In 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEiA) was passed to ensure that all students with disabilities receive education that is equitable to their general education peers. In this act, physical education was defined as a direct service for all students, including the approximately 64,000 students within the United States educational system who have a visual impairment. As a direct service, equitable physical education must be provided to all students, regardless of disability. Unfortunately, while there is an expectation for students with visual impairments to receive access to physical education that is equitable to their peers, this is frequently not the case. While these students may be integrated into the physical education classroom, there is a serious lack of inclusive instruction in the physical education classroom. An integration placement does not ensure a philosophy of inclusion. Overwhelmingly, the dichotomy between inclusion and integration leads to a negative outcome for the majority of students with visual impairments. Integration focuses on the physical placement of students while ignoring the equality of education and instruction provided while inclusion focuses on the equality of education and instruction provided with an end goal of optimizing all students’ successes (Haegele, 2019).
Throughout the history of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), integration for students with disabilities has been the primary goal with inclusion a by-product that remained for individual schools and educators to implement. Through the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA, which transformed the act into IDEiA, inclusion became the primary goal within integration placements. Integration is a practice that is achievable quickly with minimal outlay because it does not hinge upon the instruction that educators provide within the educational placement. In contrast, inclusion hinges on the attitudes, educational knowledge, and abilities in order to be successful and equitable. Unfortunately, a majority of students with visual impairments still experience integration without inclusion in physical education because of numerous barriers.
The most frequent barriers to physical education for students with visual impairments include the attitude of physical education teachers, the knowledge and experience of physical education teachers, and resources available (Alves et al., 2018). Physical education teachers frequently view students with visual impairments as a liability and an impediment to their class. These attitudes are communicated, both explicitly and implicitly, to the class as a whole, further hampering the inclusion of students with visual impairments in the physical education classroom. Even when physical educators are responsive to inclusion for students with visual impairments, they often cite a lack of knowledge, experience, and resources as obstructions to fully implementing inclusion. Collectively, these barriers inhibit IDEiA from being enacted and ensure that education continues to be inequitable for all students.
Northwest Association for Blind Athletes (NWABA) has seen the barriers our athletes face in the physical education classroom firsthand. Physical educators state that they do not want their student getting hurt, experiencing failure, or impeding another student. Other educators express little knowledge and experience working with students with visual impairments and not knowing where to start. Our students with visual impairments report being fully excluded, included in a way that demonstrates integration rather than inclusion, or given the option to not participate with no encouragement or provisions for participating. A limited amount of educational resources for physical education teachers and students with visual impairments exist to ameliorate these barriers and change these testimonies, which lead NWABA to create their Sports Adaptations Video Resource Library.
The Sports Adaptations Video Resource Library provides instructional videos that break down individual skills and demonstrates how to teach each skill to a student with a visual impairment. Each video is broken down to maximize understanding and are produced in a way that maximizes accessibility. Additionally, each video is accompanied by a manual and additional supporting documents to provide the teaching resources necessary for physical educators and coaches to implement these skills and teaching methods with their students. These videos will help to create the environment necessary for inclusion in physical education for student with visual impairments and ameliorate the barriers that keep IDEiA from being implemented fully.
Students with visual impairments have the same right to equitable physical education as their peers, a right protected by the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. Northwest Association for Blind Athlete’s Sports Adaptations Video Resource Library works to eliminate the barriers that educators face to fully implementing IDEiA and students face to experiencing the benefits of physical education. The Video Resource Library provides the resources necessary for physical educators to expand their knowledge and abilities to implement inclusion for students with visual impairments in their classroom and provide meaningful instruction. Students with visual impairments will be able to experience the benefits of physical education, which transcend the physical education classroom. By eliminating these barriers, students with visual impairments will be able to experience inclusion rather than integration.
Written by Kirsten French
Alves, M. L., Haegele, J. A., & Duarte, E. (2018). “We can’t do anything”: The experiences of students with visual impairments in physical education classes in Brazil. British Journal of Visual Impairment, 36(2), 152-162. doi:10.1177/0264619617752761
Haegele, J.A. (2019): Inclusion Illusion: Questioning the Inclusiveness of Integrated Physical Education,
Quest, DOI: 10.1080/00336297.2019.1602547