‘There are approximately 2 million adults with a visual impairment in the UK – that’s one in every thirty people’ (EFDS)

The sport and fitness industry is progressively becoming more and more inclusive with lots of initiatives and promotion towards activities that can be adapted for people with different disabilities; however, there are still a lot of barriers to overcome especially in terms of encouraging visually impaired individuals to use a gym. It is SO important to ensure there are plenty of opportunities for everyone to get involved in activities they enjoy, whether that is going to the gym, playing football, swimming or anything in between. If you are a fitness professional you may have already designed your first programme for someone with a disability which is great, but if you haven’t, then you should prepare your knowledge so you can provide a fun and inclusive experience for them whilst feeling confident in doing so. The more health and fitness professionals there are that welcome people with disabilities, the more inclusive the industry will become.

There are plenty of charities that can offer support and advice but the number one thing to remember is that everyone is different so you will have to take the time to get to know them, what they can and cannot do and what they do and do not like in order to provide the best service.

In this blog we are highlighting 9 tips for working with individuals that are visually impaired which covers a wide spectrum from those with single eye sight impairments to those that are completely blind. The key thing to remember is when certain sensory receptors don’t work effectively in the body, the other ones become heightened. In this case, if sight is impaired then they rely strongly on their hearing.

Also, there are more and more forms of technology being invented to help people with different disabilities, allowing them to lead more independent and enjoyable lives. So our final 2 tips are around integrating Apps.

1. Ensure you speak to the individual whilst facing them so sound doesn’t get lost. Speak clearly, concisely and loud enough for the given environment

2. Always use their name when you speak to them because in busy fitness and sports environments there can be a lot going on so direct the instructions, feedback and questions to them personally

3. Adapt exercises to maximise balance and kinaesthetic awareness and minimise the risk of falls. For example, when performing exercises for the first time, perform them seated to allow them time to learn the exercise, how it should feel to perform and ask questions before adding in the standing/balancing component. Perform certain exercises or stretches on the floor where they can focus solely on what is required. Break down exercises so you perform part of the exercise before building up to the full movement when required

4. Use assisted guidance for exercises and movements which they would benefit from you physically guiding them through. You must ask for permission before you use contact to help support them

5. Wear and use bright colours for those that can see blurred objects or outlines. For example, in sport use larger balls (or other forms of equipment) which are bright colours so they can be identified easier. Plus you yourself wear brighter colours so they can identify where you are and it allows you to guide them around easier

6. Remember the psychological affects that disability can have so ensure you work on developing a rapport, creating trust, adapt and individualise everything for them and make it fun and enjoyable

7. When guiding the individual, it is best practice to ask how they would like to be guided – don’t just attempt to lead them without asking them if it’s OK to do so. They may wish to hold onto your arm. Always use clear and descriptive explanations when guiding them

8. Certain Apps are designed so the user can take a picture of an object and it will identify it for them. Use an App to take pictures of the different machines in the room so the individuals can identify what they are near and what machine they are using when they get to it (especially helpful when they are on their own). Examples of Apps include Omoby and Vizwiz

9. If you’re writing a gym programme then instead of writing it on a piece of paper, type it up electronically so the client can listen to the instructions instead using an audio App; alternatively record the programme as an audio file. This is great for them to prepare themselves for what they will be doing before they enter the fitness environment but also for those that are visually impaired but would like to work alone.  An example of an App to use would be Evernote.

So there you have our 9 tips for working with visually impaired individuals, each is easy to implement and very effective for the client you are working with. If you would like to work with this population group then it is highly recommended to complete training in the area of Disability and Sport or Disability and Fitness.

Before we finish, we have a selection of helpful websites that you will benefit from ranging from guides to a list of helpful Apps. Here they are:

The English Federation of Disability Sport have a range of resources which can be accessed here: http://www.efds.co.uk/how-we-help/resources In particular, find:

  • EFDS and Disability Rights UK Being Active Guide: Accessible PDF
  • Engaging older disabled people in physical activity
  • Inclusive Fitness Initiative: Exercise cards part 1 & 2

This website has a list of different Apps available for people with visual impairments: http://appadvice.com/applists/show/apps-for-the-visually-impaired

For information on supporting blind people in sports: http://www.britishblindsport.org.uk/

An interesting article on how technology is helping the blind navigate the physical world: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2016/02/how_technology_helps_the_blind_navigate_the_physical_world.html