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How do people who are blind play sports?

These days it seems that sports of all kinds are at the center of our society and our social interactions.  Between Monday Night Football, the NBA, MLB, NHL, and especially collegiate team loyalties, there is a sport for every season and team for every fan.  When it comes to enjoying sporting events as someone who is blind, there are a multitude of options that include television or radio broadcasts, live online updates, and even a good friend willing to describe the game as it happens.  But how does work when a person who is blind is the one playing the sport?  Throughout the years, many games and sports have been developed or adapted in order to include people who are blind.  There are even a significant number of events included in the Paralympics specifically intended for those athletes who are blind or visually impaired.  Read on to learn more about just a few Blind Sports, including: Goalball, Beep Baseball and even skiing.


Goalball

Two teams playing goalball

 
 
Goalball has been an event at the Paralympic Games since 1976.  The sport has roots dating back to 1946 when it was created as a way to rehabilitate World War II veterans who had lost their sight.  Goalball is an extremely simple game to learn, but it can take years to fully master.
 
The game is played on a standard volleyball court, which is enhanced with tactile markings in order to allow players to determine their location and orientation on the court.  All players must wear blindfolds in order to ensure no one player has an advantage over another.  The ball makes noise when it is in motion, in order for players to locate it audibly.  For this reason, the environment at a Goalball game will probably feel a little different than that of any other sporting event, it is completely silent during game play. 

Two teams of three players each face off with the objective to roll the ball, in a bowling motion and have the ball completely cross the opposing team’s goal line, which scores a point.  A game of Goalball is 20 minutes, which includes two 10-minute halves, and a three-minute halftime, during which the teams switch ends.  Whichever team scores the most points by the end of the second half wins the game.  Goalball is a very accessible sport, it can be played by anyone regardless of age, physique, and vision. 

Beep Baseball
Beep Baseball is an accessible sport based on the American pastime.  In 1964, Charles Fairbacks wanted to make the game of baseball more accessible for people who are blind.  Being in the telephone business, he began experimenting with placing a sound-transmitting device and the speaker from a telephone headset inside a softball.  This eventually led to the ball that is used today, and has changed the game of baseball to be accessible for athletes who are blind or visually impaired.

It is played with a ball slightly larger than a softball with a small speaker that emits a continuous tone so players are able to hit it when pitched as well as find it in the field. The rules of the game have been simplified in order to make play and scoring easier.  A game lasts six innings unless more are needed to break a tie, and a team has three outs per inning.  There are three bases: home, first, and third; the bases are four-feet tall and padded, and also make a buzzing sound so players know in which direction to run.  All players (except the pitcher and umpire who are sighted) wear light-blocking goggles in order to level the playing field among all athletes.
 
In 1976, the National Beep Baseball Association was formed and continues to organize games and tournaments between Beep Baseball teams.  And starting in 1995, the NBBA runs an annual summer championship tournament- the Beep Baseball World Series.  To see if there are tournaments in your area, visit: http://www.nbba.org/tournaments/index.htm . Here is a short video on Beep Baseball.


Alpine Skiing
Skiing has long been a favorite activity for serious athletes and families alike.  But how might one ski if they can’t see the slopes?  Alpine, or downhill, skiing is an activity that is open to all levels of blind and visually impaired adults and children.  The American Blind Skiing Foundation pairs skiers with trained instructors who help guide them down the slope.
Depending on the skill and comfort level of the skier, the guide will either remain behind or in front of the skier and will offer verbal descriptions and instructions.  This adapted skiing is a rare opportunity for an individual who is blind to move freely and feel the natural force of gravity. 

Skiing might seem like a scary activity to try when blind, but it can be a truly exhilarating experience.  With the proper precautions and adaptations put in place, it can be a safe and highly enjoyable activity.  There are even six skiing related events included in the Paralympics: Downhill, Super-G, Super Combined, Giant Slalom, Slalom, and Snowboarding. 
To see blind skiing in action, check out this video: