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British Blind Sport Accelerates Drive to Establish More Inclusive Coaching System

British Blind Sport (BBS) is working tirelessly to change the public’s perception of people with a visual impairment (VI). The launch of a pioneering new online course is designed to help coaches feel more confident including people with a VI in their sessions. Blake Richardson spoke to BBS Partnerships Manager Logan Gray, who believes the collaboration with UK Coaching can act as a catalyst for positive change in the sector

Do you remember being tripped up when you were growing up by variations of this question: what object hits the ground first when dropped from the top of a tall building: a bowling ball or a golf ball?

The answer (if you remember your laws of physics) is that they both hit the ground at the same time.

Now answer this question. Two likeminded children share a passion for football. Which one enjoys playing a game of football most: the visually impaired child or the fully sighted child?

The answer, of course, is they both derive the same amount of pleasure from the activity – all things being equal; by which I mean, assuming the child with a visual impairment is given the same opportunity to take part and has access to an inclusive coach who is sensitive to their individual needs.

Not so much a trick question as a guiding principle but the answer – the same – really does need underlining (complete with exclamation mark and capital letters).

How often though do people give careful consideration to the interests of people with impairments?

A visually impaired person will, after all, experience the exact same feelings and emotions as any other person: the same thrill of competition and participation; the same joy of scoring a goal; the same euphoria of celebrating victory with team-mates; the same disappointment of a last-minute defeat; the same physical sensation of fatigue by running their socks off and the same discomfort at being on the receiving end of an uncompromising tackle.

While it may not be the law of physics, it is the unwritten law of sport and physical activity that all people, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability have a fundamental right to be active.
Unfortunately, when it comes to disability sport, the system and our society does not always deliver as effectively as it could on equality of opportunity – with a host of unwelcome consequences.

Big Scope for improvement

Sport England’s Active People Survey (2016) revealed that only 10.4% of the two million-plus VI people in the UK (the umbrella term for blind and partially sighted people) meet the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of at least 30 minutes moderate intensity exercise once a week.

Visual impairments and hearing impairments (9.7%) have the lowest participation levels of all single impairment groups, with physical impairment at 16.2%, learning disability 14.2% and Autistic Spectrum Disorder 19.1%.

There is a direct correlation between that collective group of statistics and this equally disheartening one borne out of research undertaken by disability charity Scope: two thirds of people in the UK feel uncomfortable talking to people with a disability.

The stigma surrounding disability is cited by people with a visual impairment as the major barrier deterring them from taking part in sport and physical activity.

This subsequently impacts on their physical, emotional and social health, with the Royal National Institute of Blind People reporting that almost half of people with a VI feel moderately or severely cut off from society.

The whole domino effect can be traced back to people’s preconceived notions around impairments.


Tools, tactics and training

BBS’s drive to increase the number of coaches willing and able to deliver sessions for people with a VI is an uphill battle but one that is most definitely worth fighting.

Partnerships Manager Logan Gray runs through a small sample of the methods BBS is using to raise awareness of the participation barriers, including the online course that teaches coaches the techniques they will need to assist them in helping people with a VI take part in sport and physical activity [the course, a collaboration between UK Coaching and BBS won the Learning Technologies Award – sponsored by Deloitte – at the 2019 Learning Awards].

“We try and tackle these issues through various campaigns, research, initiatives and training resources so that more VI people have high quality and positive experiences,” begins Logan.

“For example, we have produced one generic and six sport-specific educational booklets available on our website. Print copies are shared with coaches, schools and sports clubs and made available at events including Sight Village, a series of exhibitions held throughout the country for VI people.

“We’ll get families coming to our stall sharing challenges their family faces like, ‘We are moving house and are worried we will not be able to find a swimming coach that can provide as good an experience for my child as I have got at the moment’. We will say, ‘Okay, why don’t you take our VI swimming guide and give it to your new coach when you arrive, in case they don’t have any experience of working with visually impaired people’. We encourage people to contact us if they want further support.

It doesn’t matter what the relationship is – whether it’s coaching a VI person or coaching any non-disabled participant – there is going to be a period of adjustment and an element of learning about that person when they first join; what their learning styles are; what works for them and what doesn’t, and so on.”

Raising the bar for online learning

One initiative that is destined to have an impact on the charity’s enduring mission to develop a more supportive and well-trained workforce is the Coaching People with a Visual Impairment eLearning course.

In specific regard to the new online learning, we are trying to make coaches feel comfortable and confident if a VI person turns up at their session,” says Logan.

The course offers practical tools and advice to enable coaches to deliver truly accessible and highly engaging sessions to people with a VI.

“The title hits the nail on head of what we want to achieve but the secondary objective was to set an example for digital accessibility for the sports sector,” he adds.

We wanted to create a piece of guidance that is a higher level of accessibility than currently exists for national governing bodies (NGBs) and County Sports Partnerships (CSPs) and which supports them to offer a fully inclusive experience.”

A focus group led by the UK Coaching Learning team, comprising people with a range of visual impairments, highlighted the frequent frustrations VI people meet with when interacting with digital platforms, websites and online learning tools.

One member of the group revealed they were driven to tears after being unable to complete a basic online registration form.

“We have always put a lot of thought into making registration forms as minimal as possible and not off-putting. But this online course goes further than that,” says Logan of the desire to create a new industry standard for functionality and accessibility levels.

It is fully compatible with accessibility software, such as screen readers, while users are able to download a detailed large-font script for the videos that are an integral part of the six individual modules. To offset hand-eye coordination problems associated with using a mouse for on-screen navigation, the user journey is simplified by the option of using the Tab key.

All content is accessible to blind people, meanwhile, and several have already successfully completed the course.

Subject experts and those with a wide range of visual impairments were sent a test link to help with the ongoing design of the course and the feedback since its launch has been overwhelmingly positive.

I’ve sent it to some of my most critical colleagues in other organisations and for the most part the feedback has been excellent,” says Logan. “We’ve had NGBs taking it, CSP disability officers and staff who aren’t working in disability sport and they’ve all got something out of it, which is really pleasing.”


Integration not segregation

If the eLearning course matches long-term expectations, and the other strategies and initiatives BBS are implementing continue to gain traction, then it will give rise to a much-needed extension of choice for VI people and a reduction of segregation in coaching.

Logan says it is commonplace to hear VI people criticise the lack of activities available to them in their region and bemoan the need to travel long distances for specialist training.

“My response is always, ‘well, there are sports clubs around here, I can guarantee that, and they have got a responsibility to try and make adaptions to sessions to make them more inclusive.’

So I don’t think we need specialist coaches, we just need to get the community sports coaches that are out there to be a little bit more confident and open-minded to the idea of including VI people in their sessions.

“There are always going to be impairment specific sessions, there are always going to be parallel sessions and there are always going to be open sessions. It’s about creating positive opportunities in all these different options so VI people have a choice of what they want to do. Do they want to participate with sighted people, or would they prefer going to play with other VI people?’

A nudge in the right direction

By reading this article you could have taken the first step towards changing someone’s life.

If that sounds sensationalist it certainly isn’t intended to be. The genuine hope is that coaches will use the information – and hopefully the online course – as a springboard for developing a more inclusive outlook towards coaching people with a visual impairment which could – to quote the charity’s own rallying cry slogan – help them make a visible difference to people’s lives through sport.

Related Learning

  • Coaching People with a Visual Impairment

  • Inclusive Activity Programme eLearning module

  • Duty to Care Toolkit and Digital Badge


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