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Gym classes and low vision

How I took PE classes in elementary, middle and high school with a mix of adaptive PE, accommodations, modifications and exemptions.

One of the quickest ways to see me duck or or watch an object fall on the floor is to toss me an object and say “Veronica, catch!” As long as I can remember, I struggled with the traditional physical education curriculum in school, and benefited tremendously with accommodations and modifications for my gym classes, as well as adaptive PE in high school. Here are my tips for how I handled gym classes in elementary, middle, and high school, and different accommodations/modifications that we used.


My first gym teacher was awesome about creating activities every student could participate in. I never had to worry about being left out or being criticized for not being able to see, and considered gym to be one of my favorite classes- my teacher would often use items that provided auditory feedback, bright colors, and small group activities that worked well for me and my visual impairment. However, our school received a new teacher my fifth grade year, and they used a curriculum that had a heavy emphasis on team sports. Instead of asking for accommodations or modifications, I just would strike out first so I could sit out for the rest of class, and didn’t bother to tell anyone that I was struggling. This all changed on the last day of fifth grade when I was hit directly in the eye with a volleyball and needed to have eye surgery four months later. The incident caused my family and I to rethink how I would take gym when I got to middle school.

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Sixth grade – exempt from PE

I had eye surgery that October, and needed to be exempt from gym before and after my eye surgery. Because of this, it wasn’t practical for me to take gym during my sixth grade year. Originally, the principal suggested that I take the health course with my class, and when they were in the gym, I could come to the main office of the school and file papers. My parents thought this was a terrible idea, especially because I have a print disability and can’t see to file. Eventually, the school agreed to let me have a modified schedule, as long as I was willing to complete a county-mandated unit in the health class about gangs. I’m not sure of the statistics on how many people with visual impairments who just had eye surgery join gangs every year, but I was happy to be getting out of gym.

My modified schedule didn’t shorten the school day for me at all. Instead of having two elective classes one day and gym the next day, I had two different elective classes each day- in my case, they were band, art, drama, and Latin.  If anything, the modified schedule gave me twice as much work as the other students who only took two electives. However, I enjoyed these classes a lot and none of the other students noticed that I didn’t take gym.

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Seventh grade – inclusion again

Over the summer, my school installed what they called a fitness lab, which had exercise equipment. For seventh grade gym, students would spend three class periods in the fitness lab, three class periods in the gym, and three class periods in health. While I would often sit out in gym, I was able to participate in the other sections without additional modifications, other than large print for assignments. Something that helped tremendously was that our class was extremely small, with only about fifteen students (normal classes had thirty), and I also had a bunch of my friends in class with me.

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Eighth grade – sitting by the sidelines and failing PE

My teacher had to take a leave during the school year, so we had lots of different substitutes. None of the substitutes knew about visual impairment, and I wasn’t sure how to explain my poor vision, or the fact it was getting worse by the day. When I got prisms in my glasses, I found it impossible to run or dance without getting intense vertigo, so I had to sit in the bleachers for almost the entire class. I wasn’t allowed to do homework or play on my phone, I just had to sit there and stare at the wall.

Because I couldn’t participate in any part of the class, I stopped changing clothes for PE. My logic was that if I wasn’t going to do anything, why should I change clothes? Well, this logic led to me receiving a failing grade in PE for at least one semester. While my parents and special education team understood my frustration, they were not amused and informed me that this behavior was completely uncalled for and that I should have just listened to the teacher and changed clothes for PE even if I wasn’t going to be doing anything.

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Ninth grade – online PE

An adjacent school district had a virtual physical education class that they offered in the summer months. In the class, students would learn about the history of sports, health, and keep a fitness log. We had to talk to several different staff members in both school districts for permission for me to take this class, which was eventually granted, and now students from my school district with and without disabilities can take this course. This was also my first of what would be many virtual classes over the years.

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Tenth grade – Adapted PE and BYU Independent Study

I couldn’t take virtual PE 2, or PE 2 in the classroom, because it was combined with driver’s education- my guidance counselor said that none of the teachers felt comfortable having me in the class as a student with low vision who was not a candidate for a drivers license. While doing research, my mom discovered there was an adaptive PE program in our school district, and I had never been referred because I briefly didn’t have an IEP in middle school. My middle school teacher didn’t believe that I qualified for adaptive PE without an IEP, which was not true. I got a referral for adaptive PE and then met with the adaptive PE instructor once or twice a week for a semester and would do various exercises, such as modified yoga, walking around the school, and other activities.

Since adaptive PE only covered gym and not health, I took the health component of the class through the Independent Study program at Brigham Young University (HLTH 042), a self paced online class. This was my last PE class as Virginia only requires 2 credits of physical education for standard or advanced high school diplomas.

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College – more options for PE

My data science major does not require students to take physical education classes, though they can be counted as electives. Even if I had to take PE in college, I would have much more options than I did in high school because there are a wide range of classes I can take that don’t necessarily focus on team sports or catching flying objects.

Some examples of easily adaptable PE classes my college offers include:

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Final thoughts

Some people have asked me if I felt like I “missed out” by not participating in traditional PE classes. The truth is, I feel like I would have many more stories about broken glasses and other injuries if I had taken a traditional PE class, and I was still able to participate in other exercise activities outside of school like dance, taekwondo, and walking around the neighborhood with my family. I hope this post is helpful for others wondering about physical education accommodations for students with visual impairments!

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated August 2023

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