The American Academy of Ophthalmology defines visual impairment as the best-corrected visual acuity of less than 20/40 in the better eye (AAO, 2022), and the World Health Organization defines it as a presenting acuity of less than 6/12 in the better eye (WHO, 2022). The term blindness is used for complete or nearly complete vision loss. Lack of vision in a person creates serious effects on the development of their motor, mental, psychological and social characteristics. Depending on the age of the individual, the above characteristics are not affective in a similar way. The person who is congenitally blind has the ability through systematic education to acquire experience and knowledge, to develop all their other sensory abilities in such a way as to "substitute" some of their functions, which were usually served by vision (Koutsouki, 2008).Blindness or low vision has a major impact on cognitive development, mainly in three areas: a) the range and variety of experiences, b) the mobility and c) the interaction with the environment. In the first category, the experiences that a person with a visual disability acquires are through touch and hearing. In the ability to move, the blind has difficulty moving in time and freely in their environment, limiting their motor status. Finally, interaction with the environment is an important area, as vision allows the rapid collection of information from a distance, which is more difficult for people with visual impairments. One of the great difficulties that a blind child has to face is the understanding of space in the perception of their body, the motor inactivity, and the bad posture (Goutziamani- Sotiriadi, 1993; Argyropoulos et al., 2014).
Sport has a beneficial effect on people with visual disability in order to help them to reduce their mobility limitations, and to give them opportunities for socialization and communication, to stimulate self-awareness and a sense of social sensitivity to the rest of society (Seham & Yeo, 2015). Especially, swimming and water activities have been of great importance to the overall development of people with visual impairments. They contribute to improving the notion of the body, make it easier to breath control, control of head movement, relaxation, increased strength and muscular endurance, flexibility, mobility, self-esteem, confidence and facilitate social inclusion. For people with disabilities and especially those who have problems with their eyesight or are blind, the pool means freedom of movement and gives a sense of success by enhancing their self-image and physical condition (Sozou, 2012).
While the gains of participation in leisure activities and sports in the sensorimotor and / or psychosocial areas are noticeable (Abrantes et al, 2006), people with visual impairments often face problems related to their access to sports venues, cultural institutions, the internet, vocational rehabilitation facilities, etc. They experience limited access not only in participation, but also in attendance, although sport event attendance can produce feelings of social connectedness. Spectators can feel connected to (and acceptance within) a broader community of like-minded fans (Potwarka, 2014). Moreover, Wann et al. (2008) found social connections experienced at sporting events were related to improved state social psychological health (i.e., loneliness, collective self-esteem, satisfaction, and alienation). Especially, for people with visual impairments the benefits from spectating sports are multiplied. More recently, research has suggested that attending live sporting events might inspire audiences to increase their participation in sport or physical activity (Ramchandani and Coleman, 2012). The Greek relevant legislation on accessibility (article 21- paragraph 6) states that "people with disabilities have the right to enjoy measures that ensure their autonomy, professional integration and participation in the social, economic and political life of the country") (https://www.maty.gr/). The aforementioned benefits urge the need for creating a project regarding the accessibility of people with visual impairments to sport venues as spectators. That project was named “VIWAS” (Visually Impaired Water polo Spectators. Broadcasting of water polo for people with visual impairment) an Erasmus+ funded programme. Members of the “VIWAS” project exchange good practices, knowledge, successful experiences, confront ideas and methods and tools on how to train blind and visually impaired people in water polo movements and skills. Final goal is to create a well-structured comprehensive Guide for broadcasting and commentating of water polo for people with visual impairments and/or blindness so not only they can be active in water but at the same time enjoy the water polo games as spectators.
References1. Abrantes, G. M., Luz, L. M. R., Barreto, M. M. (2006). Natação paraolímpica: manual de orientação para professores de educação física – Brasília: Comitê Paraolímpico Brasileiro, pp 48, il. 2. American Academy of Opthalmology (2022). Low vision. https://www.aao.org/low-vision-and-vision-rehab 3. Argyropoulos, V., Nikolaraizi, M., Tsiakali, Th., & KOutsogiorgou, S.M. (2014). Collaborative Action Research Approach Promoting Professional Development for Teachers of Students with Visual Impairment in Assistive Technology. Journal of International Special Needs Education, pp. 33-43. DOI: 10.9782/2159-4341-17.1.33 4. Goutziamani- Sotiriadi, K. (1993). Children with ‶ Special ″ educational needs. Athens: Goutziamani- Sotiriadi. 5. Koutsouki, D. (2008). Special physical education. Theory and practice (3rd edition). Athens: Koutsouki. 6. Potwarka, L. (2014). Sporting Event Attendance. In: Michalos, A.C. (eds) Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-Being Research. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-0753-5_2838 7. Ramchandani, G., & Coleman, R. J. (2012). The inspirational effects of three major sport events. International Journal of Event and Festival Management, 3(3), 257–271. 8. Seham, J., & Yeo, J. A. (2015). Expending our vision: Access to inclusive dance education for people with visual impairments. Journal of Dance Education, 15 (3), 91-99. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281863594_Extending_Our_Vision_Access_to_Inclusive_Dance_Education_for_People_with_Visual_Impairment 9. Sozou, S. (2012). Swimming in people with mental retardation and cerebral palsy. Thesis. Thessaloniki: TEFAA, AUTH. 10. https://www.maty.gr/ 11. Wann, D. L., Martin, J., Grieve, F. G., & Gardner, L. (2008). Social connections at sporting events: Attendance and its positive relationship with state social psychological well-being. North American Journal of Psychology, 10(2), 229–238. World Health Organization (2022). Visual Impairment and Blindness. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/blindness-and-visual-impairment
Water sports such as swimming, water polo, diving, synchronized swimming and many other are very attractive and popular sports among people almost all cross cultures. Competitive sports provide spectators and fans great benefits including joy, social contacts and a healthy attitude towards games, sports and competitive sports. Swimming and all the water sports are interpreted as educational and cohesion means that increase wellbeing, socialization and the quality of life. According to the Strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities 2021-2030, adopted by the European Commission in March 2021, based on the previous European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, accessible and inclusive sport, art, culture, leisure, recreational activities are essential for full participation in society. They increase wellbeing and give everyone, including persons with disabilities, the opportunity to develop and utilize their potential. The Commission will strengthen the participation of persons with disabilities in all these areas by pursuing cooperation with mainstream and disability-specific sports organizations at all levels. The Erasmus+ program fosters financial support and other inclusion measures for participants with disabilities. With this communication letter, we wish to present two Erasmus+ Sport projects currently on going: Swim your way and VIWAS. They are realized by a partnership of organizations from Greece, Romania, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. Swim your way aims at delivering a guide to teach swimming to persons with disabilities. The partnership involves organizations operating in different areas, with different yet complementary competencies, specifically, two Universities, two swimming clubs, and a nonprofit association. As physical activity, health, and quality of life are interconnected, through this project people with disabilities will get more health and safety benefits. Moreover, the project will raise social awareness, promote their social inclusion, boost their confidence and develop their social skills in line with the European Union’s main objectives. The Guide will be offered as an Open Educational Resource to other professionals of the sport, swimming instructors, teachers, and trainers and it will be available in English, Italian, Greek, Romanian, and Slovenian. Regarding VIWAS project, the acronym means Visually Impaired Water Polo Spectators. Water Polo is a popular sport which allows spectators and fans to share joyful spirit, team-building attitude, and participation to celebrating the match days. However not everyone can enjoy such benefits, for example, blind and visually impaired people have difficulty playing and following the water polo matches. This is the reason why VIWAS was born. The output will be a guide, in 5 languages (English, Italian, Greek, Croatian, and Slovenian), to broadcast this sport to the blind and visually impaired people and other professionals of the sport. The European Union's cohesion policy supports the social inclusion of people with disabilities and what better way to achieve this than through sport?
The first meeting took place on the 25th February 2021 during which the partners confirmed their roles, tasks and responsibilities and they expressed the willingness to produce a quality product. The second meeting was held on the 19th March 2021 and the partners discussed the dissemination of the project and the future steps. In all these meetings, it was very nice to see the positive attitude of all partners and their effort to start working and create the basis for a great work!
Our next challenge: trying to meet in person during the Summer!
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