquires a disability later in life. Again, this will vary depending on the individual.

Impact of Blindness / Vision Loss

  • A person who is blind or has loss of vision can feel uncomfortable and anxious in unfamiliar settings.
  • Miscommunication can occur when working with someone with a visual disability, given that they may not automatically understand instructions.
  • The majority of sensory information is learned through sight. This varies among individuals, based on whether the disability is congenital or acquired.
  • Social isolation may occur among persons who are blind or visually impaired.
  • A cane, specialized glasses or seeing-eye dog may often be used.

Useful Information About Blindness / Vision Loss

  • An estimated 1,5 million Canadians identify themselves as having a sight lost. An estimated 5.59 million more have an eye disease that could cause sight loss.
  • Approximately 75% of a person’s sensory information is learned through sight.
  • Less than 3% of Canadians with a disability regularly participate in sport. Just 1% of those living with blindness or vision loss  participate in sport.
  • Canadians who are blind or have vision loss are far more likely to experience clinical depression compared to those with sight.
  • The average household income for working-age Canadians who are blind or partially sighted is two-thirds the national average for the general population ($46,200 vs. $70,300).

Resources

Ontario Blind Sports Association (OBSA): https://blindsports.on.ca/
Canadian Blind Sports Association: https://canadianblindsports.ca/
Other Sports for Athletes with a Visual Impairment: https://blindsports.on.ca/sports/other-sports/
Sports and Recreation for Young Blind Children: https://nfb.org//images/nfb/publications/fr/fr31/3/fr310304.htm
Challenges of Being Blind: http://www.ehow.com/about_5185162_challenges-being-blind.html
Facts on Seeing Limitations: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-628-x/2009013/fs-fi/fs-fi-eng.htm
Born Blind Vs. Becoming Blind: http://playingtheblindcard.blogspot.ca/2012/01/born-blind-vs-becoming-blind.html

Helping Canadians with Disability/Chronic Disease Get Physically Active

For Canadians with a disability, regular physical activity may be even more important than it is for the rest of the population. For a person with a disability, an active lifestyle can open doors to increased health, social inclusion and self-empowerment - doors which might otherwise remain closed. Access to physical activity can eliminate the likelihood of acquiring secondary health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease. Being active builds resiliency and can provide an all-important outlet for a person with a disability.

 

This project would not have been possible without the expertise of our partners. ALACD would like to sincerely thank these organizations for working with us to develop this resource: the Ontario Blind Sports Association, Variety Village, the National Network for Mental Health, and the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada.