Ed & Recreation for the Visually Impaired
By Angelo Montagnino
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 a high degree of light
to best see a target, while some children are bothered
by the glare of bright light.
Descriptive Verbal Instructions
Since the main avenue of learning for many 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." Cite large landmarks in the playing
area and elsewhere 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 to the totally blind person. Use tactual,
hands-on demonstrations with verbal instruction. Describe
where things are by using the face of a clock for orientation,
with the child at six o'clock: for example, "The water
fountain is at seven o'clock, about 12 feet away."
Movement as a Mode of 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 visually impaired child has
another way to learn about himself and his world.
the Student in a Physically Active Way
Try to avoid having students only participating as scorekeepers
or timers in a game. They need the activity. See that
the visually impaired child is totally active during
his gym period. Try to work the student into at least
part of the game or enjoy/experience the activity with
Allow the Visually Impaired Child To Be Near Enough
To See or Touch When Demonstrations Are Given
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 little usable vision, the
demonstrator or some other participant can 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 sometimes helpful.
a Fun and Safe Environment
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
of Flying Objects
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 visually impaired youngster.
Use of a Partner
In many activities and games, a partner can greatly
enhance the enjoyment and safety for the visually impaired
Within reason, carefully experiment and see what works
best for the visually impaired student. Each visually
impaired student has his own unique abilities and difficulties.
Don't underestimate his ability.
with the Visually Impaired Child not only To Determine
Activity Preference but also To Decide Which Activities
Might Be Safe
As mentioned earlier, there are eye conditions that
limit activity, a fact which should be discussed with
the visually impaired child, or if the child is young,
with a 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 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.
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 visually
impaired student may take one serve before each team
begins serving.) The visually impaired child will want
the activity to remain as close to its original form
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 would be advisable to seek the assistance
of the visually impaired child. He or she may or may
not want to use a balloon, beach ball, etc.
Adaptations: Development of Fundamental Skills and Games
Encourage movement exploration. Focus on how the body
moves by bending, stretching, turning, swinging, and curling
the body, by itself, as well as in relationships 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 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, and the
children will become more confident knowing that they
can handle themselves on a spill.
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, softer
ball will help.
be aware of the child's previous experiences in recreation
and other areas. Some 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 working with basic skills before involving the
child in some regular play activities.
Limit 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 visually
impaired child without greatly distorting the experience
for the normally sighted participants.
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.
Larger or Smaller Playing Objects
For example, a beach ball can be used to play volleyball.
A child with an acuity loss 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.
Proper Lighting and Coloring 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.
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, stripes, polka dots, certain
plaids or colors, strobe lights, and lights reflecting
off glass bother some children.
Have the person "it" wear an elastic band with bells
on it on the wrists or ankles, or maintain verbal contact
while pursuing the visually impaired student, or buddy
the visually impaired student with a helper.
Provide a change in 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 on the playing
Before throwing the ball, give the receiver a sound
clue. A bounce pass will be easier to receive than a
direct pass. Utilize a large, heavy balloon as a ball
to slow down the speed of the action. The use of yarn
balls, fluff balls and nerf balls lessen the impact
of a direct hit to the body. These should be used when
playing the popular game of dodge ball. When throwing
at a target, provide a sound reinforcement (e.g. bells)
behind the target. Beepers can be used or just have
someone strike the target first.
To practice striking skills, place a lightweight ball
with a bell in it or attached to it on a tee or suspend
it from the ceiling. If you want the ball to be knocked
off the rope when it is whacked, attach it with Velcro.
(Place one part of the Velcro on the end of the rope
and the matching Velcro onto the ball.) In this way,
the child will learn about the projection of the ball
as well as learning how to control his hit in determining
the power and direction in which the ball will go. The
visually impaired 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
bell or several small bells placed inside a large whiffle
ball will make an excellent rolling target.
Partners can provide safe assistance in running. They
may hold hands or use brush contact (lightly touch back
of hand to back of hand or arm to arm). Visually impaired
student and guide runner can each hold the end or loop
of a flexible piece of material (loop can go over one
wrist of each runner). A visually impaired runner may
be able to run to a "caller" for a short run. A student
can also run by himself by holding onto a rope stretched
out between two points. Provide a warning signal about
8 feet from each end. If tape is wrapped around the
rope, the student can quickly turn at that point and
continue a shuttle run.
Centered or Individual Sports and Activities
These activities are most valuable for the 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."
Rhythms can provide great fun for the visually impaired
student. Line dancesone line, everyone holding
hands. Novelty dancesall doing same movements
in own self-space. Partner danceskeep in body
or voice contact. Modern or jazzgive student a
specific boundary area free of obstacles. Aerobic dancestep
aerobics and basic movements are great. Where needed
provide extra verbal instructions, "up close" or hands
Vaultingstart with hands on vault or use a one-step
Beamencourage bare feet or light slippers; or
use a long strip of carpet the same size as the beam
on the floor.
Tumblingprovide an area free of objects; have
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 could help keep student
going straight and signal a totally blind tumbler when
he approaches the end of the mat.
Provide a tactual floor cue (long board or sidewalk)
perpendicular to the target. Have student stand sideward
to tactual floor cue. Provide a sound cue below or in
front of target. Help student site target by telling
him to move bow to the left, right, up, or down. Use
large traffic cones about 1/3 distance to help a visually
impaired student 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
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 student is swimming the front crawl along the side
of the pool, watch that he doesn't bump his head against
the wall. Teach him to use a delayed arm stroke as he
anticipates the upcoming wall. A racing lane should
be about 3 feet wide in order to give immediate feedback
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.
Run tandem with a sighted guide (use brush or holding
contact). In high jumping use a one-step approach; some
visually impaired 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 you want the student to move in. The discus
and shot-put require the use of a sound clue (clap,
beeper, or counting) from the direction you want the
object to go in. Some visually impaired students may
not need any modification; 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.
Although the actual game of most team sports can be
quite difficult for total involvement of a visually
impaired student, most of the fundamental skills of
each sport can easily be taught to the student and then
modified games can be played. The game should not be
changed so much that it no longer resembles the intended
game. More focus on the basic skills of the sport not
only benefits the visually impaired child but also helps
improve the sighted child's skills. Try to find the
best position for the visually impaired student to play
or the part of the game to become involved in.
Focus on dribbling skills. Visually impaired children
can become very skilled at dribbling a ball in different
directions. Another player can dribble alongside to
provide a sound cue.
up short ball-handling and dribbling routines.
free throws, help position student at free throw line
and give a clapping sound clue while standing directly
under the basket. With some exploration or 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.
beeper could be placed at the back rim of the basket
and the student could locate the sound source to shoot
small carpet square could be stuck to the free throw
line and the student could dribble around the court.
When he gets to the carpet square, he would then turn
to the sound source and shoot.
playing with a partner or group, be sure to warn the
blind student of an upcoming pass. For example, "Hey,
Todd" (get attention), (pause) yell "Catch," (then pass
passing the ball, the use of a bounce pass gives additional
impaired students can be "special foul shooters."
Practice hitting a ball off a tee or from a suspended
rope. First use the hand and then practice with a bat.
in the field can be extremely hazardous. A visually
impaired student may be able to play the field, especially
with a good buddy.
good choice is to be a designated hitter for both teams.
Use of foam balls or whiffle balls and a rubber or plastic
bat can provide a much safer environment and the game
could also be played indoors. 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.
at a stationary ball if needed. Be a designated kicker
for both teams.
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 than a visually impaired pitcher.
A visually impaired student may be able to play
defense by himself or with a partner side by side, put
the ball into play for both teams, corner kick or take
If needed a beep soccer ball is available. For kicking
practice, use a box about 1-foot square as a soccer
ball. 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.
milk carton with bells in it is also a fun item to kick
and track. Keep away games can easily be made up with
a partner or small group teams.
tin can with pebbles in it can be used when playing
outside on an asphalt or concrete surface.
Make use of the same hitting items as in soccer.
the visually impaired student to use the goalie's wider
and flatter stick (greater surface area will aid the
student in finding the puck or ball).
Practice lead-up skills of volleying with a large, heavy
balloon. The slower speed of the balloon gives the partially
sighted student a better chance to track the motion.
activity could provide more success for sighted children,
games can be played with a sponge ball, nerf ball, beach
ball, or large balloon. Visually impaired players can
stay up close to the net or may be able to do everything
under ideal or good conditions. Visually impaired students
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