After more than 30 years of teaching, researching, working with teachers and families, and running sports camps, I have learned a great deal about including students who are visually impaired into physical education. Here are my top 5 tips:
- Get to know your student.
- Order equipment, books and curricula from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH).
- Use the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach to teaching your classes to ensure students with visual impairments are included.
- Be sure that ALL paraeducators are trained to support the student in physical education.
- Include pre-teaching in your routines.
Talk to them and find out what they can see, what sports they like and what their preferred modifications may be. Ask them their preferred tactile teaching style such as a physical assist or feeling you or a peer demonstrate a skill. You can also get to know them by meeting and talking to their Teacher of the Visually Impaired or Orientation and Mobility Instructor about how to best accommodate their vision. For information about instructional strategies, watch this video from the Perkins School for the Blind.
There are funds from the government to support education of students with visual impairments (VI) as well as products such as beeping balls, jump rope kits, walk/run for fitness kits, books, and curricula. You can look through APH’s product list and then order through your Teacher of the Visually Impaired or Orientation and Mobility Instructor.
*Remember that children with VI should learn the same units as their peers at the same time, no matter where they are placed for physical education.
Plan ahead, ensure an appropriate array of equipment, include a variety of rule variations, and provide a trained peer tutor (or a paraprofessional) to support your students. Please see the Lieberman/Brian Inclusion Rating Scale for Physical Education (LIRSPE) to understand the full approach. You can also read the UDL chapter in the book Strategies for Inclusion, Third Edition.
Most paraeducators will not have a background in physical education, but they will know their student very well. Work together so they know what your goals are for the class and what you expect from each student. Be sure they hold the student with visual impairments to the same standard as their peers. I recommend reading the chapter on utilizing paraeducators in the book Strategies for Inclusion, Third Edition. You can also watch the video on instructional strategies from the Perkins School for the Blind (see Tip 1 above) with your paraeducators so you are all on the same page regarding instruction and feedback for your students with visual impairments.
Students with visual impairments will take longer to learn each unit because they cannot acquire the same environmental cues as their sighted peers. Each unit must be introduced before it occurs with their peers. This should include the dimensions of the court, field, or game area, equipment, scoring, terminology, rules, and strategies. This may take several classes for the student to comprehend enough to be comfortable in the new unit. This can be done in a self-contained class before the unit occurs in the inclusive class. It can also be done before school, after school, during free times, or during orientation and mobility class. Pre-teaching gives the child the necessary information in order to be successful in each unit. To learn more about pre-teaching, read chapter 12 of Adapted Physical Education & Sport. You can also watch the Teaching Gross Motor Development video found on the Camp Abilities website. Children with visual impairments are children first. It may take more time to include them successfully in your physical education class, but they are worth the time and energy — and their peers need to see that you care about their success. Below are some resources that will help you!
- Strategies for Inclusion: Physical Education for Everyone
- Gross Motor Development Curriculum for Children With Visual Impairments
- Possibilities: Recreation Experiences of Individuals Who Are Deafblind
- Physical Education and Sports for People With Visual Impairments and Deafblindness: Foundations of Instruction
- Everybody Plays! How Kids With Visual Impairments Play Sports
- Games for People With Sensory Impairments
- Sports for Everyone: A Handbook for Starting Sports Camps for Children With Visual Impairments
- Paraeducators in Physical Education: A Training Guide to Roles and Responsibilities
- Going Places: Transition Guidelines for Community-Based Physical Activities for Students Who Have Visual Impairments, Blindness, or Deafblindness
- Camp Abilities — instructional videos on many sports
- American Printing House for the Blind — products, books, research, videos
Lauren J. Lieberman, Ph.D., is a distinguished service professor in the Kinesiology Department of The College at Brockport, State University of New York (SUNY). She is the founder and director of Camp Abilities: An educational sports camp for children with visual impairments. Camp Abilities has been replicated in 20 states and eight countries. She has published over 130 peer-reviewed articles and 18 books. Most recently she has been awarded a Global Fulbright Scholarship to promote Camp Abilities worldwide.