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Physical Education and Recreation for Students who are Blind/Visually Impaired. Sheila Amato, Ed.D. Teacher of Students who are Blind/Visually Impaired East Meadow School District Health and Physical Education teacher Long Island Ladies Soccer League goalkeeper

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physical education and recreation for students who are blind visually impaired

Physical Education and Recreation for Students who are Blind/Visually Impaired

Sheila Amato, Ed.D.

Teacher of Students who are Blind/Visually Impaired

East Meadow School District

Health and Physical Education teacher

Long Island Ladies Soccer League goalkeeper


the quest and the importance of having a professional network
The quest… and the importance of having a professional network
  • Hi, all - I have been asked to give a one-hour presentation to a group of future physical education teachers (some of them may become adapted physical education teachers) about working with our population of students in grades K-12. I'd appreciate any resources... online.. print... or experiential. What should I include? I want it to be fun and hands-on/movement oriented, while still giving them the knowledge.  Your thoughts, activities and resources are appreciated in advance.
our best practice as teachers also called promising practice is based on
Our “Best Practice” as teachers (also called “Promising Practice”)is based on:

Having a Question


Asking More Questions

Collecting and Interpreting Data

Drawing Conclusions

Implementing Recommendations


john dewey
John Dewey
  • A constructivist philosopher and educator
  • Developed experiential learning theory
  • Everything occurs within a social environment. Knowledge is socially constructed and based on experiences. This knowledge should be organized in real-life experiences that provide a context for the information.
  • The teacher's role is to organize this content and to facilitate the actual experiences.

That’s YOU!


The physical education teacher (That’s you!) is one of the most important influences on socialization within a physical education class Suomi, J., Collier, D., & Brown, L. (2003). Factors affecting social experiences of students in elementary physical education classes. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 22 , 186–202.

The psychological well-being and social development of a student can be enhanced through opportunities to participate in a variety of age-appropriate physical activities

Houston-Wilson, C., & Lieberman, L. J. (1999). The Individualized Education Program in physical education: A guide for regular physical educators. Journal of Physical Education Recreation and Dance , 70 (3), 60–64.

Physical activity improves the health-related quality of life by enhancing psychological well-being, which, in turn, contributes to human growth and social development. Social development is considered to be an essential characteristic of self-determined behavior.

(American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance [AAHPERD], 1999; Graham, Holt-Hale, & Parker, 1998).

what you can do
What you can do…
  • An effective way to teach problem solving, socialization, cooperative skills, and team skills is through effective physical education programming

American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. (1999). Physical best activity guide, elementary level . Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

you can truly make a difference in the life of a child with your

YOU can truly make a difference in the life of a child with your…





High expectations

it s time to move
It’s time to move!
  • Put your arms out in front of you.
  • Hold the position… while holding it,
  • Look around… what do you see?
use imagery and help to focus your minds eye on what each arm is doing
Use imagery and help to focus your “minds eye” on what each arm is doing. 
  • Saying “Put your arms out in front of you” creates a different image than saying…
  • “Imagine there is a brick wall in front of you-

now put your arms out against that brick wall and push on it to keep yourself standing up!” 

  • Being able to talk about what that would look like… your head drops between your arms, your feet get planted in place- about shoulder width apart… creates that image for students who are blind of what it should look like and moreover, what it should feel like.
The eye

The brain

The main function of the eye is to work with the brain to provide us with vision. The eye and brain translate light waves into a sensation we call vision.

what is the difference between sight and vision
What is the difference between sight and vision???
  • Sight is the ability to see clearly at any distance. Sight depends on the anatomical structures of the eye.
  • Vision is the ability to take this clear image and bring it into the eye in a smooth and accurate manner, then transmit the image through the optic nerve to the back of the brain where it is interpreted and made sense of by combining it with past learning experiences.
a sensory visual impairment
A sensory/visual impairment …
  • Affects your perception of your body in space (visual/spatial awareness)
  • May affect your balance/equilibrium
  • Affects your estimation of distance
  • Affects eye-hand-body coordination
  • Affects scanning and tracking (the ability to follow a moving object)
  • How many sports involve one or more of these factors?

Did you know that your eye is the only part of your brain that is visible from the outside?

it s time to move17
It’s time to …. Move!
  • Pretend you’re walking…
    • Through tall underbrush
    • Through a dark, dangerous alley
    • Across a wide street on a rainy, windy night
    • Through a forest of man-eating plants!
    • Down a road of sticky asphalt and tar
    • Across a log over a creek full of crocodiles
    • Across a street of broken glass
    • Through a snowstorm
    • Through a bowl of chewed-up bubblegum.

How does a child who is blind gain these real-life (or creatively designed) experiences?

comments from the field
Comments from the Field
  • There are three main messages that I would share with mainstream PE teachers:  One is that the game is not sacred, the kids are, so adapt it so that it is a meaningful and enjoyable experience for all.  That said, if the game must be adapted to the point that it is neither, then don't bother with it. 
comments from the field19
Comments from the Field
  • The sighted students should not miss out on games like basketball simply because their blind classmate cannot participate equally in a game.
  • In that instance, the blind student should be allowed to learn and develop basketball skills- such as free throws to a hoop with a beeper on it for sonar location, as well as be taught the rules so that he/ she has the as much knowledge of the game as their sighted peers.  Including the student in ways such as making him/her the designated free throw shooter for a team, or adapting the rules for inclusion (such as they may be chest-passed the ball with a verbal comment, then may take a free throw at the beepered hoop for double points) could be helpful.
  • But the success of that sort of adaptation depends on the class and the student. If it does not work, then having the student do an alternate activity during that time, such as learning or practicing weight-lifting, swimming, goalball, Swish, yoga or any number of suitable activities would be perfectly acceptable
comments from the field20
Comments from the Field
  • And lastly, sport and recreation are vital parts of life and participation in these activities afford students with low vision or blindness a chance for freedom, independence, pride and social opportunities that they need.
my colleague had a lot to say
My colleague had a lot to say…
  • I was the only VI kid in my school.  If you combine my trying to 'keep up' with the sighted kids with my oblivious gym teacher who thought she was doing me a favor by pushing me to do things, it was a disaster.  How do you push a VI kid to play tennis?  Every time you miss the ball and everyone starts laughing at you, you just want to run away.  My teacher was either thoughtless or clueless.
  • Even worse is the modern tendency to include a blind child in ball games by assigning them a buddy who runs with them and tells them what to do.  This isn't participation, it is being a puppet.  You can't enjoy a sport playing like that and it is even more embarrassing then what we went through trying to pretend we could see.
  • It just seems so obvious to find a sport the blind child CAN do then to try to have them do what everyone else is doing just to fit in.
my colleague is still talking
My colleague is still talking…
  • Recess in elementary school, and PE in junior high and high school are among my most excruciatingly unhappy memories when I think about my experiences as one of two visually impaired students in the public school system in my very rural Maryland county.  Imagine subjecting a child who could not see to daily games of dodge ball during 4th, 5th and 6th grades!  No wonder I misbehaved to get out of having to endure recess!  I would have done anything to avoid that ball hitting me -- hard -- in the head over and over again during afternoon recess!
  • When I was in high school, I was pretty seriously injured when I was expected to run the hurdles.  Of course I couldn't jump over the hurdle when I didn't even know it was there until I was about 10 inches away!  Softball, volleyball (how I hated that!), basketball (I could make a basket but could not function in a fast-moving game), even field hockey -- all of these were disastrous experiences for me!  And embarrassing.  And demoralizing.
  • PE has to be tailored to the capabilities, skill levels, and needs of each child with a visual impairment.  It is cruel to subject a child who cannot see to activities and games that he or she cannot actually participate in effectively.
final words from my colleague
Final words from my colleague …
  • MOST PE activities are centered around ball games, field hockey, tennis, volleyball, softball, etc.  Even when gymnastics are introduced it included running at a vaulting horse.I was excused from regular PE class because I was 'incompetent at sports.' On one hand I was relieved because I didn't have to go home crying because no one wanted me on their team, but I loved doing things - and I hated the label of 'incompetent.'Then my life changed and I COULD do judo, hiking, swimming, cross country skiing, tandem bike riding, and on and on.Yes, VI kids CAN do sports but it is not accommodating their disability to expect them to play ball games with a buddy to tell them where to go and when to swing etc.  This is not participation, it is “politically correct accommodation.”  A VI child is truly participating when they can fully participate without someone holding their hand.
it s time to move24
It’s time to …. Move!
  • While wearing simulators:
    • Throw and catch a fleece ball with a partner
    • Play “volleyball” with a beach ball
    • Kick (gently… we’re indoors!) a soccer ball that has bells inside of it.
    • Read a print page from this handout
    • Find your friend across the room… (are you sure it’s your friend?)
still more from the field
Still more from the field
  • Yes, it’s all about setting proper expectations for the VI student, and even those students with multiple impairments. They have had ways of surprising us.  
  • I’m also convinced that a physically fit child can also be motivated to channel his energies towards other goals such as exceptional grades in school and working towards a career.
  • In my observations and experiences in some public schools, physical education is probably one of the most dreaded subjects by teachers, because of the VI child being hurt and the litigation that might result. More than three-quarters of our VI kids have multiple disabilities, and they attend their local schools, with the expectation they will participate in age-appropriate activities.
about the real world
… about “the real world…”
  • Then there is the issue of limitations on physical activities that are often  written in the IEP of what the blind/VI child should or shouldn't do, based on medical info.
  • I have always felt that public school teachers may have good intentions, but the medical conditions of most of our VI kids, plus unsuitable school infrastructures, and behaviors of some parents, impose major limitations on their creativity and responsiveness, and these teachers (and their administrators) often are unable to articulate their concerns for fear of being seen as anti-disability. 
  • “Using multi-million dollar military satellites to find Tupperware hidden in the woods.”
  • Need a GPSr (Global Positioning System receiver) and access to the above website…
  • And a spirit of adventure!
sports video clips featuring athletes who are blind
Sports Video Clips featuring athletes who are blind
  • Actionnaires Sports Club
  • Australian Goalball World Championships
  • Bay Area Goalball
  • Beep Baseball
  • Blind Powerlifting
  • Blind Soccer (indoor)
  • Blind Soccer Match - China (outdoor)
  • Cross Country Skiing
  • Skiing, Wrestling, Goalball Running, and Judo,  
people resources
“People” Resources
  • Don’t miss Dr. Lauren Lieberman's excellent work related to P.E. She's on faculty at SUNY Brockport, and you can read more about her and her work here:
  • Kathy Zawald - She just finished her PhD at the University of Arizona in the area of physical education for students with visual impairments.
  • Larry L. Lewis, Jr.President and FounderFlying-Blind, LLCOffice Phone: +1 (216) 381-8107E-Mail: Larry.Lewis@Flying-Blind.comWeb: http://www.Flying-Blind.comSkype Name: Larry.L.Lewis
it s time to move30
It’s time to …. Move!
  • Be a Household Appliance
    • Making appropriate sound effects, 5 to 7 students together pantomime a single, large, household appliance.
      • Vacuum cleaner
      • Blender
      • Washing machine
      • Toaster
      • Alarm clock
      • Electric toothbrush
      • Can opener
websites of interest
Websites of Interest
  • Judo for Blind Athletes
  • The United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) has an area on its website with information on sport adaptations.
  • Camp Abilities does a nice job of preparing adaptive phys ed students to work with individuals with visual impairments.
  • Some thoughts about Physical education and blind kids
  • Physical Education and Recreation
more websites of interest
More websites of interest
  • Me and My PE Teacher
  • Fit for Life
  • Listing of “blind sports”:
  • International Blind Sports Association (
  • Overcoming the Barriers to Including Students with Visual Impairments because it addresses low expectations, lack of opportunity and more - and gives possible solutions.
  • Adapted Physical Education National
the internet has become our new classroom
The Internet has become our new classroom
  • American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and
  • APE
  • California State Council on Adapted Physical Education (SCAPE)
  • National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD)
  • National Consortium of Physical Education and Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities (NCPERID)
  • PE
  • Project
research bibliography
  • Gronmo, J., & Augestad, B. (2001). Blind youth, self-concept and physical activity. Melhus, Norway: National Resource Centre of the Visually Impaired.
  • Korhonen, K. (2000). Physical activity of visually impaired high school students. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Arla Institute, Helsinki, Finland.
  • Lieberman, L. J., Houston-Wilson, C., & Kozub, F. (2002). Perceived barriers to including students with visual impairments in general physical education. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 19, 365–378.
  • Lieberman, L. J., & McHugh, E. (2001). Health-related fitness of children who are visually impaired. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 95, 272–286.
  • Lieberman, L., & Stuart, M. (2002) Self-determined recreational and leisure choices of individuals with deaf-blindness . Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 96, 724–735.
  • Ponchillia, P. E., Strause, B., & Ponchillia, S. V. (2002). Athletes with visual impairments: Attributes and sports participation. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 96, 267–272.
  • Winnick, J. (1985). The performance of visually impaired youngsters in physical education activities: Implications for mainstreaming. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 2 , 292–299.
let s end with some introspective thoughts
Let’s end with some introspective thoughts
  • Greetings, while I don’t have any sort of education-based material for you, I can speak from the voice of experience.  Being totally blind, and having been always fairly physically active, I can tell you that the underlying message that you can impart to these phys-ed teachers is:  “physical fitness is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your vision impaired students.”  I was very fortunate to have had family and teachers who took the time to make sure that I was physically active and included in general phys-ed classes as much as possible.  Engaging the student’s hands and body limbs at a young age is key when getting them interested in physical activity and the environment around them. 
  • Also, for the adaptive phys-ed teacher, have them spend a class explaining and having the child participate in aspects of games like football or baseball.  I had a wonderful teacher in elementary school who spent a whole class period outside with me and a football that beeped explaining to me all the aspects of the game of football and teaching me how to throw a football.  He did the same with a baseball and bat as well.  He did so because he knew how badly I wanted to experience playing these games, and I’ll always be eternally grateful for him doing so.
from here to competition
From here to competition…
  • Also, strength training, wrestling, and a variety of different Martial Arts are wonderful activities for laying a healthy fitness-based foundation for these students; be careful with the strength training with younger students who are still growing.  Feel free to contact me off list to further discuss, or you can check out the personal section of my company website for more of my thoughts regarding physical fitness and blindness.
  • And, I echo your sentiments about blind students surpassing their sighted peers.  I’ll never forget one wrestling match that I had in high school where I pinned my opponent within 45 seconds; it’s pretty funny when a 16 year old goes back to his teammate in tears because he lost to a blind guy—smiles!  And what a confidence builder that was for me—it set the tone for the rest of the wrestling season, and was one of the events that laid the foundation for me to know in my heart that I can compete with my sighted peers on any level and succeed.