U.S. Association of Blind Athletes: Giving Service Personnel and Veterans a Sporting Chance

Article excerpt

Shortly after the end of the United States' involvement in Vietnam, a nonprofit organization based in Colorado was formed to provide life-enriching sports opportunities for children, youth, and adults who are blind or visually impaired--the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA).

Today, the USABA has evolved into a national organization that provides the competitor who is blind or visually impaired the chance to participate in a variety of sports. The USABA offers nine summertime sports: athletics (track and field), cycling, equestrian, football (soccer) 5-a-side (see sidebar on page 63 for more information), goalball (see sidebar below for more information), judo, rowing, sailing, and swimming, and three wintertime sports: Alpine (downhill) skiing, biathlon (cross country skiing and shooting), and Nordic (cross country) skiing.

Recently, the USABA, working in conjunction with the U.S. Olympic Committee's (USOC) Paralympic Division, has taken on an additional challenge--to help those who have served in the U.S. military by creating and improving opportunities for service personnel and veterans who are blind or visually impaired. Through the new Military Sports Program, the USABA is working to enhance the acceleration of the rehabilitation process for servicemembers and veterans through sport, recreation, and physical activity and to assist in the reintegration of servicemembers back into their local communities.

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The need for such a program stems from the very nature of the wounds experienced by our fighting men and women in Iraq. The Survey of Ophthalmology journal reports that nearly 13 percent of those who are seriously wounded from the battles in Iraq have undergone some type of eye surgery. Not since World War I and the use of eye-damaging gas attacks has the incidence of eye damage been so high, a terrible testimonial to the types of weapons being used by our opponents e.g., improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

This initiative is focused at three of the ten VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) Blind Rehabilitation Centers and is designed to assist in the following: site and program assessment, planning, train the trainer programs, program development, implementation, and follow-up. The initial locations were selected based on current demographics showing the existing centers that could serve the highest percentage of veterans with eye injuries. These centers are located in Palo Alto, CA; Hines, IL; and Birmingham, AL. Program expansion to the remaining seven Blind Rehabilitation Centers is under consideration.

The USABA's Military Sports Program will work with the VA Blind Rehabilitation Centers to enhance the centers' rehabilitation programs and to identify appropriate participants for local and regional competition as well as to assist with geographical transfers and to ensure that the necessary resources and information are available to support the increases in services for the veterans.

Many of the veterans who attend the Blind Rehabilitation Centers don't necessarily live nearby. Some have to travel great distances to attend the training. In its assistance with geographical transfers, the USABA is working to ensure that when a servicemember or veteran leaves a Blind Rehabilitation Center, the individual is armed with enough information so that on returning home he or she knows the community-based programs to help continue their program.

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The objective of the United States Association for Blind Athletes (USABA) Military Sports Program is "to enhance the lives of those veterans and servicemembers who are blind and visually impaired and to accelerate their rehabilitation process through sport, recreation, physical activity and employment."

The USABA's Web site (http://www.usaba.org) has additional links to further information about the direction and activities of USABA. …