One of the quickest ways to see me duck or or watch an object fall on the floor is to toss me an object and say “Veronica, catch!” As long as I can remember, I struggled with the traditional physical education curriculum in school, and benefited tremendously with accommodations and modifications for my gym classes, as well as adaptive PE in high school. Here are my tips for how I handled gym classes in elementary, middle, and high school, and different accommodations/modifications that we used.
Elementary school- Inclusion
My first gym teacher was awesome about creating activities every student could participate in. I never had to worry about being left out or being criticized for not being able to see, and considered gym to be one of my favorite classes.However, our school received a new teacher my fifth grade year, and they used a curriculum that had a heavy emphasis on team sports. Instead of ask for accommodations, I just would strike out first so I could sit out for the rest of class, and didn’t bother to tell anyone that I was struggling. This all changed on the last day of fifth grade when I was hit directly in the eye with a volleyball and needed to have eye surgery four months later. The incident caused my family and I to rethink how I would take gym when I got to middle school.
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Sixth grade- Exempt from PE
I had eye surgery that October, and needed to be exempt from gym before and after my eye surgery. Because of this, it wasn’t practical for me to take gym during my sixth grade year. Originally, the principal suggested that I take the health course with my class, and when they were in the gym, I could come to the main office of the school and file papers. My parents thought this was a terrible idea, especially because I have a print disability and can’t see to file. Eventually, the school agreed to let me have a modified schedule, as long as I was willing to complete a county-mandated unit in the health class about gangs. I’m not sure of the statistics on how many people with visual impairments join gangs every year, but I was happy to be getting out of gym.
My modified schedule didn’t shorten the school day for me at all. Instead of having two elective classes one day and gym the next day, I had two different elective classes each day- in my case, they were band, art, drama, and Latin. If anything, the modified schedule gave me twice as much work as the other students who only took two electives. However, I enjoyed these classes a lot and none of the other students noticed that I didn’t take gym.
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Seventh grade- Inclusion again
Over the summer, my school installed what they called a fitness lab, which had exercise equipment. For seventh grade gym, students would spend three class periods in the fitness lab, three class periods in the gym, and three class periods in health. While I would often sit out in gym, I was able to participate in the other sections very easily. Something that helped tremendously was that our class was extremely small, with only about fifteen students (normal classes had thirty), and I also had a bunch of my friends in class with me.
Eighth grade- Sitting by the sidelines and failing PE
My teacher had to take a leave during the school year, so we had lots of different substitutes. None of the substitutes knew about visual impairment, and I wasn’t sure how to explain my poor vision, or the fact it was getting worse by the day. When I got prisms in my glasses, I found it impossible to run or dance without getting intense vertigo, so I had to sit in the bleachers for almost the entire class. I wasn’t allowed to do homework or play on my phone, I just had to sit there and stare at the wall.
Because of the fact I couldn’t participate in any part of the class, I stopped changing clothes for PE. My logic was that if I wasn’t going to do anything, why should I change clothes? Well, this wasn’t very smart, as I ended up receiving a failing grade in PE for at least one semester. While my parents and teachers understood my frustration, they were not amused and informed me that this behavior was completely unprofessional and that I should have just listened to the teacher. Oh well, no one is perfect.
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Ninth grade- Online PE
An adjacent school district had a virtual physical education class that they offered in the summer months. In the class, students would learn about the history of sports, health, and keep a fitness log. We had to fight for permission for me to take this class, which was eventually granted, and now students from my school district with and without disabilities can take this course. This was also my first of what would be many virtual classes over the years.
Tenth grade- Adaptive PE and BYU Independent Study
I couldn’t take virtual PE again, or PE in the classroom, because it was combined with driver’s education and the teachers did not feel comfortable with me taking the course- not that I could drive anyway. While doing research, my mom discovered there was an adaptive PE program in our school district, and I previously was not referred because I briefly didn’t have an IEP in middle school. My teacher didn’t believe that I qualified for adaptive PE without an IEP, which was not the case. I got a referral and then met with the adaptive PE instructor once or twice a week for a semester and would do exercises.
Since adaptive PE only covered gym and not health, I took the health component of the class through the Independent Study program at Brigham Young University (HLTH 042), a self paced online class. This was my last PE class as Virginia only requires 2 credits of physical education for standard or advanced high school diplomas.
College- more options for PE
My data science major does not require students to take physical education classes, though they can be counted as electives. Even if I had to take PE in college, I would have much more options than I did in high school because there are a wide range of classes I can take that don’t necessarily focus on team sports or catching flying objects.
Some examples of easily adaptable PE classes my college offers include:
- Fitness walking
- Martial arts
Some people have asked me if I felt like I “missed out” by not participating in traditional PE classes. The truth is, I feel like I would have many more stories about broken glasses and other injuries if I had taken a traditional PE class, and I was still able to participate in other exercise activities outside of school like dance, taekwondo, and walking around the neighborhood with my family. I hope this post is helpful for others wondering about physical education accommodations for students with visual impairments!