Making visual impairments visible during sports or recreation

For some time now I have been working on a plan for visualizing a visual impairment during sports or leisure activities. The idea is to increase the recognisability of athletes and recreationists with a visual impairment (and any buddies). I want to do this by developing a recognizable image and functional applications for cycling, swimming, rowing, cycling, climbing, athletics, running, skating, (mountain) hiking.


Ski tabard with three black dots for the visually impaired athlete

Ski tabard of a blind Paralympic athlete and guide

A self-made tabard from a Paralympic athlete; used during competitions
A self-made tabard from a Paralympic athlete; used during competitions

Reason and purpose

The main purpose of an unambiguous recognition symbol is to safely participate in various sports and leisure activities. There is a need for recognizable, practical and flexible applications with respect for the visual impairment, without being stigmatizing. A positive, contemporary look is of course also important. It shouldn’t be a punishment to use it. In this way we can make sports or recreation more attractive and create more understanding and awareness in society.

The current situation

Depending on the visual impairment, a white stick and / or guide dog are used as a mobility aid. These are very recognizable and clear signals. They are usually not used during sports or recreation because it is not practical and / or possible.

A special swimming cap has been developed for swimming, white with two red stripes. The Running Blind Foundation has its own shirts and jackets with the logo: two runners, connected with a ribbon in combination with the name ‘Running Blind’. Some buddies have chosen to have the word ‘buddy’ printed on their shirts. The Dutch Visually-handicapped Ski Association uses yellow vests with three black dots for those with a visual impairment and an exclamation mark for the companion. These brightly colored vests, in all kinds of variants, are sometimes also used outside the slopes. Because there are simply few or no alternatives. For visually impaired judokas a red dot is used on the sleeve.

A visual representation of a limitation

Worldwide there are interesting developments in the field of visual communication of a disability. Perhaps this has to do with more awareness or new laws and regulations and there is a greater need for contemporary solutions. An interesting example is the metamorphosis of the international accessibility symbol by a group of ‘design activists’ from Boston, as part of ‘The Accessible Icon Project’. A rather controversial project, but thanks to this project there is renewed attention for people with disabilities and accessibility.

I know through contacts abroad that there is increasing interest in communicating a visual impairment. At the beginning of this year there was even an episode of the BBC Radio 4 program ‘In Touch’ dedicated to this, ‘Symbols to say you are partially sighted’. This mainly concerned (very) low vision in everyday situations, such as traveling by public transport or shopping.

Metamorphosis of the international accessibility symbol

International Symbol of Access (ISA), designed by Danish design student Susanne Koefoed in 1968
Once started as a street art campaign in 2011, the new design is gaining ground

Call: share your experiences, ideas and opinions!

Safe sports and / or recreation with a visual impairment benefits from good recognition of the athlete and his or her guide. In the current situation we see that various means of identification are already being used. That is why I would like to ask you, on behalf of the project group, to share your experiences and ideas. This provides us with valuable information and can be the reason for further scientific research.

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