What Are Some Of The Sports Played By People Who Are Blind Or Visually Impaired?

What Are Some Of The Sports Played By People Who Are Blind Or Visually Impaired?

Spring is here, and with it comes the beginning of baseball season and other activities, including the Boston Marathon. In honor of this, we are highlighting some of the various sports that people with vision loss can partake in. Some sports like goalball and beep baseball are specifically played by people who are blind or visually impaired, while others like swimming and running are easily adapted for these individuals. People who are blind or visually impaired can enjoy many activities, both for leisure and to compete on professional teams.

  • Goalball: this is a team sport, and participants compete in teams of three. Players try to throw a ball which has bells inside (so it can be heard) into the opponent’s goal. The teams alternate throwing or rolling the ball from one end to the other, and players remain in the area of their own goal in both defense and attack. Many countries, including the United States, have a goalball team, which competes in the Paralympics.
  • Beep baseball: as the name suggests, this is an adapted version of baseball. With the exception of the batter and catcher, all team members are blind (those who are partially sighted wear blindfolds to be on an equal playing field with their teammates). The bases beep when activated so that players know in which direction to run. Many states, including Illinois, have beep baseball teams.
  • Swimming: this can be easily adapted for those who are blind or visually impaired and wish to do it as a hobby or on a professional team. Simple techniques – like dividing lanes with ropes to help someone without sight to stay oriented – can help. You can read more about this in my previous post about swimming as someone who is blind.
  • Running: like everyone else, people who are blind or visually impaired run in all types of events. These include track and field, marathons and races. Some athletes might be able to run the course independently, while others – particularly those who are totally blind – will use the assistance of sighted guides. Many people who are blind run in marathons, biathlons and triathlons. The United States Paralympics team also includes a track and field division for runners who are blind or visually impaired.
  • Other sports that can be adapted include cycling, skiing, rowing, sailing, archery, bowling and power-lifting. Judo, wrestling and rock climbing require little or no modifications for participants with vision loss. These activities also have dedicated teams or divisions for athletes who are blind or visually impaired.

This is only a handful of the sports played by individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Although some are specifically designed for this group, others can easily be adapted with special equipment and some creativity. Like our sighted counterparts, those of us who are blind enjoy participating in competitive sports and other activities. Not only is this good exercise, it is a great way to have fun and meet other people! You can get more information and resources about these and other sports from the International Blind Sports Federation website. In next week’s post, I will share the story of fellow Lighthouse colleague Tim Paul who is visually impaired, and will be running in the upcoming Boston Marathon.

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Commentary: Let’s All Be Included In Sports

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports month. Physical activity is important for everyone whether or not we are professional athletes. Exercise not only helps people have good health, but it can also provide various social and learning opportunities. Unfortunately, those of us with disabilities are often excluded from participating in meaningful physical activities. Persistent misconceptions about our capabilities are very common, and can lead to unintentional exclusion and other consequences.

Last week, I read an article about why it is important to include people with disabilities in sports. Besides reinforcing that important message, it reminded me of when I was unintentionally excluded from gym class in junior high and high school. While my sighted classmates were running laps around the track, doing gymnastics or lifting weights, I was either doing light exercise on a stationary bicycle alongside kids with other physical and intellectual disabilities or finishing up homework in the study hall classroom. Of course, at that age I didn’t mind having that study hall time – the less homework I had to do at home the better!

Now I realize that my teachers and classmates did not purposely put me on the sidelines. They – like most people – were afraid I would get hurt. Come to think of it, I too was afraid to a certain extent. Taking a semester of swimming class was a graduation requirement for all students, but an exception was made in my case. As a swimmer I was barely at the beginner level, and like many people felt fearful of even attempting to learn more advanced skills! Without a doubt, I was relieved that the school had waived this requirement.

Much to my chagrin, that all changed during my senior year when my teacher of the visually impaired persuaded the school to include me in swimming class! My parents also loved this idea, so I could no longer escape! I was the only student who is blind, and by working one-on-one with my coach I learned alongside my classmates with no problems – you can read about my experience as a blind swimmer here. Once the semester was over, I realized my fears were irrational, and that I enjoyed swimming very much. Of course, that leads me to wonder if there are other sports I’ve missed out on simply because I haven’t been willing to or given the chance to try out.

Sports and physical exercise are also important for people who are blind or have other disabilities. Although the statistics are not yet well known, it is estimated that these individuals are more likely to suffer from obesity because of lack of exercise. This is something we as a society can easily change by being inclusive and creating more sports opportunities. Let’s set our fears and misconceptions aside and focus on what individuals with disabilities can do. After all, sports are much more than about winning and losing!