The Current Experiences of Physical Education Teachers at Schools for Blind Students in the United States

By Haegele, Justin A.; Lieberman, Lauren J. | Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, September-October 2016 | Go to article overview

The Current Experiences of Physical Education Teachers at Schools for Blind Students in the United States


Haegele, Justin A., Lieberman, Lauren J., Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness


Participating in physical activities is an important element to promote and maintain health, fitness, and well-being for youths. Regular physical activity at a young age can decrease the chances of developing health-related issues such as obesity, anxiety, and depression throughout the lifespan (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2011). Unfortunately, youths with visual impairments (that is, those who are blind or have low vision) tend to be less physically active than their sighted peers (Haegele & Porretta, 2015). Furthermore, as youths with visual impairments progress through school, they tend to be even less active (Oh, Ozturk, & Kozub, 2004). A number of barriers have been identified that restrict physical activity participation, such as a lack of opportunity (within and outside of school), a lack of trained physical educators, and parents' fear of injury (Perkins, Columna, Lieberman, & Bailey, 2013; Stuart, Lieberman, & Hand, 2006). Because of low physical activity participation, youths with visual impairments can be at risk for developing health-related issues. Lieberman, Byrne, Mattern, Watt, and Fernandez-Vivo (2010) found youths with visual impairments to be less likely to reach acceptable health-related fitness scores on a number of related items, including upper body strength, cardiovascular endurance, and body composition (obesity, for example).

Fortunately, research suggests that physical activity levels can be increased for children with visual impairments (see Cervantes & Porretta, 2013). According to Pan, Frey, Bar-Or, and Longmuir (2005), the most likely context for youths with disabilities to learn about and participate in physical activity is in physical education class. In recent years, inclusive physical education classes for youths with disabilities have gained attention (Haegele & Sutherland, 2015; Lieberman & Houston-Wilson, 2009). The concept of inclusion is generally defined as the instruction of students with and without disabilities in the same classes, including physical education classes (Haegele & Sutherland, 2015). Currently, in the United States, approximately 89% of youths with visual impairments spend at least part of their day in inclusive classes in community or public schools, which can include physical education classes (U.S. Department of Education [USDE], 2014). Because of this fact, scholars and researchers interested in physical education for those with visual impairments have focused on developing strategies for inclusive education settings (Lieberman, Ponchillia, & Ponchillia, 2013).

Although many students with visual impairments are currently being educated in inclusive settings, other environments, such as residential schools for blind students, still provide full-time education to approximately 11% of youths with visual impairments (USDE, 2014). This number does not include another 24% who receive instruction in inclusive settings less than 79% of the day, who may receive services at a residential school on a part-time basis (USDE, 2014). Schools for blind students have a rich history in the United States. The first, the New England Asylum for the Blind (now known as Perkins School for the Blind), was founded in 1829. Shortly thereafter, the concept of the residential school for blind students grew rapidly, as many others were founded in the 1830s, including The New York Institute for the Blind and the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia (Omvig, 2014). As of 2013, there were 45 operational members of the Council of Schools and Services for the Blind (COSB; 2016) in the United States, including 36 residential schools for blind students.

Schools for blind students provide well-rounded educational programs that include services that are specifically designed for individuals with visual impairments (such as orientation and mobility), as well as curricula typical in those inclusive schools. …

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