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Making Physical Activity Instruction More Accessible

It is not often that you find a person with extremely limited or no vision participating in a mainstream exercise class. The primary reason for the absence is the visually based follow-the-leader method of instruction. Rather than verbally communicating with the participants, instructors use their body position and movement as the cue to change exercises. Similar instruction occurs in the physical education arena when the teacher swings the bat to model a swing or shoots a basket to show proper form. Effective instruction of a blind or visually impaired participant requires that he or she fully grasp the concept of the movement or position. This understanding can often be accomplished through the combination of verbal description, tactile assessment, and communication.

Verbal Description

     The first key to affective instruction of a person with a visual impairment is to translate the visual cues into words and expressions that are more familiar. Give frequently used moves descriptive names that the participant can relate to his life experience. For example, bend to the side to pick up something or pretend to walk up steps. It can also be helpful to point out what the move will feel like to the relevant muscles or the hand’s touch. In addition to aiding with body positions and movements, verbal description is also important to the conceptualization of field layout, player positions, and game rules. In some cases, participants learn best with an actual model.

Tactile Assessment

     In tandem with verbal description, tactile feedback can make learning about sports and physical activity easier for a visually impaired participant. Sometimes the instructor or another participant will act as a model, allowing the visually impaired individual to physically place a hand on him or her for further clarification. Instructors can also create tactile replicas of player positions and field layout by gluing string or even spaghetti to cardboard. The concept of player movements can be demonstrated tactually by using and adjusting pushpins on the cardboard replica. While introducing unfamiliar equipment, instructors can allow students to tactually investigate with their hands in order to gain a clearer understanding for the equipments use and operation. Even after verbal description and tactile feedback, a visually impaired participant may still have difficulty grasping the concepts.


     Communication between the instructor and participant must be clear and uninhibited for effective learning. Since each person has a different visual ability and personality, it is important to ask questions rather than make assumptions. Do not be afraid of asking a participant about his vision or athletic ability. It is important to find out from the participant about his preferred learning methods. Does he learn better through verbal description or tactile feedback? In some cases when a participant cannot grasp the concepts through either method, the instructor may want to ask if it is okay to physically move the participant's body into the necessary position. When speaking with the participant it is not necessary to avoid words such as: blind, see, watch, look, etc. Just as these words are part of your vocabulary, visually impaired people use them too. Making a conscious effort to replace these words will only make the experience awkward. Rather than instructing the participant to move his left or right side, encourage him to pick one side and then the other. Often instructors and participants become confused by the left and right issue depending which way they are facing. The combination of excellent communication and descriptive verbal directions, along with the allowance for some tactile feedback can make the instruction of physical activities much more accessible to visually impaired participants.



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