Mary Helen Sprecher is a technical writer with the American Sports Builders Association and a full-time newspaper reporter in Baltimore. About this time
Monday, March 26, 2012
last year, I was passing by one of Baltimore’s sports fields when I came across an Easter egg hunt in progress. It took me a minute to realize it wasn’t a typical egg hunt; the eggs were beeping, and the kids running around collecting them were blind.
The kids were screaming and laughing and having a great time. I wound up stopping to talk with an adult on the premises, and learned the event was held each year.
“The kids really love it,” the woman told me.
Our conversation continued, and she told me how important it was for these kids to have an experience comparable to that of their sighted peers. Some of the children on the field were already participating in sports that involved noise-emitting balls, including beep baseball. Other sports have similarly adaptive equipment — there are chiming balls for soccer and volleyball, for example.
I learned that many times, blind and visually impaired kids can use equipment like this in order to stage their own games with one another. They also can use the equipment to compete against other kids without impairments, who wear a blindfold in order to be part of the game. This creates a level playing field for the children who used to be left out of the games their sighted peers generally play, and results in an unexpectedly educational experience for the children without visual impairments.
“Not a lot of kids want to stick with the blindfold,” the woman told me, “but they do learn something from it.”
Even if kids who are visually impaired don’t wind up playing high school or college sports, there are resources available to keep them active.
The United States Association of Blind Athletes provides athletic opportunities in multiple sports, including athletics, cycling, bowling, judo, goalball, swimming and a lot more. Competition runs from grassroots games and local gatherings all the way up to the Paralympic Games.
Another organization, the International Blind Sports Federation, is a public-interest body, the mission of which is to “promote the full integration of blind and partially sighted people in society through sport and to encourage people with a visual impairment to take up and practice sports.”
Even those who don’t want to become competitive athletes can have the benefits of physical fitness; the 2010 updates to ADA discussed the need for health clubs to create accessible routes to their machinery and equipment. IHRSA published a great synopsis of this.
But it all starts with the kids running around, collecting eggs — instilling in children with visual impairments the understanding that they can be part of the larger world of active, healthy people.