Teaching Students With Visual Impairments in Inclusive Physical Education
With the current emphasis on inclusive education, many students with disabilities are taught in regular physical education classes. Inclusion can work well if support systems are provided. When teaching students with visual impairments in physical education, keep in mind that these students can do all of the same physical activities as their sighted peers. Thoughtful modifications, such as changing the ball color to one that contrasts sharply with the background, are sometimes the only adjustments needed to enable the student with partial sight to participate fully in class. Research has shown that children with cortical visual impairments benefit from objects that have more color and are moving (Cohen-Maitre & Haerich, 2005). Other times, more extensive support is needed, such as team teaching or consultation with an adapted physical education specialist to help a student with visual impairment learn in physical education. Further, children with visual impairments can have needs in other areas or even coexisting conditions that require the reader to refer to other chapters in this book.
All too often, students with visual impairments are placed in inclusive physical education classes without the necessary support systems. This dumping under the guise of inclusion is unfair to the student, the classmates, and the teacher. A result of this dumping can be the failure of children with visual impairments to develop lifelong movement skills. They become adults who are unable to enjoy basic movement opportunities and who remain inactive over the life span. Research has shown that children with visual impairments become less active as they get older (Kozub & Oh, 2004). This pattern develops even though people with visual impairments have the capacity to enjoy a host of activities, such as bike riding, in-line skating (with a friend serving as a guide), or jogging in a safe area with a partner. Activities such as bowling, dance, horseback riding, and many other lifetime sports can be done safely and lead to social networks of friends, enabling people with visual impairments to remain within their capabilities but extend beyond their experience.
Members of the child’s multidisciplinary team are keys to appropriate inclusion. Parents and other caregivers may advocate for appropriate support systems. In addition, collaboration with a resource specialist in adapted physical education, the vision teacher, an orientation and mobility specialist, and others can be major factors in successful inclusion. The child’s paraeducator or teacher’s aide can also be a great resource for information and a great teaching assistant in physical education if prepared correctly (McKenzie & Lewis, 2008). Needed support services should be recorded on the child’s individualized education program (IEP).
The child with a visual impairment can provide input on appropriate inclusion strategies. Teachers can use the child as a source of ideas for adaptations. The student with the visual impairment and all students in the class are also excellent sources of ideas for adaptations. Teachers have had much success in developing accommodations through class efforts.
The curriculum and programming for students with visual impairments should include a mix of open and closed sports. Open sports have variables that change often, such as tennis, volleyball, football, soccer, and lacrosse. In other words, the game is unpredictable and the speed, angle, and direction of the ball and defenders change often and without notice. Closed sports are consistent and predictable. Examples of closed sports are archery, bowling, the shot put and discus, and bocce. Skill in and love of movement can be developed through active participation in physical education. Students with visual impairments should be introduced to all sports, games, and activities that their peers learn. Lifetime activities such as tandem biking, running, goalball, swimming, wrestling, judo, and bowling should be included as well.
The following three sections present ideas for adapting instruction for students with visual impairments based on learning about the student’s abilities, fostering the student’s independence, and exploring options for instructional modifications. Please refer to the Inclusion of a Student With Impaired Vision application example.