As a parent of a toddler and a preschooler, I have come to appreciate the importance of play. My children use play to learn about the world, how things work, and how to get along with people. Play also helps them to figure out who they are. My preschooler loves using sand and toy trucks to build construction sites; my toddler loves enticing our chocolate lab to chase him around the house. My oldest likes to play by himself, while my youngest wants to entertain and be entertained by a constant playmate. As they encounter the play options available to them, they learn to make choices and develop interests and skills. As children grow and eventually transition into adulthood, play becomes increasingly less central in their daily lives. However, the importance of leisure activities remains, as recreation continues to contribute to identity, help people make connections with friends and community, and increase general well-being.
What are the challenges for individuals with visual impairments?
For individuals with vision impairments, recreation and leisure activities are no less important. However, accessing these activities becomes a challenge.
- Many children with vision impairments are simply unaware of the play options available to them. While a young child can walk into a room full of toys and easily scan the space to make a choice for playtime, a child who is blind may find this far more difficult.
- Children also learn how to engage in various recreational activities by watching others engage in these activities. Without the same ability to visually observe behaviors, children with vision impairments often do not gain a conceptual understanding of how to use certain toys, play imaginatively, or play sports and games.
- Finally, many leisure activities are not readily accessible to those with vision impairments, and require specific adaptations or modifications before they can be used by a person who is visually impaired or blind.
For these reasons, students who are blind or visually impaired need specific instruction in the area of recreation and leisure activities. Instructors can help students with vision impairments to understand the leisure options available to them and how to participate fully in the activities they enjoy.
What does instruction in Recreation and Leisure include?
Instruction in recreation and leisure can include:
- Presenting toys/games for sensory exploration and understanding
- Observation of various play activities
Understanding options for leisure activities including, but not limited to:
- Games: board games, card games, video games, puzzles
- Physical fitness: sports, dance, yoga, running/walking
- Outdoor activities: hiking, camping, gardening
- Music activities: listening to music, playing an instrument, singing
- Art: painting, drawing, sculpting, carving
- Television and movies
Play schemes and lessons learned through play
- Make believe and imaginative play
- Turn taking
- Relaxation and enjoyment
Access to leisure activities
- Understanding how toys are used and sports or games are played
- Learning how to find recreation opportunities in the community
Strategies or modifications of recreational activities for accessibility, such as:
- Games: accessible board games, braille or large print playing cards, accessible gaming apps for mobile devices or computers
- Physical fitness: running with a guide and tether, beeping or jingling balls in sports games, goal ball or other sports designed specifically for the needs of the blind and visually impaired
- Outdoor activities: strategies for hiking with a vision impairment, strategies for non-visual plant identification while gardening
- Music activities: accessible music playing devices, braille sheet music
- Art: using tactile art materials
- Audio described television and film, large print remote control, accessible TV guide
- Reading/writing: Braille, audio, or accessible ebooks
Recreation and Leisure and Transition
As students with vision impairments prepare to transition from school to adult life, families and special education teams spend significant time focusing on future goals for work, education, and living situations. Although these transition goals are extremely important, it is also important for students to enter adult life with an understanding of, interest in, and access to recreational activities. just as for sighted individuals, participating in leisure activities will allow individuals with vision impairments to become happy, well-rounded adults. In today’s society that is so focused on work, leisure is often considered more as an afterthought. However, recreational activities will help students with vision impairments to make valuable connections to their communities, build relationships, and find enjoyment in their lives. Leisure is an important component of developing social skills and self-determination, both of which are extremely important for transition-aged individuals with vision impairments. A student with complex needs who has a love of listening to audiobooks is not only finding something to bring him joy during the day and to help him during difficult or frustrating situations, but also developing an understanding of his interests, which is an important component of self awareness and self determination. A student attending college for the first time who joins an a cappella singing group is not only finding something to keep her busy and help her adjust to being away from home, but is also making connections to other students and learning important social skills. By being active participants in recreation and leisure activities, individuals with vision impairments can enjoy the same activities as their sighted peers. They will be able to enter adulthood empowered with a toolbox of skills and activities that will help them to be happy and well-adjusted adults.