All things considered – or not when you are working with a participant who has sight loss.
The idea for this post has been rattling around in my head over a week now, and since I have the time and not the excuse I’ve decided to put quill to parchment, despite my thoughts being a little haphazard and not so well informed on the subject! Firstly, the context.
We’ve recently had several enquiries regarding sessions for individuals who have sight impairments, some from our local Blind Institute (RNIB). It’s brought some new faces, challenges and perspectives on a subject which, I’ll be first to admit, I’m a little rusty on. The new members have prompted a natural comparison with others I work with who have sight loss and I wanted to share the differences I’ve found working with them all.
I attended the British Gymnastics Disability Conference (now called the Inclusion Conference, where one of the subjects was how to ensure sessions are accessible for all. (I’m proud to say our gym does NOT have every mat and surface in the same colour, and can on the whole be navigated well by most attendees). That was just one of the things we took from the day, here’s a few others…
- Not all people with sight loss are completely ‘blind’
- Some people who are legally blind have tunnel vision or very limited ability to differentiate light, shade and objects around them
- Not everyone with sight loss has a guide dog, a cane or sunglasses, don’t make assumptions – if in doubt, ask!
- Blind people can and do text, go online, use websites and social media just like everyone else!
- Often people with sight loss use adaptations such as software and technology to help them and the modern world is becoming easier and better adapted to people with sight loss.
- Audio and video is a great way to reach people from the blind community and doesn’t take long or cost much to implement
Those are some things I took away from the workshop, now here are a few things I didn’t take from the workshop which I’d like to add – though some may seem obvious, it’s easy to forget at the time.
I’m blind, not deaf!
Always remember to speak to the blind person, not their carer/ support worker. Support staff are usually pretty good at picking up on your queues and can usually step in if needed without being asked e.g. if you say “Jay, shall we go up the steps?” the support staff will offer a hand if they need it automatically, and if not, the person is quite capable of asking for the assistance they need, you don’t need to spell it out.
Don’t assume they need your help! One scenario in particular comes to mind here: While working on a skill which required the use of a mat I watched a coach grasp the hand of the client and make them bend down to feel the mat was there. I know she was trying to help but when you consider:
- She’d told the person “I’m just going to get a mat”
- The person had used a mat before (they know what it is, so why show them?)
- She’d returned dragging the mat onto the trampoline, with all the sensory input that entails (if you didn’t know what she was doing, you do now!)
- The mat was placed directly behind the person’s feet, so they already knew it was there
Hopefully you would come to the conclusion that this step really isn’t necessary, and furthermore perhaps asking them if they wanted to feel it or allowing them time to locate it themselves without prompting would be better, as I thought this approach could be a little demeaning. Tiri Hughes one of the British Gymnastics Disability Ambassadors said there’s a big difference between something she’s familiar with, such as an every day object or task and something she’s never experienced, so visiting a new gym offers new and different challenges to her home gym which she is very familiar with – though she still trips over a mat that’s been moved or a layout change someone forgot to mention! Meet Tiri and other ambassadors of our brilliant sport here.
Not everyone who is blind is the same. Now I know this seems a little obvious, but what I’d like to point out here is the differences I noticed having worked with a number of people who are blind. I think some of the differences can be explained by an individual’s confidence with the activity and who they are with, some might depend on whether their sight loss is all they’ve ever known or a more recent change in circumstances as well as their personal experience and different personalities.
One person I work with has been trampolining for years, is fairly confident and can jump independently, but likes to know you’re there. He is very capable, but will employ selective hearing techniques if he’s feeling lazy or you’ve not worked with him before. I’m always amused how many support workers will put his shoes on for him, just because he hands it to them, rather than placing it on or near his feet and expecting him to do the rest. This gentleman is much less confident getting on and off the trampoline than he is once up there.
A newer teenage girl I worked with briefly was quite different, to the point of not being confident in standing up on the trampoline’s uneven surface at all. I think the fact she had lots of different staff with varied or no experience working with her on a daily basis didn’t help. A lot of the time staff forgot things like telling her where a step or uneven surface was, so she’d stumble, or helped her to the point they became a hindrance and made things more difficult. I learnt quickly that the sound of a coach’s voice is critical and ideally where possible should be the only voice working with her. It helped her to know where she was and orient herself based on where I was. As we worked together her confidence and repertoire of skills increased, as did my confidence in making sure staff helped her when she needed it and stood back when she didn’t. Before she moved onto pastures new, she’d learnt the layout of out centre sufficiently well enough to walk across the room on someone’s arm without being told where uneven surfaces were (she remembered from previous visits), sit herself down near ‘her’ trampoline and make her way on and off the trampoline on her own with just oral assistance- such as counting how many steps up or down and reminding her to follow the wall to her seat.
More recently we had a young lady come along who I think one of our coaches described as ‘brave and very gun-ho’. Her bubbly personality and confidence were refreshing, though we had to careful at times for her own safety, which didn’t seem to bother her too much! I had to be careful to keep my professional hat on as we had a lot in common and in different circumstances I would very much have liked to be friends. This young person had grown up without limits and a trampoline in the garden at home, so much of the basics were already there. There are others whose stories I could add, but I think these three probably give an idea of different experiences and perhaps a little insight on each person’s uniqueness and how we adapted to work with them – and their escorts…
Welcome your visitor’s assistance dog/ any other assistance they have, just as you welcome them. I’ve got to be honest, I’m not really a ‘dog person’ so if I see a dog, I’m not automatically going to come over and chat to you and ask to stroke your dog, but assistance dogs are a crucial part of some people’s lives and their welfare is just as important as your clients, whether that’s remembering not to fuss the pup (most working animals shouldn’t be petted without prior permission from the owner) or something else they need. I found this article ’10 Things Service Dog Handlers Want You To Know’ by Kea Grace very useful and insightful. Particularly the idea that you should view a service dog as medical equipment, so just as you wouldn’t ask someone to leave their wheelchair ‘over there’ or talk to the wheelchair, so you shouldn’t with their service dog.
I hope you find my input useful and I’d welcome any questions and feedback. Remember the people on my blog are anonymous and details are deliberately kept vague as much as possible to protect them.
Until next time, Keep bouncing!