SWIMMING FOR THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED

 

Water offers an effective environment for the visually impaired. In a pool a blind child may learn the scheme/form of its body and the surroundings, with the help of reference points (e.g. the level of water, walls, surface and the ladder).


Working with the visually impaired in a pool is not much different. General principles and strategies need only slight adjustments.

 

It is important to note that the visually impaired rely more on the remaining senses when doing their everyday activities, in order to compensate the lack of visual information. This fact presents a mitigating circumstance when working with the visually impaired in the water. The existing everyday routines need to be upgraded with new experiences gained in the water and the usage of sensory information has to be improved.

 

People who have only a small percentage of vision or are only capable of light-recognition need to be encouraged to effectively use their sight potential, even though it may seem of no greater relevance. Under expert supervision and programmed exercises, we may be pleasantly surprised of the results we get, when recognising the reference points in and outside the pool. This boosts the self esteem and gives a sense of independence. These reference points may be the reflection on the water, the windows, lights or other sources of light, very obvious visual contrasts among objects, swimming aids and the like.

Auditory (hearing) stimulants are very important for the visually impaired when doing their everyday activities. We need to use this sense to the fullest when exercising in a pool. Finding and locating the pool is easy, as the water filtration system is a very useful auditory stimulant (especially in the case of overflow pools, where the edge of the pool is easy to identify). This enables the visually impaired to move around the pool and also in the pool more easily (when the head is not under water). In order to make sure the swimmer keeps »on track« and to mark the end of the pool, a consistent and audible sound may be used (as long as the swimmer's head is above the water).

 

Tactition (touch) also represents an important factor in the lives of the visually impaired. It is important to use this sense from the first session in the pool. We need to verbally denote everything a visually impaired person touches/ comes in contact with.

 

Orientation and movement are two very important factors in everyday lives of the visually impaired. Therefore we need to pay special attention to this fact, when organising their visit to the pool. It is of outmost importance to familiarise them with the entire pool infrastructure (the location of the entrance, the changing room, the showers, the toilets, the pool – its dimensions, the depth, temperature of the water, the ladder to go into the water…). In most cases these activities would be enough for the first session. When visiting the pool, the swimmer needs to identify the edge of the pool by touch. The swimmer needs to recognise all present items or physical changes in the poll or by the edge of the pool. It is important to know that the visually impaired create the image of their surroundings bit by bit, whereas people who can see recognise the whole image, and detect the details afterwards.

 

Considering the experiences gained so far, the majority of the visually impaired is capable of learning all four swimming techniques. The most appropriate though is the so called »free style« technique, where one arm is in front of the head at all times, thus giving the swimmer a sense of security. This method may also be used when practicing the backstroke, though it is essential that the swimmer is accustomed to the water, to the new surroundings. Perception plays an important role – when practicing the back stroke the auditory perception more or less impaired (due to the position of the head and the ears). The breaststroke and the butterfly are two techniques that can be mastered by the visually impaired as good as the people with no such disabilities. Though it is important to note that because of the specific position (arms alternately extending and contracting) the head is not protected at all times. This may result in head and face injuries in case of smashing into the wall or the edge of the pool. For these two techniques as well as for the overall orientation and movement (both essential for normal functioning of the visually impaired), good stamina and skills are of outmost importance.

 

Azur Kuduzović
Remedial teacher– Instructor for orientation and movement of the blind