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Introduction

Both Athletics & Swimming are available for the blind at the Paralympic Games, where the classification process is used. Both sports are enjoyed at social, club & Provincial level, as well as at International level. Both Athletics & Swimming in South African is governed by SASCOC " South Africa’s Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee." They not only help look after all our various National Federations who are affiliated to them, but are responsible for the awarding for National Protea Colours to athletes who have met the criteria to represent South Africa in these different sporting codes, however these sports are available to all who wish to participate.

Athletics

Paralympic athletics is a disabled sport practiced by athletes with a physical disability or Visual Disabilities. It is governed by IPC Athletics, and is one of the sports at the Summer Paralympic Games since 1960.

At the national level, there are a wide range of organizations that take responsibility for Paralympic sport, including National Paralympic Committees, which are members of the IPC, and many others.

International Paralympic Committee

Globally, the International Paralympic Committee is recognized as the leading organization, with direct governance of nine sports, and responsibility over the Paralympic Games and other multi-sport, multi-disability events. Other international organizations, notably the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) govern some sports that are specific to certain disability groups.

Athletics has been contested at every Summer Paralympics since the first games in 1960. Men and women from all disability groups compete in the sport.

Visually impaired athletes participate in running events with the help of a sighted guide, to whom they may be attached by a tether. Sound-emitting devices or a sighted "caller" are used to indicate target areas for throwing events, take-off points for jumping events, and other important locations for visually impaired competitors

Sight Guide

Competitors must use a guide in athletics. When a runner is looking for a guide, they are encouraged to find one with a gait similar to their own. A rope or tether may be used to connect the runner to the guide. For field events such as the long jump triple jump, or discus, a caller may be used. Voice commands can also be used in 100 meter events. At the 2012 Summer Paralympics, it was the first time guides in athletics were awarded medals. At the elite level, guides are treated the same as the blind runner. Guides and runners must both use blocks for any race shorter than 400 meters.

In 200 meter races, the guide runs on the right side of the runner. For races 800 meters or longer, a runner may use up to two guides but the course officials must be informed of any decision to use more than one guide in advance of the race.

In the marathon, the runner may use up to four different guides. The runner must finish ahead of the guide. In running, the guide should attempt to match the running pattern of the runner, not the other way around.

There are some rule differences for the B3 classification in competition that are sport specific. In athletics, T13 runners may get assistance at water stations in longer races.

Classification

South Africa has & is regularly represented in the Paralympic Games in Athletics which has a wide variety of disciplines. Thanks to its classification system, athletes with similar disabilities compete together. Athletics classification is undertaken by the IPC. The prefix T stands for "Track," and the prefix F stands for "Field." The numbering system indicates the class of athlete, which is determined by their type or severity of disability. Competitors at elite level competitions, are classified by disability, to arrange athletes with a similar disability in the same event. A classified T12 athlete for example, is a track athlete with a visual impairment.

F = Field athletes
T = Track athletes
11–13 – Visual impairment. Compete with a sighted guide.

Classes

Athletes compete in various classes which group them according to their impairments and abilities. These classes are for athletes with different levels of visual impairment, with 11 being the most severe. T11 athletes are blindfolded and must run with a guide runner, and T12 athletes may choose to run with a guide.

  • T/F11: Class 11 Athletes in T11 or F11 will either have no light perception at all in either eye or may have some light perception but an inability to recognize the shape of a hand at any distance or in any direction; inability to recognize objects or contours in any direction and at any distance. This classification is equivalent to the B1 classification of the IBSA.
  • T/F12: Class 12 Athletes in class T12 or F12 can recognize the shape of a hand and perceive clearly up to 2/60. Ability to recognise objects up to a distance of 2 metres. The visual field of the athlete is less than 5 degrees. This classification is equivalent to the B2 classification of the IBSA.
  • T/F13: Class 13 Athletes in class T13 or F13 can recognize the shape of a hand and can recognise contours between 2 and 6 metres away i.e. 2/60 Or 6/60 and visual field of more than five (5) degrees and less than twenty (20) degrees. This class is equivalent to the B3 classification of the IBSA.

Swimming

Introduction

Swimming can be an excellent sport for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. It has been practiced for many years by individuals of all ages, for competition, fitness, and fun. Swimming for exercise can be achieved through swim exercises, water aerobics, and lap swimming. South Africa has & is regularly represented in the Para Olympic Games in both Athletics & Swimming. Both sports have a wide variety of disciplines, & a large spectrum of Visual Impairments which can participate in these sports. Thanks to its classification system, athletes with similar disabilities compete together.

Paralympic Swimming

Introduction

Paralympic swimming or swimming for disabled is an adaptation of the sport of swimming for athletes with disabilities. Paralympic swimming is contested not only at the Summer Paralympic Games, but at disabled sports competitions throughout the world. Swimming was one of the first organised sports for people with disabilities, and was contested at the first Summer Paralympics in 1960. Both the rules for the sport and approval of classifications were the responsibility of the Fédération International de Natation Amateur (FINA) until 1992, when the International Paralympic Committee took over the governance of classification. 

As of 2012, people with visual, physical and intellectual disabilities are eligible to compete in the sport. The classification system was originally based on medical criteria, but has since moved to one largely based on functional disability to make para-swimming more competitive. The sport is currently moving towards an evidence-based classification system. The sport is governed by the International Paralympic Committee, hence the name of "Paralympic" swimming.

Rules for the sport are adapted from those set forth by the International Swimming Federation (FINA). The majority of rules for Paralympic swimming are the same as those for able-bodied competitions. Significant differences include the starting position. Competitors may start a race by standing on a platform and diving into the pool, as in able-bodied swimming, or by sitting on the platform and diving in, or they may start the race in the water.

To ensure competition is fair and equal, all Paralympic sports have a system in place which ensures that winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus, the same factors that account for success in sport for able bodied athletes.

This process is called classification and its purpose is to minimise the impact of impairment on the activity (sport discipline). Having an impairment thus is not sufficient. The impact of that impairment on the sport must be proved. In IPC Swimming, athletes are grouped by the degree of activity limitation resulting from an impairment. These groups are called ‘sport classes’. The process of classification determines which athletes are eligible to compete in IPC Swimming and how athletes are grouped together for competition.

Classification is sport-specific because an impairment affects the ability to perform in different sports to a different extent. As a consequence, an athlete may meet the criteria in one sport, but may not meet the criteria in another sport.

Classification Process

During the classification process, classifiers evaluate factors including whether a swimmer's physical limitations require him or her to start in the water, and how the swimmer enters the water in competition. A two-person panel that includes at least one person with a medical background handles classification at international competitions. Classifiers are required to be familiar with the type of disability they are classifying, whether physical, visual or intellectual. Classification by national sports bodies mirrors the international classification process, conducted by nationally-recognised IPC classifiers.

Swimmers are required to disclose any medications they regularly use, and provide detailed records of their medical history if a classifier deems them relevant. They are allowed to have someone familiar with their swimming limitations present during the process. The process includes a physical assessment, observation assessment, and a functional assessment that may include performance in the pool, but swimmers with visual impairment do not require the functional and observational components of assessment. If a swimmer intentionally misrepresents his or her disability, he or she is barred from the classification process for a minimum of two years, and is unable to compete.

If swimmers do not agree with their classifications, they can appeal through the IPC Board of Appeal on Classification, which is the body recognised by IPC Swimming. Formal processes exist for how to do this in both non-competition and competition periods.

Classification

IPC Swimming caters for three impairment groups - physical, visual and intellectual.

Swimmers are classified according to the type and extent of their disability. The classification system allows swimmers to compete against others with a similar level of function.

Numbers are combined with a letter prefix depending on the event type. An "S" prefix corresponds to freestyle, backstroke and butterfly, while "SB" corresponds to breaststroke and "SM" to the medley. Hence, a blind swimmer in the medley would compete in class SM11.

Sport Classes S/SB11-13

Athletes with a visual impairment compete in three sport classes from S/SB11 to S/SB13. Numbers are combined with a letter prefix depending on the event type. An "S" prefix corresponds to freestyle, backstroke and butterfly, while "SB" corresponds to breaststroke and "SM" to the medley. Hence a blind swimmer in the medley would compete in class SM11. Normal swimming rules are modified to allow the swimmer to be closer to the lane line when executing a turn.

S/SB11:

These athletes have a very low visual acuity and/ or no light perception. (have little or no vision) Compete with blackened goggles to ensure competitors are on an even level & are also required to use tappers. These tappers may use a pole to tap the swimmer to warn them they are approaching the end of a length.

S/SB12:

Athletes have a higher visual acuity than athletes competing in the S/SB11 sport class and/ or a visual field of less than 5 degrees radius.2. they have a greater degree of vision than S11. They have an option to use tappers. These tappers may use a pole to tap the swimmer to warn them they are approaching the end of a length.

S/SB13:

 Athletes have the least severe visual impairment eligible for Paralympic sport. They have the highest visual acuity and/or a visual field of less than 20 degrees radius. (Swimmers have severe but not total visual impairment) They have a greater degree of vision than S11 or S12 athletes, but will still have less than 20 degrees of vision. They have an option to use tappers. These tappers may use a pole to tap the swimmer to warn them they are approaching the end of a length.

Rules

Rules for the sport are adapted from those set forth by the International Swimming Federation (FINA). The majority of rules for Paralympic swimming are the same as those for able-bodied competitions. Significant differences in events for the blind and visually impaired, people called "tappers" stand at the end of the pool and use a pole to tap the swimmers when they approach the wall, indicating when the swimmer should turn or end the race. Competitors in these events are required to wear blackened goggles, so that partially sighted swimmers compete at an even level with those who are totally blind.

There are some rule differences for the B3 classification in competition that are sport specific. For S13 swimmers, a tapper may stand on the pool deck to tap the swimmer as they approach the wall. The swimmer has to bring their own tapper. Having a tapper is optional. In swimming, outside the use of a tapper, the swimmer competes under the normal rules governing FINA swimming competitions.

Equipment

Equipment utilized by competitors in this class may differ from sport to sport, and may include sighted guides, guide rails, beeping balls and clapsticks. There may be some modifications related to equipment and rules to specifically address needs of competitors in this class to allow them to compete in specific sports. Some sports specifically do not allow a guide, whereas cycling and skiing require one.

For S11 swimmers, a tapper stands on the pool deck to tap the swimmer as they approach the wall. The swimmer has to bring their own tapper. Swimmers in this class are required to wear black out goggles.  

Tips for Swimmers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Swimming can be an excellent sport for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. It has been practiced for many years by individuals of all ages, for competition, fitness, and fun. Swimming for exercise can be achieved through swim exercises, water aerobics, and lap swimming.

Lap Swimming and Water Aerobics After Vision Loss

  • If you swim laps, count the number of strokes it takes to cover the length of the pool. This will help you slow down as you approach the end of your lane.
  • A pool with ropes separating the lanes can help you remain within your own lane and maintain your orientation within the swimming area.
  • Lap swimming can be adapted by using lane markers. These can be brightly colored flotation devices or swim ropes with flotation markers.
  • Place a brightly colored marker, such as a beach towel, or an audio device, such as a radio or beeping transmitter, at the end of the lane to help with turns and orientation to the pool.
  • Competitive swimmers with limited or no vision use a "tapper." This is a knowledgeable and experienced sport guide who is trained to observe a swimmer's strokes and "tap" the swimmer with a long pole to indicate the lane ending and the need to make a turn.
  • Tappers are positioned at each end of the pool and use a rod with a firm foam tip to touch or tap the swimmer at the correct moment.
  • Swim tappers must synchronize their tap with the swimmer's stroke movement and momentum to enable the blind swimmer to swim at top speed without fear of colliding with the end of the pool. Tappers also help blind swimmers to execute a racing turn without losing time during a race.
  • Water aerobics usually take place in a restricted area of the pool. Each participant is assigned a spot within the water aerobics area, which ensures a safer water exercise experience. You can also request a spot near the edge of the pool.

Swimming In Open Water

  • For safety reasons, always swim with a partner or a group, especially in open water. When there are no boundaries to provide you with a line of direction, a sighted swimming partner is a must.
  • In an emergency, swim in the direction of the waves, which will eventually take you to shore.
    Listen for sounds signaling the direction of land, such as people talking, dogs barking, or music. If you can see shapes and outlines, look for buildings, flags, or lights.

References

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