I have had individuals in my classes that have been able to complete the session with no problems provided they are given the correct support and guidance. I have also had the pleasure of guiding a partially sighted student through her qualification to become a Pilates Instructor, she passed with flying colours and now runs successful classes. I have found modifications can be made and it is certainly not a barrier to exercise.
This is often a concern of both instructors and those who have visual problems. Confidence is often lacking as well as a feeling that this group of people will be unable to participate. A good instructor will be able to adapt their teaching methods and exercises where necessary to nurture a feeling of self-confidence.
It should be taken into account that more energy is exerted for these individuals when performing their everyday activities and therefore Pilates, as a slow form of controlled exercise, is perfect for them. Physical skills such as balance, co-ordination and spatial awareness can be improved, which will also benefit them in everyday life.
Listen to your instructions with your eyes closed. How much detail is given? Could you follow these instructions?
Work on centering and the breath at the beginning of the session to try and encourage them to time movement with their own breath. This helps them keep calm and in control of their own pace and movements without any surrounding distraction. A pre-class induction may also be beneficial.
TIP - Offer a fact sheet in braille detailing basic fundamentals or explanations of exercises to better prepare the clients.
Offering this as a pre-requisite will also allow you as an instructor to feel confident that the participant has some prior knowledge to your verbal cuing.
TIP - Advise clients that bringing a friend may be beneficial to them, perhaps offering a free session for that friend.
The support of a peer is often required initially, which gives the person a great deal of comfort. It is also easier for instructors if that person is a trusted companion who understands how to guide, based on the person’s level of sight and comprehension.
Auditory and kinaesthetic cues rather than visuals should be prioritised.
When implementing verbal cues, break the movement down with as much information as possible. The push-up for example can be difficult to comprehend, especially if the participant is new to exercise or these movements in isolation. Allow the client sufficient space that is free from obstacles and other people as spacial awareness is often lacking and their perceptions can be altered by surrounding distraction. Conduct verbal cues directly in front of them to keep attention forward and be available for support if needed. Physical tips would be of most benefit here, such as “drop chin to chest, curling the spine vertebrae by vertebrae down to the floor, bending the knees to place the hands to the floor”. Continue to break the movement down to walking out to plank or if confidence and competence is lacking, advising the client to go only to all fours, modifying it back to fundamental level. If the person is also unfamiliar with a push-up or lacks body awareness, it may be useful to use kinaesthetic learning and guide their hands to the correct positioning. As facial expressions are learnt, don’t be misled by a lack of facial expressions. Check the participant understands instructions by asking questions and using their name.
TIP - Encourage the person to either count as the hands slide into position or trace out the fingertips to provide habitual cuing and movement memory.
Placing towels or little mats in the places the hands should go will help to aid the participant. The use of hands-on correction is essential. When visual or auditory cues are insufficient, guide the person’s body to move in the correct pattern while explaining how each movement should feel.
Address the participant by name...
Or lightly touch them on the side of the arm to indicate you are talking to them specifically. Ensure you do this after asking permission from the client and alerting them to your presence. These cues need to be emphasised and adapted to accommodate, depending on the level of disability. Support or guidance should especially be offered for balancing activities such as physical support or the use of the wall or chair.
The first step in modifying a class for the blind is to find out the background of the disability and any other associated health concerns via completion of the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire. For example, a client may have sight problems are a result of a stroke. As seeing also involves the brain, stroke related problems can be complex and we should be aware of other health concerns such as co-ordination and balance. It is of upmost importance to carry out an initial assessment of the person’s individual needs.
Bear in mind that bright lights may cause discomfort to many people with certain conditions. This is important to consider when holding a session in a brightly lit studio.
A person who is totally blind and cannot relate to visual descriptions must be taught exercises differently from someone who still has some vision. For example, a visually impaired participant with some vision may be able to grasp at least some visual concepts, but this should not be assumed. A person who was not born blind may also be able to understand. In comparison, a person who is fully blind or blind from birth may only understand some imagery and alternative learning styles should be included.
Fully blind participants:
Partially sighted participants:
Written by Katie Farnden.