October event provides opportunities for children with visual impairments to participate in sports
By Mary Beth Roach
Adapted sports for children with visual impairments and different ways to play soccer for children of all abilities are the themes of year’s Fitness Inclusion Network’s (Fit-IN) annual conference.
For those families interested in finding recreation outlets, teachers and coaches, the expo is designed to show them that there are some options available to them, according to Peyton Sefick, of Fit-IN.
Currently referred to as the Blind Sport Expo, it is free and slated for Oct. 26 at the CNY Family Sports Centre in Baldwinsville. Organizers are planning to feature demonstrations to show children with visual impairments how to play five-a-side soccer, beep baseball, goalball, power wheelchair soccer, how to take part in track and field, and how to cycle on a tandem bike. There will be adapted equipment there for families and physical education teachers to try out.
Those involved with the expo include Neinke Dosa, a developmental pediatrician at the Golisano Center for Special Needs, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and a provider in the Fitness Inclusion Network; Peyton Sefick, with Fitness Inclusion Network; SUNY Cortland; and Lauren Lieberman, distinguished service professor with SUNY Brockport in the area of adapted physical education and co-founder of Camp Abilities, for children with visual impairments.
Lieberman’s students will be assisting in the set-up of the expo and helping the children with the sports and equipment.
Fitness Inclusion Network, as described by its website, promotes adapted sports and inclusive recreation in Central New York and consists of athletes, students, families, and professionals in adapted physical education, medicine, physical therapy, occupational therapy, engineering, therapeutic recreation, special education, social work, and disability policy and law. It was begun in 2013, with support from the Upstate Foundation/Golisano Children’s Hospital, the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, and SUNY Cortland Department of Adapted Physical Education.
As defined by the United States Association of Blind Athletes, five-A-side soccer consists of teams made up of four outfield players, who are classified as completely blind, and the goalkeeper must be sighted or partially sighted. The ball makes a noise because of sound system inside it that helps players orient themselves. In goalball, according to the same association, two teams, each with three players, face one another across a court. The object of the game is to get the basketball-sized ball with bells inside it over the opponent’s goal line.
Recreation and sports are part of any family’s and any child’s experience, said Dosa. “It’s what brings us together, it helps with social development. It builds families.”
The expo and instruction on five-a-side-soccer, in particular, could help to give children the necessary skills to compete at the elite level and even at the Paralympics, since that sport is expected to be included in the games in 2028.
“With inclusive fitness and adaptive sports, you need to have a base of opportunities in the community to bring the kids to even learn about the sports, to get the skills and to have those social experiences. If you don’t have that base, it’s hard to get to the elite level,” Dosa explained.
Sefick knows well what it means to be able to participate in sports.
He called his introduction to power wheelchair soccer as one of the “biggest defining moments of my life.” As a youngster growing up in Baldwinsville, he said he was always very competitive. But because he has arthrogryposis, a rare joint condition, he could only sit on the sidelines and cheer on his friends. But after learning the sport and eventually forming a team in Syracuse, he was able to compete on higher levels and was part of Team USA in the 2012 and 2017 Fédération Internationale de Powerchair Football Association (FIPFA) World Cups. He also plays and coaches locally for CNY United.
Showing children the steps to playing on these higher and more competitive levels will also be explored during the Expo, Sefick said.
Key to promoting adapted sports for children of all abilities is fostering a greater sense of inclusion and community.
Dosa suggested that one should think in terms of the environment around the child rather than focusing on that child’s physical or developmental challenge.
“It’s a much broader way to thinking about how to help the child and the family. What can we do at the community level?” she said.
The sense of community is at the core of this expo, as well, since a number of area organizations are taking part. In addition to the organizing participants, funding for the event came from a grant from the Central New York Community Foundation.
“We believe that all children should have access to social opportunities and organized physical fitness. The field of adapted sports and inclusive recreation can alleviate the isolation that blind children and children with visual impairments often face when it comes to these types of opportunities,” said Danielle Johnson, senior director for grants and programs for the Central New York Community Foundation. “We hope that through this partnership more youth will be able to enjoy and participate in events that build social relationships and enhance physical fitness.”
That funding also helped to provide “camp in a bag” kits for 12 children with visual impairments so they could attend the virtual version of the Camp Abilities program at SUNY Brockport. The program, co-founded by Lieberman, offers a week of activities, which not only promotes fitness but also socialization skills and self-advocacy.
For more and updated info on the expo, Sefick suggested checking the websites and social media sites for Fitness Inclusion Network; AT (Adaptive Technology) Village and Camp Abilities at Brockport.
How to Get More Info
Those interested in Blind Sport Expo, which will take place Oct. 26, can get more information thought the following websites:
AT Village: www.atvillage.org/