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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Outdoor Activities For People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Bicycling

If you've always enjoyed bicycling, you don't have to give it up, even if your sight is severely impaired. Using a tandem bike (the kind that once was called a bicycle built for two), you can continue riding bike paths and roads—with a partner. You sit and pedal in the backseat of a tandem bike while a sighted friend or relative rides in the front seat. The front rider steers the bike, tells you about turns and changes in speed, and warns of changes in the terrain (such as hills, bumpy roads, and puddles) while both of you pedal. It's an exhilarating exercise and a great way to stay in shape.

If you have low vision you may prefer to ride a regular bicycle, following behind your cycling partner. The person riding ahead of you should wear a brightly colored shirt or vest and call out cues when turning or stopping. Whether you ride in tandem or alone, both of you should wear helmets, which are required by law in many areas.

Swimming

Swimming is another recreational activity you can continue, in a swimming pool, a lake, or other natural body of water. For safety reasons, all swimmers, including those who are visually impaired, should never swim alone. In open water, where there are no boundaries to provide a swimmer who is visually impaired with a line of direction, it's especially important for you to be accompanied by a sighted swimming partner.

You also need to know that in an emergency, swimming in the direction of the waves will eventually take you to the shore. If you have very limited or no vision, other cues to guide you in the direction of the shore are natural sound sources on land (such as people talking, dogs barking, lawnmowers, music, and cars). If you have low vision and can see general shapes, look for natural visual cues (like buildings, trees, flags, and lights).

Running

Running for fitness and pleasure is a recreational activity that many people with visual impairments enjoy—including marathoners, who do it at a very high level of performance. If you love running but are not entirely comfortable running alone, that doesn't mean you have to give up the activity. You can find a sighted running partner to accompany you—either on an indoor track at a health club or outdoors in a park or country road.

There are several ways to run with a guide or partner. You might want to start with the basic sighted guide technique of grasping the guide's arm above the elbow. However, since that does inhibit the natural arm movement necessary for efficient running, you could adapt the technique by holding your partner's wrist to allow for greater freedom of movement. You might prefer the tether method—which keeps you in contact with your guide via a short rope or cord about two feet long with one end held by you and the other end by the person you're running with. This method enables you to run more freely, move more naturally, and synchronize your movements. Another type of tether is a baton or stick; its rigidity may provide you with more information than a rope does.

Those are good ways to begin and build confidence in your ability to run despite limited vision. But you will probably want to move on to running independently, without being in direct contact with a guide. The basic method of doing this is for your partner to run behind you, giving verbal directions and gentle physical prompts when you veer in the wrong direction, approach uneven ground, or need to make a turn.

A few health clubs have a track specially adapted for people with visual disabilities. The adaptation involves adding handrails or guide wires that enable you to trail at your own pace and without assistance. These handrails are excellent for endurance training.

These are just three of the many physical activities that, with some retraining and practice, you can continue to participate in despite blindness or limited vision. There are visually impaired women and men who spend their recreational time engaged in:

  • Bowling
  • Skiing
  • Skating
  • Dancing
  • Rock climbing—and lots of other challenging activities.

With the encouragement and support of friends and family, you can enjoy some, if not all, of your favorite activities and even explore new possibilities.

Learn more in Foundations of Education, Second Edition, Volume II, edited by Alan J. Koenig and M. Cay Holbrook.

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