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- Sport and Fitness for People With Vision Impairments
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Summary: This fact sheet offers gym instructors and leisure staff hints and tips to help people with sight problems to access gym facilities and get the most out of their fitness programmes.
What should I do if a person with vision impairment comes to the gym?
If you are the first member of staff to deal with the person with a vision impairment, you will probably ask him / her to fill out a form. Standard practice in many places is for the staff member to read the questions aloud, and write down the answers on behalf of the person. This works very well for people with vision impairments, and all you need to do is show them where to sign.
If there are a lot of terms and conditions to read, or if the customer with vision impairment would prefer to bring the form home, it is helpful to have a copy of the application form (and any other documents) in a more accessible format. These formats include clear print, large print, Braille and audio. Information can also be made accessible on your website. The NCBI Media Centre provides an audio recording and Braille transcription service. The Centre also offers a clear print advisory service and quality mark. Find out more about these services.
Contact NCBI’s Centre for Inclusive Technology for advice on accessible website design.
If your gym or fitness centre meets standard Health and Safety requirements, a person with vision impairment is unlikely to have much difficulty using your facilities. However, the following are some extra checks you may need to make:
- Bear in mind that it is often difficult for people with vision impairments to orientate in wide-open spaces. They may prefer to go around the edge of a large room, rather than straight across the middle. This will depend on the individual and on the space. Therefore, remove head-high obstacles along the walls by recessing or repositioning items, for example fire extinguishers hung on walls or windows that open into circulation paths.
- Edges of steps should be marked in contrasting colour.
- A change in surface and colour – not causing a trip hazard – should precede steps or stairs (ask NCBI for advice).
- Handrails, in good colour contrast, should be provided at stairs (ask NCBI for advice).
- Door handles and frames in contrasting colours are very helpful.
- A person with vision impairment with a guide dog will need somewhere for the dog to lie and wait while the owner uses the gym. You can ask people to bring their own mat and water bowl, or you can offer to provide these for the guide dog.
- Lighting levels should be even throughout the building. People with vision impairment can often manage just as well as sighted people, in good light. Changing from bright to dark, or dark to bright areas, can cause problems. This is why it is essential to replace light bulbs as soon as they wear out. Bright sunlight streaming in through windows can be too dazzling; blinds should be used wherever this is a problem.
- When decorating, consider using matt rather than high gloss surfaces / paints, to minimise glare.
- Signs should be large and clear, in good colour contrast, well positioned, and provided in tactile form as well as in large print and Braille, wherever possible (ask NCBI for advice).
Don’t forget, all of this will make your gym safer and more comfortable for everyone, not just people with vision impairments!
Can I help you?
It is a good idea to ask customers with vision impairments if there is anything you can do for them. Different people have different kinds of vision problems, and different needs.
Some people with vision impairments may need to take your arm while you show them around. Don’t push people from behind – offer your elbow for a person with vision impairment to hold, and then walk normally, keeping your arm by your side. Always stop and tell the person if there are steps up or down, and wait while she or he finds the handrail. (Sighted Guide Skills training is available from NCBI.)
If you don’t have time to show routes to and from lockers etc. more than once, you should suggest that the customer with vision impairment might like to apply for Orientation and Mobility Training from NCBI.
Alternatively, check if they can bring a sighted friend to provide assistance and support. If this is possible, the sighted friend can accompany them on visits, until the visually impaired person is confident that they can manage alone.
Disability Awareness Training
NCBI can, on request, provide training in:
- Understanding the different problems associated with different types of vision impairment.
- Communicating with people who have vision impairments – including ways to make written communication accessible to all.
- How to safely guide a person with vision impairment.
Other useful information:
Planning a fitness programme
People with vision impairments can participate in most of the fitness activities offered within your gym. There is no one sporting activity that people with vision impairments most enjoy or are most successful at. People with vision impairments enjoy a wide range of activities, including running, weight training, athletics, football, basketball, swimming, yoga, aerobics and fitness circuits to music, etc.
One particular issue to consider when planning a fitness programme for some people with low vision is that reading with a magnifying lens can involve stooping over print. Include exercises to stretch the person’s chest muscles, strengthen back muscles and expand his or her lungs.
Sometimes minor adaptations may need to be made to the rules and / or equipment of a game, in order to enable a person with vision impairment to participate. See Games which can include people with vision impairments later in this factsheet.
When preparing a fitness programme, you should ask the person about their eye condition, as this may determine the choice of activities offered. People with vision impairments should not exercise until checking with their doctor after a lens implant, laser treatment or other eye surgery; or if they have bleeding in the retina or a detached retina. A person with a detached retina may need to avoid contact sports and / or activities involving fast moving objects. A person that has had laser treatment or eye surgery should not go swimming, in case of infection, until clearance from their doctor.
Some gyms / fitness centres have brightly coloured uniforms for their staff. This is very helpful for identification purposes for everyone, but especially for people with vision impairments.
When giving instruction, avoid glare by standing away from direct sunlight. A customer with vision impairment may be better able to manage if given a position with his / her back to bright sunlight – ask, because this can vary from one individual to another.
Try to give clear verbal instructions. When people can’t see what you are doing, they need you to use precise language and clear verbal descriptions and explanations. If you realise that someone has not understood your instructions, explain again using different words and phrases.
A fitness instructor can sensitively give individual body manipulation to demonstrate a move or skill. Before touching, ask for permission to do so, and explain what you are about to do in advance, so that the person is prepared.
The workout area should be well lit, without glare. If a lot of light enters from a particular location, people with impaired vision might consider working with their back to the light. It can be helpful to highlight the boundaries of the workout area, using tactile or luminous markings. Brightly coloured gym mats, on a dark coloured floor, can be used as tactile bases and as boundary markers. Alternatively, if the floor is a bright colour, darker coloured gym mats can be used.
Take a few minutes before beginning an activity with a group, to deal individually with a person with vision impairment, and to familiarise him / her with the area. You should ensure that the person understands the activity and the associated safety precautions. Any hazards within the area should be cleared.
Simple alterations to the equipment used can make an activity more accessible to people with vision impairments.
For ball games, to aid with location of the ball, use a brightly coloured ball, as this will make the ball easier to see. Ask the person what colour they can see best – yellow or pink balls can often be very good. Fluorescent tennis balls can be purchased from local sports shops.
Use a bigger ball and / or a ball that contains bells, ball bearings or emits beeping sounds. Audible footballs can be purchased from the NCBI resource centre. In striking games or ball games, the size of ball, bat or both can be increased.
Goals that contrast in colour with the background will often facilitate people with low vision to utilise their remaining vision. Consider using brightly coloured traffic cones for track events and games. Buzzers or bells can also be inserted in or attached to goals or targets to give audible feedback.
Mark gym equipment with bright contrasting coloured tape on black or dark coloured equipment to assist a person with a vision impairment with seeing the equipment.
Yoga and Pilates
In yoga or pilates, people with vision impairments can work alone, in pairs or in small groups. Physical skills such as balance and co-ordination can be improved. Body awareness, spatial awareness, timing and rhythm may also be developed. Clear verbal instructions and the use of manual demonstrations will help. Support or guidance may be needed for balancing activities.
Invasion games (basketball, hockey, netball and soccer)
Leisure club members who are vision impaired may wish to participate in a group game. These games often include a lot of speed and physical contact, but the following modifications may make it easier for people with vision impairments to participate:
- When arranging groupings consider the size of group and each player’s familiarity with the game.
- Reduce size of playing area and mark the boundaries clearly.
- Adapt equipment – increase the size of the ball and choose a bright contrasting colour ball.
- Simplify the rules.
Net / wall games
Racquet games are games such as table tennis, badminton, volleyball, squash and tennis. Some of the simple adaptations to these games include:
- Use a brightly coloured table tennis ball or larger brightly coloured shuttlecocks. Good colour contrast will make the ball easier to see and locate.
- Lower the height of the net or use another barrier such as a bench.
- Increase size of ball making it easier to see.
- Reduce density of ball – e.g. use balloon ball to reduce speed.
- Place barriers around a tennis table so that the ball will not go too far astray.
With the addition of simple adaptations, a person with low vision can easily play net / wall games as part of a team. People who are totally blind may have considerable difficulty playing racquet games that involve locating and hitting a fast moving object. If a blind person and a sighted person are playing racquet games, they should use steady, gentle shots and have fun with keeping the rally going.
Many people with vision impairments can become fast, competent swimmers able to work alongside sighted people and compete against them. You to may need to take the following points into account:
- Familiarise the a person with vision impairment with the layout of the changing rooms, the route to the swimming pool and the pool layout, particularly location of steps and handrail.
- At the start, let the swimmer orientate themselves around the pool, how long it is and how wide it is. The person might like to walk the width of the pool before they start swimming.
- Ensure that the person is familiar with the emergency signal and emergency procedure for clearing the pool.
- Provide high visibility exit signs.
- Verbal commands should be extremely clear and you need to be aware of voice distortion by echoes.
- Consider your teaching position – to avoid glare do not stand in front of a window.
- Before demonstrating a stroke using touch, always let the person know that you are going to use touch beforehand.
- Brightly coloured lane markers will guide the person enabling them to swim in a straight line.
- Prevent a person from banging into the side of the pool by tapping them gently on the head with a float, a stick with a ball on the end or other light implement.
RunningMost people with vision impairments will be able to run unaided at their own pace, but some may find it helpful with a guide running at their side. Distance running is often preferable, as it does not focus on speed. Advice can be obtained from Irish Blindsports, 115 Lower Georges Street, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin – Tel: 01 2020118, Email: IBSports@eircom.net.
Please contact NCBI for additional advice on any of the points mentioned in this fact sheet.
Locall: 1850 334353
Fax: 01 8307787