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Sport Opportunities for Children with Visual Impairments
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
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Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
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Overview: Visual impairment is a broad term that encompasses the disability of all individuals who are on the spectrum of having low vision to being fully blind. Globally, an estimated 19 million children are visually impaired, 1.4 million of which are blind (Solebo & Rahi, 2013). The most prevalent causes of visual impairment in children in developed countries are neurological and cerebral disorders (Solebo & Rahi, 2013). Children with visual impairment spend significantly less time engaging in sport and physical activity than their healthy counterparts. These high levels of inactivity lead to low levels of physical fitness that can result in significant health problems, particularly later in life.

Physical fitness levels

Children who are visually impaired tend to lead a more inactive lifestyle than their sighted peers. They rarely participate in after-school sports and only engage in activities of low to moderate intensity (Aslan et al., 2012). This lack of physical activity results in a reduction in cardiovascular and muscular endurance, poor balance and stunted motor skill development (Yildirim et al., 2013, Aslan et al., 2012).

Reasons for reduced fitness

Studies have shown that children who are visually impaired perceive low levels of competence in their abilities and thus, avoid participation in sport and apply little effort (Shapiro et al., 2005). Additionally, teachers are not given sufficient training on how to include these individuals in physical education classes in school (Lieberman et al., 2014).

Benefits of physical activity and sports participation

It is well known that regular participation in physical activity improves overall health and plays a large role in the prevention of chronic disease (Sothern et al., 1999). While sport participation is not the only form of physical activity, it has been shown to be highly effective in encouraging and maintaining a healthy and physically active lifestyle.

Specific benefits for children who are visually impaired

Children who are visually impaired have seemingly little opportunity to participate in sport and physical activity. They typically withdraw from group sports and, as a result, lack the social network that they otherwise would have been able to build. This lack of participation not only contributes to an inactive lifestyle but can also have severe adverse psychosocial consequences (Shapiro et al., 2005) Additionally, sport participation has been shown to provide the added benefit of enhanced hearing in visually impaired children. Recent research suggests that participation in goalball, a sport invented for blind athletes, results in decreased auditory reaction time and increased duration of hearing (Yildirim et al., 2013).

Sports specifically designed for visually impaired individuals


Visually impaired World War II veterans originally played goalball as a means of rehabilitation (Yildirim et al, 2013). Teams of three don blindfolds to ensure that partially sighted players do not have an advantage over blind players. Crowd members must maintain complete silence to allow the players to hear the bells that are contained within the goalball. Players listen for the bells and must try to block the ball from rolling into the goal area by lying down on the floor in a perpendicular position (Greer & Pedersen, 2008).


Showdown is very similar to table tennis but has been modified for the inclusion of visually impaired individuals. The showdown ball contains sound makers to allow for location of the ball. Players must try to hit the ball across the table, under a screen centred in the middle of the table, and into the opponent’s goal. The first player to reach eleven points with a two-point difference, wins (IBSA, 2005).

Sport adaptations to include visually impaired individuals


Judo is an incredibly strenuous form of martial art that involves striking or kicking. Blind athletes are led to their starting position beside the referees by the judges. Judo is performed in the same manner as it would be with sighted athletes; however, the referee is present to guide them to their positions (Mastro & Pearson, 2002).


Visually impaired athletes are able to participate in cycling either through the use of a stationary bicycle or on a tandem bicycle. The only requirement of tandem bicycling is a sighted pilot. (Tasiemski et al., 2012)


Visually impaired swimmers are able to maintain a relatively straight trajectory by using the pool lane ropes as a tactile guide. In order to avoid head trauma, swimmers often use “tappers”, or assistants who will tap the swimmer on the back with a pole to signal the approaching wall (Magno et al., 2013).


5-a-side football has become increasingly popular amongst the visually impaired community. Adaptations to allow for location orientation include communication amongst the players and a noise-making device inserted into the football. (Velten et al., 2014). Teams are consisted of four visually impaired or blindfolded line players and one sighted or partially sighted goalkeeper that can act as a guide (Magno et al., 2012).

Alpine and Cross-Country Skiing

Alpine and cross-country skiing are made possible through the use of a sighted guide or teammate (Walsh & Mushett, 2012). Visually impaired skiers hold onto a rope attached to a guide who informs the skier of changes in terrain or obstacles (USABA, 2009).


A guide wire system can be set up on a track, gymnasium or even in a child’s backyard to safely guide visually impaired runners. The guide wire is pulled taut and contains a warning knot 2 feet from the end of the rope so the individual is given warning to slow down when they are reaching the end. A PVC pipe can be placed around the rope so the runner does not have to hold directly on the rope (Butcher et al., 2001) Alternatively, visually impaired individuals and sighted guides can run alongside each other holding a short tether in between them. This allows for more independence than if the athlete were to hold onto the guides arm, but allows the guide to pull them in close if a danger appears. (Butcher et al., 2001)

Teaching strategies for inclusion

As previously stated, children with visual impairments generally have lower levels of fitness and less developed motor skills than their sighted peers. The need to include visually impaired individuals in physical activity and sport is paramount. The following are strategies for teachers and parents to effectively teach motor skills to individuals who are visually impaired:

Physical Guidance

Physical guidance involves physically manipulating the student’s body part into the required position for a particular movement skill (O’Connell et al., 2006). For example, when teaching the student how to kick a ball, the guide would hold the student’s leg and physically manipulate the leg and foot into a kicking position to show them how it’s done. Verbal cues can be used to supplement the feedback provided by physical guidance.

Tactile Modeling

Another teaching technique is termed “tactile modeling”. The guide will allow the visually impaired individual to touch their body while they perform a particular movement skill in order to feel how the skill can be effectively carried out (O’Connell et al., 2006). For example, they can put their hands on the guide’s hips while they perform a batting swing in order to understand the required hip rotation.

Sighted Guides

A major barrier for visually impaired individuals in the participation of sport and physical activity is the fear of being unable to see potential hazards. Sighted guides accompany the individual and help them avoid anything that could cause them harm or injury. They can be used in a variety of ways including tandem cycling, tethered running, tethered skiing, or tapping in swimming.

Goalball for all!

Many sighted individuals have started to participate in goalball, a sport originally designed to be played by the blind. All participants are blindfolded to ensure that nobody has a visual advantage over other players. It has been suggested that goalball should be included within the general curriculum of physical education classes regardless of whether or not the students are blind. Participation in goalball will provide sighted individuals the unique opportunity of relying solely on auditory and kinesthetic information. It will also help them gain empathy towards the struggles of their visually impaired peers. Additionally, participation in a team where the visually impaired individual is not at disadvantage compared to their teammates will undoubtedly aid in increasing their perceived competence and thus, their overall self-confidence (Greer & Perdereson, 2008)

Opportunities for Participation in Sport

BC Blind Sports and Recreation Association

BC Blind Sports is a Vancouver-based not-for-profit organization that aims to facilitate physical activity participation in individuals of all ages tha are visually impaired. This association offers a wide variety of sport opportunities and trains volunteers to act as sighted guides. They also loan equipment, such as goalballs, and provide visually impaired individuals with the opportunity to meet friends with similar disabilities. For more information, visit:

Insight in Schools

Insight in Schools is a wonderful initiative put on by BC Blind Sports. They will come to your school or community program to introduce adaptations for equipment or activities to include individuals with visual impairment. They facilitate games that include the whole class group, provide Paralympic information and provide lessons plans to the teachers so that they can continue to include inclusive games in their classes. For more information, visit:

Canada Blind Sport

Canada Blind Sports is the national sport governing body for goalball in Canada. They also provide lesson plans to facilitate the inclusion of goalball in physical education curriculum. For more information, visit:


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  2. Butcher, M., Moak, S., & Lieberman, L. J. (2001). A study of guide-running techniques for children who are blind. Urbana: Sagamore Publishing.
  3. Greer, L., & Pedersen, S. (2008). Listen up: Goalball for all. Urbana: Sagamore Publishing.
  4. IBSA (2005) Showdown. Retrieved from
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