Learn about Blind & Low Vision
Blind and low vision refers to significant and ongoing challenges with the ability to see.
A young person may be considered legally blind if they cannot see beyond six metres. They may also be considered legally blind if their visual field is less than 20 degrees in diameter.
A young person with low vision, on the other hand, may have permanent vision loss that glasses cannot correct, affecting their ability to complete everyday tasks.
It’s important to note that a young person with blindness or low vision may have some vision. Some young people may use Braille or low vision aid technology to assist with their sight. Some may require large print materials.
Field of vision will also vary for each young person with vision impairment. For example, a young person may have tunnel vision with no peripheral vision, or they may have peripheral vision but find it difficult to see straight in front of them. Other factors like glare, contrast, and colour may impact what a young person sees. Even if two players have the same eye condition, each person will see differently.
By providing a safe and supportive environment, you can help keep players engaged and safe. With a little planning, you can ensure young people who are blind or have low vision have enriching opportunities to make friends, learn new skills and participate in the footy fun.
A player who is blind or has low vision may need support to know where other people are on the field, see a ball on the ground or being passed to them, and to identify a target they are aiming for during kicking or handballing. Some players may require sunglasses to be able to see their surroundings, the coach, or the ball when playing outside on a bright sunny day.
As a coach, it is important to know about the type, severity and specific details of vision impairment that a player has. This will allow you to modify your coaching to ensure they can participate in footy related activities in a safe, fun, and inclusive way.
[Bridget] My name's Bridget. I'm vision impaired and I play in the AFL Blind League.
[Caleb] My name's Caleb. I'm vision impaired and I play footy.
Blindness and low vision is basically the loss of vision. Living with it, there can be certain challenges involved with it and there's a lot of things that you think that you can't do, but you can if you try your hand at it. I find that I like to give everything a go, even if I don't think I can do it. Yeah, and I usually, most of the time find success.
[Bridget] I play in AFL Blind, which is a newly developed competition for people who are blind and have low vision. I love playing in a competition of a sport that I've been following for a long, long time and it hasn't really been an accessible thing for me prior to that. I really like the different skills that are involved and I really like being able to try and develop those skills. I'm not naturally an athletic person or like a skilled footballer, but I do like trying to get better at those basic footy skills and working in a team environment to try and work with each other to get better, but also having that social team kind of vibe.
[Caleb] Most difficult thing being vision impaired playing footy would probably have to be a lot of the noises impacting the game around me. So yeah, a lot of, like, cheering and people, you know, calling for the ball and that can be quite distracting.
[Bridget] This is the ball we use. As you can see, it's pretty much like a typical Sherrin. And there's a couple of differences, it's a bit brighter, it's a fluoro yellow, as compared to your typical yellow, which makes it easier to see. And it's also made with a slightly different material, which just makes it a little bit softer, which makes it easier for us to mark and handle. It also does have a buzzer, so we would turn it on with a pin and then it makes a buzzing sound. It's really important in blind sports for us to be able to hear the footy, and unlike other blind sports, where often there's bells inside that make sound when the ball bounces, we need the footy to be able to make sound as it travels through the air, so that we can track it and mark it, and those sorts of things.
[Caleb] For people not too sure about playing football, I would say, "Try your hand at it.". It can be quite rewarding in that you're getting out and the physical exercise, you know, you've got those social connections and you can make new friends. It's just good to get out and spend some time playing football.
[Bridget] If you've met one person with disability, you've met one person with disability. We're not all the same. We have different needs and different ways that you can support us. Sometimes it's not enough to not be ableist. We wanna see people being actively inclusive in the things that they do, and so having conversations, providing supports, rather than just being like, "Well, I wasn't overtly discriminating against someone 'cause of their disability.". It's really great to see people being active and wanting to see as many people as possible playing and following through with that.
Being someone with a vision impairment and playing sport, sometimes it's not just the disability that impacts that, it's other aspects of who I am. And so particularly being a kid and a girl, the idea of playing footy, those expectations and assumptions around, "Oh, you probably don't wanna play footy, 'cause it will be really hard 'cause of your blindness.". But also there's not that- as much encouragement for girls to play footy. So I think it's really important to think about the intersectionality of people and the assumptions that are placed and how they compound based on those different identities. And that might be being LGBTQ, from a CALD background, living further away in a more regional area, gender, age, all those things kind of can impact. And so when there are assumptions placed on you based on multiple factors, sometimes you experience it, not just from one perspective, but in multiple ways. And that can really add to kind of barriers to wanting to play football and the capacity to play.
[Caleb] The activities that I most like doing would be kicking goals.
[Bridget] I think my favourite footy memory is just being able to play in a competition, in AFL Blind, that is an accessible version for me.
[Caleb] This is our story, but everyone's story will be different.
[Bridget] In the next section, you'll learn tips to support blind and vision impaired young people to participate in footy. For example, you can provide clear verbal instructions and avoid confusing things, like pointing or saying "here" or "there."
Strategies and tips
If unsure, ask
Ask the young person or their parents about what they can see and what types of things make it easier for them to see. Work with the young person and their parents to brainstorm ways to modify activities, while staying true to the goal of the activity as much as possible. Questions you could ask include:
Q) Are there certain colours, positions, or equipment that they find helpful?
Q) Is there a way you can modify your coaching? For example, you may need to stand directly in front of the player or to one side when communicating.
Consider the amount of daylight and reflection
Players with low vision may have difficulty seeing a ball, their surroundings or the coach, if it is a bright sunny day. Consider moving the activity indoors or to a shaded area, or enabling the use of sunglasses, if playing outside.
Move safely around the field
Support the player to complete a ‘walk through’ of the area an activity will take place in. This will help them to orientate themselves. If you are providing hands-on assistance to help a player with vision impairment move around, let them take your arm, hand or elbow, and walk beside them but slightly in front. This will allow them to feel when you are changing direction. You can also prepare them for changes (eg. walking surface, direction, elevation) in advance by telling them what is coming.
Ensure your venue is safe
A venue with fences and closed gates may help both parents and players feel at ease.
It’s a great idea to increase the visual contrast between items. For example, use brightly coloured footballs, put coloured fabric around the goalposts, and put coloured tape around boundary lines. AFL blind footballs could also be incorporated into sessions.
Communication is key
During the session, always tell the player your name when you start talking with them, even if you have met them many times before.
In a group setting, make sure you use a player’s name when calling out to them or talking with them.
Encourage all volunteers and players to use each other’s names, for example, when introducing themselves to a player who is blind or has low vision, or when passing the ball to them.
Before you pass the ball, make sure you ask the player if they are ready and wait for their response before passing.
When giving instructions, be as specific and clear as possible. Try not to use words like ‘here’ or ‘there’. Instead, brainstorm more concrete ways of identifying targets that draw on other senses like hearing or touch. For example, place a cone on the ground to mark a place to kick from rather than using a line on the ground.
Some young people who are blind or have low vision may require extra repetition when learning new skills. The use of physical adjustments and guidance may support their learning. It is important to ask the young person if it is okay to adjust their position or physically guide them when teaching new skills.
Ensure the environment is safe and predictable
Keep the activity area as clean and clutter free as possible. Do not move items without telling the player you are doing so.
Build a culture of teamwork
Consider pairing the young person with a buddy. They can help guide the player around the football field and during activities.
Encourage the young person’s parents to get involved in the footy activities as needed. Make sure you check with the player before asking their parent. Some players (eg. young players) might be okay with this, but others (eg. older players) might not.
Consider undertaking activities in small groups where the other players are blindfolded, allowing all players to participate in a similar way. This is known as reverse inclusion. Remember to check with the young person and their parents first about whether they are happy for you to share information about them with others or do something that may draw attention to the young person.
Use balls with bells
Attaching a bell to the football or using a ball with a bell inside will allow the player to hear where the ball is, and will help them track where it is moving.
Use bells to identify targets
For one-to-one games or drills, giving a bell to the person who is the target will assist the player to know where to kick or pass the ball. Adding a beeping marker in between the goalposts can help them aim the football when kicking.
Increase the use of touch, where possible
Drills can be modified to increase reliance on touch. For example, a rope with a piece of rubber pipe around it can be hung between two poles, allowing the young person to use the rope as a guide to move between markers independently.
Check in with the young person and their family
A discreet and brief chat post session with a young person who is blind or has low vision and their family can help identify what activities they enjoyed, and whether some activities can be further modified for next time.
AllPlay Footy is a joint initiative by Monash University and the AFL. AllPlay Footy was founded at Deakin University in 2015 and has been part of Monash Education since 2021. The AllPlay Footy content and resources presented here have been developed with people with lived experience of disability, consultants from National Sporting Organisations for People with Disability, psychologists and researchers, and are brought to you with funding from a Department of Social Services Information, Linkages and Capacity Building: Social and Community Participation Stream (2020-2024) grant. We aim to use language that is respectful to everyone.