Future Reflections Special Issue: Sports, Fitness, and Blindness
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by Angelo Montagnino
Editor’s Note: Angelo “Monte” Montagnino taught movement, games, and recreation skills to blind children for over three decades. He was also, for many years, the head coach of the Association for Blind Athletes in New Jersey. The following piece is a slightly edited version of an earlier article originally published in the Volume 20, Number 4, issue of Future Reflections.
Learn About the
Student’s Eye Disorder
Check the student’s records to see if any physical limitations are imposed on him. Take advantage of any residual vision the student might have. Find out if the child sees better under certain lighting conditions. Some children prefer incandescent light (yellow light) to fluorescent light (white light). Others may desire high intensity lamps to do detail work or require a high degree of light to best see a target, while some children are bothered by the glare of bright light.
Since the main avenue of learning for many blind or visually impaired children is through hearing, verbal instructions should be given when demonstrating a skill. Give clear, concise, and consistent directions. Say what it is you are actually doing in body-oriented language. For example, when teaching a child to hop, say, “Stand on your left foot, raise your right foot, and jump in the air on your left foot.” Use directional words such as, “right,” and, “left.” Cite large landmarks in the playing area to guide a low vision child: “Walk to the exit door, turn toward the window.” Using terms like, “quarter turn,” “half turn,” or “full turn,” may be helpful. Use tactual, hands-on demonstrations with verbal instruction. Describe where things are by using the face of a clock for orientation. For example, with the child at a six o’clock orientation, you might say, “The water fountain is at seven o’clock, twelve feet away.”
Use Movement as
a Mode for Learning
Guide the student but do not overprotect him. It is much better for a child to get a few bumps and bruises by interacting with his environment than to let inactivity stagnate his body. By moving and physically interacting with his environment, the blind or visually impaired child has another way to learn about himself and his world.
Give the Student
Physically Active Roles
Try to avoid having students only participating as scorekeepers or timers in a game. They need the physical activity. See to it that the blind or visually impaired child is totally active during his gym period. Try to work the student into at least part of the game or enjoy and experience the activity with another student.
Allow the Student
to See or Touch Demonstrations
A child with low vision may be able to observe procedures if he is near enough to the demonstration. For the totally blind child or child with unreliable vision, the demonstrator or some other participant may have to position the child’s body or allow the child to touch another person in the correct position and give more verbal explanations. Allowing the child to perform the activity with individual guidance is also helpful.
Provide a Fun and
Give the student an orientation to the area in which he and others will be playing. Help him discover where large pieces of equipment are placed. If equipment is moved into a different location, help him find where it is relocated and its relationship to walls and other equipment.
Beware of Flying
The surprise element of not knowing where the ball is going in a fast-moving ball or flying-object type game can result in frustration and grave consequences for the blind or visually impaired youngster.
Make Use of Partners
In many activities and games, a partner can greatly enhance the enjoyment and safety for the blind or visually impaired student.
Within reason, experiment and see what works best for the blind or visually impaired student. Each student has his own unique abilities and difficulties. Don’t underestimate his ability.
Consult with the blind or visually impaired child to determine activity preference and to decide which activities might be safe. As mentioned earlier, there are eye conditions that may limit a child’s activity. This should be discussed with the parent, physician, or low vision specialist. Consultation with these persons will give the recreation specialist a great deal of information about the needs, interests, and abilities of the child. For example, children who are at high risk for a detached retina should not participate in contact sports or diving. Children with diabetes may be advised to avoid certain sports or to increase their daily exercise gradually.
Modify the Rules
of the Game
Rules may be modified to accommodate visual limitation but care should be taken not to alter the basic structure of the game if at all possible. For example, in volleyball, the ball may be permitted to bounce once, or the blind or visually impaired student may take one serve before each team begins serving. The student will want the activity to remain as close to its original form as possible.
Use Special Equipment
In some cases, special equipment is desirable to facilitate the full participation of the child in a given activity. This equipment can be purchased from a supplier or can be developed by the physical education or recreation specialist. In archery, for instance, an auditory signal can be placed behind the target. When developing modified equipment, it is advisable to seek the assistance of the blind or visually impaired child. For example, the student may or may not want to use a balloon or beach ball in place of the regulation ball.
Suggested Adaptations for Development of Fundamental Skills
Encourage the student to
move and explore.
Focus on how the body moves by bending, stretching, turning, swinging, and curling the body by itself and in relationship to objects and other people. Help students to become aware of their body and the ways in which it can move. A good movement vocabulary will help the child to learn new skills more efficiently.
Teach the child to jump, land, and roll while standing in place, while moving, and while jumping off equipment. This is a good safety skill that will help the child become more confident because he will then know that he can handle himself on a spill.
Go from the less difficult to the more difficult skills and break down skills into their component parts.
For example, to teach the child to catch a ball, begin by bouncing the ball to the child from a short distance away. Gradually increase the distance. Then decrease the distance again, but eliminate the bounce. Finally, increase the distance again. A large, lightweight, soft ball will help.
Be aware of the child’s previous experiences in recreation and other areas. Some blind or visually impaired children have not developed activity skills because they were never given opportunities to participate in play. Thus, the physical education/recreation specialist may need to begin with basic skills before involving the child in regular play activities.
Limit the playing space.
Table tennis is an example of a game with a limited area that a child with a narrow visual field may be able to enjoy. Playing games in a small gym or a handball court may facilitate greater involvement for the blind or visually impaired child without greatly distorting the experience for the normally sighted participants.
Slow down the action.
For example, instead of a regular ball, a balloon may be used in a game of catch. A child with a field loss may be able to keep the balloon in the central portion of vision because it is moving with less speed.
Use larger or smaller playing objects.
For example, a beach ball can be used to play volleyball. If the child has an acuity loss he may be able to see the object when he is far away from it if it is larger than regulation size. Also, targets can be made larger or moved closer to the player. If the eye condition has resulted in limited visual field, it may be helpful to use a smaller ball or move the target further away so it can be seen in the field of vision.
Use proper lighting and color contrast.
A ball can be taped with bright yellow/orange fluorescent or black tape, so that it contrasts with the floor and walls. A shuttlecock can be painted a bright color to contrast with a playing court. Colored tape can be used to mark the playing areas. Contrasting colors can also be used for table games.
As previously discussed, find out if the child sees better under certain lighting conditions. It is also helpful to discuss with the child what factors may be visually distracting. For example, some children are bothered by stripes, polka dots, certain plaids or colors, strobe lights, and lights reflecting off glass.
Have the person who is “it” wear on the wrists or ankles an elastic band with bells on it, or maintain verbal contact while pursuing the blind or visually impaired student. Alternatively, you can buddy the student with a helper.
Provide a change in the floor texture. For example, place a rubber carpet runner or tumbling mats next to the wall so that the child knows when he steps onto the changed surface that he is stepping out of bounds. The change in surface is also a warning signal to him that a wall or object is coming up so he needs to put on the brakes. The child will move much more freely if he knows that hazardous objects are not in the playing area.
Throwing and Catching
Before throwing the ball, give the receiver a sound clue. A bounce pass will be easier to receive than a direct pass. Utilize large heavy balloons to slow down the speed of the ball. The use of yarn balls, fluff balls, and nerf balls lessens the impact of a direct hit to the body. These should be used when playing the popular game dodge ball. When throwing at a target, provide a sound reinforcement such as a bells behind the target. Beepers can also be used, or just have someone strike the target as a sound cue.
Striking and Hitting
To practice striking skills, place a ball on a tee or have a ball suspended from the ceiling. If you want the ball to move through space upon hitting it, use Velcro. Place Velcro on the end of a rope suspended from the ceiling. Then, place matching Velcro tape onto a light-weight ball with a bell in it. The ball will stay attached to the rope until it is struck or hit by a bat or other object. In this way, the child will learn about the projection of the ball as well as how to control his hit in determining the power and direction in which the ball will go. The student may also use a slow motion ball or large whiffle ball and oversize plastic bat. A ball can be rolled on a table or the floor. A large ball or a large wiffle ball with several small bells placed inside it makes an excellent rolling target.
Partners can provide safe assistance in running. They may hold hands or use brush contact (lightly touching hand or forearm to the partner’s hand, wrist, or any part of the arm). Another technique is for the blind or visually impaired student and guide runner to each hold the end or loop of a flexible piece of material. Alternatively, the loop can be placed over the guide’s right wrist and the blind student’s left wrist. For a short run, a blind runner may be able to run toward a “caller.” A student can also run by himself by holding onto a rope or wire stretched out between two points. Provide a warning signal about eight feet from each end. If tape is wrapped around the rope, the student can quickly turn at that point and continue a shuttle run.
Body Centered or Individual Sports and Activities
These activities are most valuable for the blind or visually impaired student and require very little change. Give explicit body oriented instructions such as “to your left,” or “pull elbow into sides,” or “reach forward and then up.”
Line dances--One line, everyone holding hands.
Novelty dances--All doing same movements in own self-space.
Partner dances--Maintain body or voice contact.
Modern or Jazz--Give student a specific boundary area that is free of obstacles.
Aerobic dance--Step aerobics and basic movements are great. When needed, provide extra verbal instruction and up-close or hands-on demonstration.
Vaulting--Start with hands on vault or use a one-step approach.
Beam--Encourage bare feet or light slippers; practice using a long strip of carpet the same size as the beam on the floor.
Tumbling--Provide an area free of objects; create a buffer area around the exercise mat to give a warning of upcoming obstacles. The mat should be of the best color contrast. A verbal cue will help the student to keep going straight and be a signal for the blind tumbler when he approaches the end of the mat.
Provide a tactual floor cue, such as a long board or sidewalk, which is perpendicular to the target. Position the student so he/she is standing sideward to tactual floor cue. Provide a sound cue below or in front of target. Help student zero in on target by telling him to move bow to the left, right, up, or down. Use large traffic cones about one-third distance to help a partially sighted student to locate the target.
Use a handrail with the free hand to guide bowler in a straight path toward pins. Square student up with pins. Give immediate feedback as to how many pins are knocked down.
Square student up with ball and target. Help the student get the side of his body facing the target. A sound or visual cue can be used. Student should wait for an “all clear” signal before swinging.
When swimming the front crawl along the side of the pool, watch that the student doesn’t bump his head against the wall. Teach him to use a delayed arm stroke as he anticipates the upcoming wall. Make the racing lane about three feet wide in order to give immediate input to the student about the direction of his stroke in relation to a straight line. When diving, have the student request an “all clear” signal before taking his dive.
Track and Field
Run tandem with a sighted guide (use “brush” or “holding” contact with a guide). In high jumping use a one-step approach; some students may be able to take more than one step and be successful at clearing the bar. The hop, step, and jump and the long jump can be attempted from a standing start. Provide a sound source from the direction to which you want the student to move.
The discus and shot-put require the use of a sound clue (clap, beeper, or counting) from the direction you want the object released. Some partially sighted students may not need any modification and some may need a visual cue to see the jump board or the bar.
Use a hand-touch start. Whenever body contact is lost, start again in the stance position with the hand-touch.
Popular Team Sports
Although the actual game of most team sports can be quite difficult for total involvement of a blind or visually impaired student, most of the fundamental skills of each sport can easily be taught to the student and then modified games played. The game should not be changed so much that it no longer resembles the intended game. Placing the focus on the basic skills of the sport not only benefits the blind child but also helps improve the sighted students’ skills. Try to find the best position or part of the game for the blind or visually impaired student to play and participate in.
Focus on dribbling skills. Blind or visually impaired children can become very skilled at dribbling a ball in different directions and while supported on different body parts. Make up short ball-handling and dribbling routines.
During free throws, position the student at the free throw line and give a clapping sound clue while standing directly under the basket. With some exploration and trial and error, the student will learn at what angle he must release the ball in order to make a basket. If needed, tap the rim with the ball once or twice. If needed, protect the student from a rebound.
A beeper can be placed at the back rim of the basket and the student can use this sound source to shoot his basket. A small carpet square can be stuck to the free throw line. The student can dribble around the court and when he gets to the carpet square, he can then turn to the sound source and shoot. Blind or visually impaired students can also be designated special foul shooters.
When playing with a partner or group, be sure to warn the blind student of an upcoming pass. For example, “Hey, Todd,” (get attention, pause) “catch”(then pass the ball). When passing the ball, the use of a bounce pass gives additional warning.
Practice hitting a ball off of a tee or from a suspended rope (see the discussion earlier about using Velcro to attach a bell-ball to a rope). First use the hand and then practice with a bat.
Playing in the field can be extremely hazardous, but some blind or visually impaired students may be able to safely play the field, especially with a good buddy.
A good choice is to be a designated hitter for both teams. The use of foam balls or wiffle balls and rubber or plastic bats can provide a much safer environment and the game can also be played indoors. Be a designated batter for both teams. Bat off tee if needed, run to the foul side of first if needed. Run with a partner. The partner is on the inside. Get behind the partner or buddy if on third.
Run bases with a sighted guide. Avoid having someone else run for the blind child. He needs the running activity.
Kick at a stationary ball if needed. Be a designated kicker for both teams.
A blind or visually impaired student can learn to deliver the ball in a good underhand pitch while the catcher gives him a sound clue. Have a defensive player to the side and several feet closer to a blind or visually impaired pitcher.
If needed, a beep soccer ball is available.
Alternatively, use a box about one foot square. The child can hear where the box is sliding to; when the sound stops, so has the movement of the box. The child can easily locate the box and kick it again.
A milk carton with bells in it is also a fun item to kick and track. (Keep-away games can also be easily made up with a partner or small group teams.)
A tin can with pebbles in it can be utilized when playing outside on an asphalt or concrete surface.
Make use of the same hitting items as in soccer.
Allow the blind or visually impaired student to use the goalies wider and flatter stick (the greater surface area will aid the student in finding the puck or ball).
Practice lead-up skills of volleying with the use of a large, heavy balloon. The slower speed of the balloon gives the partially sighted student a better chance to track the balloon. This activity could provide more success for sighted children, also.
Modified games can be played with a sponge ball, Nerf ball, beach ball, or large balloon. Partially sighted players may stay up-close to the net, or may be able to do everything without modifications under ideal or good visual conditions. A blind or visually impaired student can be a designated server. The team gets their regular serves in addition to the designated serve. A totally blind student should be given a chance to learn all the striking fundamentals with a good toss and a strike command.
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