Guidelines for Trainers with Clients with Visual Impairments
By Jennifer Green, B.S.
|Jennifer Green, NCHPAD Visiting Information Specialist|
Studies have shown that individuals with visual impairments, specifically children, exhibit lower levels of fitness than sighted peers. It has also been reported that activities of daily living tend to demand more energy for these individuals. The good news is that visual impairments typically do not affect the benefits that can be derived from regular physical activity. Visual impairments can result from many different factors. These can include systemic health problems, such as diabetes, circulatory problems, cataracts, macular degeneration, and injury to the eye or head. Difficulties with vision are also common with increasing age or can even be congenital. The subsequent visual impairment varies according to the degree and type of vision loss.
When working with this population, the main concern is safety. There are no specific exercise guidelines for people with visual impairments; however, it is important to take into consideration other health concerns or chronic diseases that may be present. If no additional health concerns are present, exercise guidelines for otherwise healthy populations can be applied; keeping in mind that modifications are needed to increase safety. Before beginning an exercise program, suggest that your clients talk with their health care providers or treating ophthalmologists about integrating regular exercise into their lives; some individuals who have had recent eye operations or at risk for intraocular bleeding should avoid strenuous activity. Also, as a health care professional you should understand, and educate yourself about the unique challenges you will face in modifying an exercise program and equipment in order to enhance satisfaction and performance.
Aerobic activity is an important factor in cardiovascular health. Common aerobic activities, such as walking, running, and cycling, are all very feasible for individuals with visual impairments; however, some modifications may be necessary. Here are several techniques and modifications that may be helpful when creating an exercise program.
- This system can be set up virtually anywhere: a track, in a gym, or even in a backyard. Advantages to using this system include independence and efficient running gait.
- When using a sighted guide, your client can hold on to your elbow, shoulder, or hand while walking or jogging.
- Wearing a brightly colored shirt and leading your client may also be a possibility. However, in order to use this technique safely, it is important that the sighted guide be trained in guiding, communication techniques, and appropriate running terrain.
- This technique requires a runner who is visually impaired to run towards a caller's voice. The runner is not restricted in any way and is able to run freely. The caller can stand on one end of a gym, on a track or run with the client, and use a bell, keys, or verbal cues.
- It has been suggested that any individual can run on a treadmill. However, it is highly recommended that when starting out, your client should start slowly in order to get a feel for the motion.
- This is a great and safe way for individuals with visual impairments to participate in aerobic exercise. They are able to ride without fear of an accident, as well as benefiting from increased socialization between you and your client.
- Stationary bikes can be used by anyone with functional use of their legs. These bikes are common in health clubs and are typically easy to use. A bike stand can also be used.
As in any other exercise program, strength training should also be incorporated. The safest way to strength-train is to utilize a circuit of stationary machines. Depending on the level of impairment, free weights and other techniques may be an option.
It is important to keep in mind that not all individuals with visual disabilities will have the same level of impairment or abilities. Some may be able to run or bike independently or with some assistance. It is your job during the initial consultation with your client to learn their level of impairment and know the degree of assistance they will need.
In order to accommodate individuals of varying levels of visual impairment, several changes to the physical environment may be necessary. These may include:
- Pictorials/Braille instructions
- Visual/tactual perimeter
- Adaptations to equipment
- Numbering equipment stations
When working with any population, education is important. Having the knowledge and being able to modify and tailor exercise prescriptions to your clients will make you a successful, credible, and highly desirable health care professional.
American College of Sports Medicine. (2010). Exercising with visual impairment:
Prescription for health. Retrieved June 25, 2010, from http:www.medscape.com/viewarticle/719878
Lieberman, L. J. P. (2002). Fitness for individuals who are visually impaired, blind and deafblind. RE:View, 34(1)
Teitelbaun, L. M. P. D., & Lemelbaun, M. P. (2001). Exercise for individuals with eye impairments. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise.
Please send any questions or comments to Jennifer Green at Jennifer Green.