The two boys wielded rackets, volleying a tennis ball back and forth over the net. They laughed and shouted as they competed against each other, both striving to hit the best shot. Watching them, you’d never know one of the boys was legally blind.
How can someone who is visually impaired play tennis?
All it took was a simple adaptation – placing a jangling bell inside a hollowed-out foam tennis ball so the boy with low vision could hear it when it bounced. A healthy competitive spirit and youthful enthusiasm did the rest.
Tennis was just one of the many sports available during an Adapted Physical Education “Adventure Day” event at Perkins School for the Blind in May. Sponsored by Perkins and Massachusetts Association of Parents of the Visually Impaired (MAPVI), it was designed to show parents how physical activities can be made accessible to children with visual impairment and other disabilities.
“Putting bells in the hollowed-out balls is brilliant,” parent Shane Leavey said. He came to learn how his local school district could include his 7-year-old son Finn, who is visually impaired, in more school-sponsored physical activities. “But this also gives me ideas of how we can adapt our games at home.”
The event was an eye-opener for Nichola Smith, mother of Sophie, 4, who has visual and hearing impairments in addition to cerebral palsy.
“We thought we’d see what different varieties of adapted PE (physical education) there are,” she said as she watched children participate in a half-dozen different sports. “We know there’s more we can do.”
About 25 children ages 2 to 14 attended the Adventure Day with their families. They fanned out to try the adapted games and equipment that filled two large rooms of the Howe gymnasium.
Kids congregated around two basketball hoops, one low enough to reach from a wheelchair. Across the room, boys and girls took turns rolling a ball down a metal ramp to knock down bowling pins.
Some activities gave children an opportunity to be physically active without being competitive. Younger children enjoyed rolling large balls across a giant floor mat, while kids with mobility challenges sat on wheeled carts and experienced motion in a different way.
“We want this to be a learning experience, for parents to learn what their kids can do,” said Amber Bobnar, MAPVI president, Perkins employee and mother to a 9-year-old with visual impairment and other disabilities. “We try to think of ways to make this successful for kids who are blind, kids with multiple disabilities and for their typically developing siblings.”
Perkins physical education teacher Megan O’Connell-Copp talked to parents about the importance of physical activity for all children, including those with physical impairments. In addition to improving motor skills, she noted that sports teach children socialization and teamwork skills. She urged parents to get physical education goals into their child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).
Smith, the mother of 4-year-old Sophie, said she’ll take that advice and talk to officials at her school district about scheduling more physical activity for her daughter.
“They’re doing a great job, but there’s more they could do,” she said.