Physical Education Adaptations

Physical education is important for all students including those who are blind or visually impaired. Although planning will be necessary, it is important to include students in the physical education program as it is a required component of the standard curriculum.

As with other students, students with visual impairments need to be actively involved in physical education programs that teach life long skills to maintain their health. In order to make the program accessible to students, there are adaptations and specialized equipment that may need to be employed to ensure that the student can fully access the physical education program. Prior to determining appropriate adaptations, it is important to first understand the students functional vision. The Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments will provide information for the team members and P.E. teacher on each students unique visual needs. One rule of thumb for all students with any visual impairment is to keep the instructional area as uncluttered as possible.

The instruction of recreation skills should be planned and deliberately taught, and should focus on the development of life long skills. Often students who are visually impaired do not experience the same opportunities for recreation that students with no vision loss have in the early years. Recreational and leisure activities can provide an avenue for the development of motor skills, social skills, language skills, and fitness. It is important to expose the students to as many age-appropriate recreational activities as possible. This will best prepare the student for future inclusion and independence.

Support the inclusion of students with visual impairments in group activities. Be sure that students play and talk with classmates rather than sit on the sidelines. Describe choices of activities that are available at recess. During games, allow students to buddy-up with a sighted partner. Remember that students who are visually impaired need support from staff during periods of free play on the playground. The visually impaired student should be able to participate in most recreational activities except for those that require good visual acuity (i.e. dodge ball). Build a student’s self-confidence by letting him/her try. Take the student through an activity or game a couple of times before requiring independent movement. For a sighted student, motor imitation is a visual skill; a student who is visually impaired needs to experience the activity physically.

P.E. Adaptations & Accommodations

Team Sports
With some accommodations, a student with a visual impairment can participate in team sports. Possible auditory accommodations for physical education include beeping balls or balls with bells, beeping goal posts, rice in a beach ball or volleyball a sound source (beeps or plays music), beeping bases or radios to locate targets. Possible visual accommodations include brightly colored balls or those that offer a high contrast to their surroundings. Bright pylons beside bases and padded and brightly colored goalposts. Fluorescent tape can be used to mark boundaries in the gym and outdoors.

A guide can be used to run with the student in order to encourage participation and foster social exchanges. However, to promote independence and encourage running, use guide wire system or rope that is securely anchored to an eyehook or attached to poles. Attach a PVC tube to the rope/wire so the student can hold the tube and run along the rope. This allows the student to run freely and not be dependent on a sighted guide. Running in on an open field with no assistance is an option if you use a portable sound source. The student can be encouraged to run toward the sound source. An indoor option that can lead to greater independence and lifelong fitness is to provide the student with a treadmill.

The foundation for bicycling can begin when a child is young. Providing opportunities for students to play on riding toys is a good introduction. Older students can build endurance and experience physical activity by using a stationary bike. Students with low vision may be able to learn to ride a bike, but depending on their level of available vision, may need to ride along side a sighted adult or peer who can warn the student of any dangers. Students who are blind may be able to experience biking using a tandem bicycle.

Some students with low vision will be able to safely bicycle independently. However, it is always safer to ride in pairs. An option for many students with visual impairments is to use a tandem bicycle or a duo bike. These options allow the student to have social interactions as well as fully participate in true cycling where they can experience the sites, sounds, and smells and provides a mode of transportation. Other options include a stationary bike that will promote physical fitness.

Physical Games & Sports
Simple games can be adapted easily, but it may be more challenging to adapt team sports. Although games can be adapted, students will need to acquire the motor skills necessary to fully participate in the games. Skills needed to play in games may need to be taught in isolation. It is important to be aware of the student’s are more at risk for retinal detachment. Also, some eye conditions can be aggravated by vigorous physical activity. The student should either refrain from the activity or it should be modified.

Students can learn basic bowling skills by playing with home-made or purchased bowling sets that can be used at home and school. A sound source can be placed behind the pins in order to provide an auditory target for the students. Many bowling alleys will provide bumpers, or portable bowling rails, upon request.

Possible PE, Outdoor & Playground activities

  • Balance beam play
  • Ball play (balls with bells or beeper balls)
  • Bean Bag toss at board with hole or at plastic bottles filled with sound making materials.
  • Bumper Bowling
  • Dancing
  • Gymnastics
  • Hoop play (roll, follow and pick up)
  • Jump on trampoline
  • Jumping Rope
  • Martial Arts (Judo)
  • Parachute games
  • Play catch with Velcro mitts
  • Pull a friend in a wagon
  • Push a shopping cart (add weight from real cans, etc.)
  • Relay games
  • Run with an adult or peer along a rope strung across a safe area
  • Sledding with adult or peer
  • T-ball
  • Three legged walk
  • Tug-of-war
  • Tumble on foam pit or on mat
  • Walk in a variety of ways along a rope

Source: Carmen Willings, Teaching Students with Visual Impairments

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