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.
Male and female athletes with a physical, vision or intellectual impairment are eligible to compete. Athletes are classified based on their functional ability to perform each stroke. Since the first Paralympic Games in Rome, Italy, in 1960, Para-swimming has been a feature of the Paralympic program. Like the Olympic Games, competitors measure their skills in backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle and medley events.
Rules & Equipment
Athletes are required to wear a bathing suit that does not aid their speed, buoyancy or endurance.
Swimming caps and goggles are permitted.
Otherwise there are only minor rules changes that do not always take affect, these include in water starts for some competitors.
For athletes with a Vision Impairment once they reach the wall of the swimming pool they will be tapped on the head with a soft pole device by their coach that lets them know to begin to turn to push back off the wall.
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 coloured flotation devices or swim ropes with flotation markers.
- Place a brightly coloured 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 synchronise 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.
– Vision Aware Website
How to Contact?
Contacting your local Member State Organisation to find out if there are any local swimming programs to you is a good way of finding out what is around you. Alternatively, if you have a local swimming pool it is a good idea to ask there to find out if they run lessons for Vision Impaired swimmers. As you become more advanced as a swimmer you may want to find a swimming group or partner that can lead you when swimming in more difficult situations.
Swimming Australia’s Website offers further information on swimming events that you may want to try to compete in. Whilst this website does not offer a lot in terms of information specifically for Blind Swimming, there is a lot of information about swimming in general such as news and events, to community clubs.
Swimming Australia – https://www.swimming.org.au/about-us-3/contact-us