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Exploring the World of Adapted Physical Education: Enhancing Inclusivity for Blind and Visually Impaired Students: Accessible Technology and Adaptive Equipment

A teenage boy sitting in a wheelchair smiles as he holds a basketball in a gymnasium.

Adapted physical education (APE) teachers Maebh Barry and John Seskus at the Perkins School for the Blind, use both specialized and mainstream technology to assist with education and motivate their students who are blind, low vision, and DeafBlind to participate in sports.

Specialized Solutions

Some of Maebh’s students are DeafBlind and have additional disabilities, such as cerebral palsy. They use different types of technology to discuss classroom activities. For example, a student could have a communication book. Maebh will hit the tennis ball inside the book five times and tell the student that they are doing tennis serves today. Afterwards, they may recite this back to Maebh, or she will help them repeat the phrase. Some students use a head switch attached to their wheelchair to choose who they will be partnering with for an activity. “They may have limited use of their extremities, but they have great use of their head in order to nod toward the switch as you go through the choices.” Maebh and her students also use the Apple iPad app GoTalk® NOW to discuss upcoming exercises and make choices.

The Perkins School for the Blind has an assistive device center where they make specialized equipment. An adapted catapult was designed for students with limited mobility. Once a ball is placed on the device and the switch is flipped, a crank will launch forward and hit the ball. This catapult can be used to throw a pitch, a tennis serve, or even launch Wiffle balls that someone who is ambulatory must find in a modified game of Capture the Flag. “You could even utilize it in an adapted version of Sharks and Minnows where you’re rolling a beach ball that might brush up against someone’s leg and tag them,” said Maebh. “The main thing is that students are successful, and they’re able to feel like they were part of a really fun activity.”

Mainstream Solutions

Maebh’s class enjoys using the Apple iPad app Seconds Pro Interval Timer to complete circuit training. “It’s a really nice exercise-based app that you can tailor specifically to whatever exercise or activity you want to have timed, and then you can add your own music to it as well. You can play the music while the timer is going, and when the music stops, that’s your time to rest. It also has a speaking component, so it says the name of the exercise as the music starts.” The students also utilize a scoreboard app to add or modify the score of their current game.

John uses a Bluetooth speaker in his class to imitate the sound of a hockey goal during a game and in the fitness center so students can listen to their preferred music as they exercise on a treadmill or bike. An underwater speaker also motivates students as they swim. Along with these independent activities, students also like playing the school’s Wii Sports and Just Dance games.

Maebh said, “We have a very holistic viewpoint of being physically active and what that might look like for one student might be totally different for another student. I’m always asking, ‘How does your body feel today? Are you in the mood to do exercise, or are you feeling tired and sleepy? Could we modify for where you’re at?’ You should meet yourself where you’re at. You’re never going to perform at 100% capacity at 100% of opportunities. That’s really important to keep in mind.”

Maebh and John work to create a positive, educational environment for students and encourage them to be active all their lives. When students are not in school, they recommend participating in audio-described workouts found on the Eyes-Free Fitness & BlindAlive YouTube channel.

For more APE resources for teachers, visit the Just Adapt It website.

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