Future Reflections          Special Issue: Sports, Fitness, and Blindness

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Goalball--The Great Equalizer

by Vasantha Ayilavarapu

Editor’s Note: When we think of inclusion of blind students in sports, we usually think of adapting games that have evolved for players with perfect vision. Here is Mrs. Ayilavarapu to describe a different approach to sports and inclusion:

As a resource teacher of blind and visually impaired students in a school-based program at Federal Hill Preparatory School, a Baltimore City public K-8 school, I am constantly facing the challenge of facilitating inclusion and promoting acceptance of my blind students as equals in all areas by their sighted peers. At that sensitive age, nothing works better than sports in creating opportunities for interaction. All children love sports and relish the challenge of “fighting it out” on a sporting field. In my quest for sporting activities appropriate for my students and their sighted peers, I discovered goalball, thanks to the ever-innovative National Federation of the Blind and a local nonprofit organization, Common Senses.

Wing player, Benyamin Waldman, prepares to roll for a goal. Although Waldman is totally blind, goalball rules require that all players wear sleepshades.As those of us who work with blind students know, goalball is played with a special ball that is about the size of a basketball with a similar texture and bells inside to provide sound clues. The lines on the playing area are tactual. Whenever one player needs to pass the ball to another, he calls to the player and the other player taps the floor to let him/her locate the position of the receiving player. When turning this into an inclusive game, both blind and sighted students wear blindfolds (sleepshades) and use sound and tactile cues to play the game. Any player who needs to leave the playing area is escorted off the court using sighted guide techniques, since the players are not allowed to take their blindfolds off on the court.

The game proved to be extremely popular with both boys and girls. I had excellent collaboration and support from our physical education teacher, Jeff Byerly, who has training in regular and adaptive physical education. We started off with a small group with an equal number of blind and sighted students. The sighted students were impressed with the quick reflexes of their visually challenged peers in following sound cues. Some of the blind students have become stars and you can hear admiring comments from other students such as, “Marvin rolls the balls so fast you can’t stop them.” “Shari blocks the balls so well you can’t get anything past her.” They are all equally competitive, and the sighted students do not make any allowances as they know that their non-sighted peers can beat them at this game any day.

Thanks to the full support of our principal, Sharon Van Dyke, the program is part of our regular school day schedule. The groups are much larger now, and all teachers cooperate to fit the games and practices into their busy schedules. There is now a prestige associated with being picked to be on a goalball team in the school, and teachers have used it for all students as a reward for excellent behavior and completion of work.

Another great advantage is that we did not need a lot of material for the game. We just needed a goalball, sleepshades or blindfolds, elbow and knee guards, and some thread and tape to create tactile lines on the court. We started the game with equipment loaned to us and gradually acquired our own.

The spirit of inclusion generated by this game carries over into other school activities and has fostered meaningful friendships among the students involved. The game has added to the self-esteem of my students. We slip in some warm up exercises to expand the benefits of the game. It is very interesting and encouraging to hear the goalball jargon created by the players and the exchange of friendly banter about each other’s performance at the game. It’s a great game and we hope to keep playing it as often as we can!!


Principal Van Dyke has been with Federal Hill Prep for about eight years, and she’s a twenty-one-year veteran principal of the public school system. Van Dyke is always looking for partnerships and programs that will enhance the learning opportunities for her students. She provides essential support for the goalball program at the administrative level. With support from the administrative and teaching teams, Vasantha Ayilavarapu put together the goalball program over three years ago, and it’s still going strong. To find out how your school can develop an inclusion goalball program as part of the school’s physical education program, contact Ms. Van Dyke by e-mail at <svandyke@pbcps.k12.md.us>, or call her at the school at (410) 396-1207 or -1208. The address is Federal Hill Preparatory School, 1040 William Street, Baltimore Maryland 21230.

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