Swimming for Children Who Are Blind or Low Vision

Get out the suits and sunscreen; it’s pool time! Swimming is a welcome reprieve from the heat and a phenomenal no-impact exercise for the entire family.

Let’s dive into accessibility considerations for your child who is blind or low vision.

General Swimming Considerations

  • Swim goggles are beneficial whether your child is blind or low vision. If swimming outdoors or in bright pools, children sensitive to light may need tinted goggles. These goggles block water and enhance lane visibility for those with low vision.
  • Talk to your child about sunburns and the importance of sun protection. Because children who are blind will not see pinkening skin, help your child devise a plan for systematically applying sunscreen at regular intervals. For additional protection at the pool, your child may wear a sunhat and/or SPF swim shirts. The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) provides helpful information about sun protection.
  • Talk about what you see while at the swimming facility. What body parts are covered? Where does changing and drying off take place? Are there people showering, and how can they do so modestly? Are there different standards for modesty in the locker room? Are you able to see others underwater, and what are they doing? If there are lifeguards, what are they doing, and can they always see your child?
  • Your child should use their cane or sighted guide to prevent tripping into the water. Upon entering the water, the child can rest the cane in a specific location (if the facility isn’t bustling) or hand it to a parent or friend to rest it on the child’s chair.

Swim Lesson Considerations

  • Teaching your child basic swimming strokes before pool entry is beneficial. Practice holding breath in the bathtub. Introduce strokes at home, with the child lying on their belly on a couch.
  • Talk with the coach about providing feedback to your child with physical instruction or modeling instead of visual, verbal directing/ correcting. Let the coach know to warn the child before touching them.
  • If your child permits, the coach can use them as the model for teaching the team or class a new technique. Your child will receive hands-on instruction.
  • Orient to the swimming pool and facility (including bathrooms and locker rooms) prior to lessons. For specific advice, don’t hesitate to talk with your child’s orientation and mobility specialist.
  • If your child is exceptionally sensitive to sunlight, consider lessons at an indoor pool or at an outdoor pool during off-peak hours.

Lap Swimming Considerations

  • Floating lane markers provide tactile feedback for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. If your facility doesn’t use them, consider working with the facility to purchase them or make your own using rope and intermittent pool noodles.
  • The end of the lane can be marked auditorily with music from a waterproof speaker, and/or visually using a color-contrasting element.
  • Some individuals who are blind or low vision count the number of strokes it takes to swim the lane.
  • Competitive swimmers often use a “tapper. A tapper is an experienced individual who taps the swimmer using a long pole, indicating the time to turn.

Watch our webinar on Aquatics for Children and Youth