This month, British Blind Sport published a study titled, “Overcoming Barriers to Visually Impaired Participation research study” that examined a number of issues including school participation in physical education, differences in experiences for people who were born with a visual impairment versus those who acquired it later in life, and motivation for participation in sport. It also contains case studies, advise on making social media more accessible to people with visual impairments, and lowering barriers for participation at events.
Some interesting findings based on a telephone survey of 207 people found that blind sports in the United Kingdom is male dominated, with only 23% of the respondents being female. Other interesting stats included that 37% of respondents are completely blind, 50% have congenital reasons for their vision impairment, 75% were over the age of 25, and that the most popular recreational participation sports outside of school activities are cricket, followed by football (soccer), ten-pin bowling, swimming, weights and cardio, and archery.
Their research also included findings from a focus group that found that for people with visual impairments manifested before or during their school years, physical education often was a negative experience as educators in mainstream settings often did not know what to do with students. These experiences led many to believe that sport was not something for people with visual impairments. Their experiences often only improved when they played with other vision impaired people. Some people like competing against fully sighted competitors as they feel it gives than an opportunity to show off their skill level.
British Blind Sport found that there were a variety of reasons for people with vision impairments to participate in sports, with the most common reason being a desire to compete, followed by health benefits, social interaction, feeling better, wanting to take part, self confidence, and stress relief.
Some barriers to participation include lack of access to information about vision impairment sports or inclusive sports for all, and websites that make information inaccessible by not being screenreader friendly. Once these barriers are overcome, there are often travel barriers such as costs, lack of sighted guides to accompany them to sporting events, and events not located near public transport, or having start/end times when public transport does not run.
The study found that perception barriers also exist for people with vision impairments about their own abilities. The study suggests that this be countered by providing specific training information for people with vision impairments, educating people who work with athletes about coaching needs for vision impaired athletes, celebrating vision impaired athletes like David Clarke and Libby Clegg, and encouraging families to play sports at home and attend sporting events.
Facility barriers were another point addressed in the report. Several suggestions were provided for how venues could address this, including describing the venue in detail in event literature, have volunteers available to meet participants at the venue, encourage participants to explain their needs prior to attending, and to have a sighted organizer blindfold themselves to experience the venue to get their own idea of needs people may have. They also recommend providing training to staff for how to accommodate people with vision impairments, along with conducting a facility audit.
A copy of the report can be found at http://britishblindsport.org.uk/files/2015-01-03/OvercomingBarrierstoParticipation.pdf.