Providing Resources for Visually Impaired Children

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Edited and reviewed by Becky DiLettuso, MSW Executive Director

Getting involved in sports for young children is a way to explore, learn teamwork, get great exercise AND have fun! We know that for young children with vision impairment, participating in sports might be challenging. A nonprofit organization, Envision Blind Sports is addressing this challenge and getting young children onto the field of play.  teli learned of this organization at a local tennis clinic for athletes who are blind or visually impaired and realized that Envision Blind Sports provides hope for the parents and family that is unique and wonderful!

What is Envision Blind Sports?

Envision blind sports

Envision Blind Sports was founded by Wendy Fagan, a Slippery Rock University professor in Adapted Physical Activity with over 30 years of experience in blind sports. During those years, Wendy educated hundreds of students on the principles of adapted physical activity. Adapted Physical Activity is the art and science of developing, implementing, and monitoring a carefully designed physical activity programs for a learner with a disability. Her annual summer camps attracted numerous athletes from many local states, and as far away as Russia.

Wendy’s experience in the field, and as a goalball coach at local and national levels, allowed her to “envision” an opportunity to help vision impaired children and young adult athletes move from the side lines to being part of the action. In 2017 she founded Envision Blind Sports to provide the vital service to children and adults alike by opening the world of physical exercise and sports to them. At the foundation of Envision Blind Sports was Wendy’s strong belief not only in the physical and mental health benefits of exercise, but in the confidence and self-esteem created through exercise which is essential to a child’s development.

What resources does Envison provide?

The mission of Envision is to provide sports and physical activity opportunities for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Based on a comprehensive assessment, Envision strives to give the learner the skills necessary for a lifetime of rich leisure, recreation, and sport experiences to enhance physical fitness and wellness. Their work encompasses three main pillars:

  1. Camps and Clinic:  Weeklong summer camps and day long clinics throughout the year to school age children who are blind or visually impaired. This provides an opportunity for children to participate in a wide variety (25-30) different sports.
  2. Outdoor Adventures:  A day long program that provides outdoor recreational opportunities for individuals who are blind or visually impaired for all ages. Attendees can experience numerous activities including anything from kayaking, to paddle boarding to snow skiing.
  3. Educational Programming: Advocacy and awareness for sports programming for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Physical Education teachers get the support needed to adapt lessons for blind and vision impaired students through clinics and professional development seminars.

How does Envision engage children in sports?

Through the outreach in clinics and camps, Envison staff works alongside blind or vision impaired children to enable them to engage in sports. “Technology has made an enormous difference in recent years,” notes Ben Friday, Envision Blind Sports Program Specialist. “Adaptive sports equipment has opened the world of sports to these children and young adults.  A mechanism that creates sound is embedded within a baseball and tennis ball. It creates a beep that enables the visually impaired athlete to “hear” the ball coming and react based on the sound, “explains Ben. “A recent advancement in blind tennis is the addition of motion activation to the sound component so that if in motion, the ball will beep but stop when the ball stops.”

While adaptive equipment is at the core of their work, the staff joins the vision impaired athletes in also breaking a sweat!  “Activities such as biking, skiing and track and field are possible when we are acting in tandem with the athlete.  We may use tethers for running or guiding a kayak with verbal cuing along the way,” explains Ben.” Even downhill skiing is an option as we ski side by side with the athlete! The smiles on the athlete’s faces is well worth the effort!”

How can I explore Envision services for my child?

Services are available in Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas and currently provides physical activity for individuals from seven different states. Through generous sponsors, Envision Blind Sports offers programming for little or no cost, but no person is ever turned away if they are unable to pay.  If you are interested in learning more about the athletes they serve,  registering for their programs, volunteering or donating, check out the website: https://www.envisionblindsports.org.

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