Reference: Haegele, J. A., Salerno, M., Nowland, L. A., Zhu, X., Keene, M. A., & Ball, L. E. (2023). Why modify? Visually impaired students’ views on activity modifications in physical education. European Physical Education Review, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/1356336X231162603
The abstract and section headings: This study set out to explore the views of visually impaired students about activity modifications initiated by teachers during integrated physical education. Eighteen visually impaired students participated in the study and four themes were constructed from their interview data: (a) modifications interpreted as care; (b) “the angel and the devil”: modifications highlighting impairment; (c) the two-way street to modifications; and (d) modifications are Band-Aids over flawed activities and curriculum. For many of the participants activity modifications represented examples of PE teachers caring for them and caring for their needs. That said, several concerns were also raised about activity modification: (a) they were poorly conceived and served to hide poorly constructed activities; and (b) they sometimes highlighted differences and impairments rather than supporting visually impaired students. It is important that any modifications are not simple and/or superficial ideas that mask a problem but are instead co-developed with visually impaired students.
The section headings are: Abstract, Introduction, Methods (Research approach, Participants, Data collection, Data analysis and trustworthiness) Findings (Modifications interpreted as care, “The angel and the devil”: Modifications highlighting impairment, The two-way street to modifications, Modifications as Band-Aids over flawed activities and curriculum), Discussion, Conclusions
Introduction, and conclusion: Integrated PE is designated as a space where disabled and non-disabled students learn together in the same physical space. The development of such spaces has been supported by legislative and policy efforts internationally and aim to support the rights of disabled students to receive access to integrated PE. Whilst there are several benefits associated with well-designed and accessible integrated PE classes (including positive effects on social skills, attitudes, and awareness towards disability students) there are also negative experiences reported by visually impaired students internationally. Such experiences centre around poorly implemented or inaccessible activities in which visually impaired students are relegated to unimportant roles or removed and isolated from activities by responsible adults. This can lead visually impaired people to feel ostracised by their peers who see them as being incapable, different, and/or a burden during integrated PE. Consequently, such experiences can contribute to visually impaired students positioning themselves as being unable to engage successfully in physical activity and movement during childhood.
Several strategies have been proposed in the literature to make activities more accessible and inclusive for visually impaired students. For example, activity modification, boundary modification, instructional modification, equipment modification, and rule modifications have been positioned as suitable mechanisms through which to enhance the accessibility of PE activities for visually impaired students. These modifications are commonly presented with the intention of providing simple ideas that physical education teachers can use to include and support visually impaired and other disabled students. Little empirical work, however, has been undertaken to support the effectiveness of such modifications and little is known about the effectiveness of boundary, instructional, equipment, and rule modifications in enhancing PE experiences for disabled students. Furthermore, little is known about the feasibility of PE teachers implementing activity modifications to support visually impaired students.
What is missing is a deep understanding of the experiences, the needs, and the preferences of visually impaired and other disabled students in modified activities. For while our intentions may be good, there is the potential to cause harm and trauma for the very students we wish to include through integrated PE. Importantly, inclusion is a subjective experience characterised by feelings of acceptance, belonging, and being valued. In valuing inclusion, it is important that more than just a person's physical existence within a space is considered. Instead, the person’s subjective experiences and views within that space from a personal perspective also need to be considered. This requires a shift in power. It requires us to recognise that disabled students hold valuable, expert experiential experiences and that their voices should be centred when constructing our understanding of such experiences. Consequently, we need to emphasise the role of disabled students in understanding and constructing their experiences and need to amplify their voices when it comes to their personal lived experiences.
The paper concludes by sharing the participants views that activity modifications may provide “an avenue to help support them to engage in positive social interactions and feel a sense of acceptance, belonging, and being valued.” Despite this optimism, however, there are concerns about the implementation of activity modifications particularly when impairment is highlighted, or modifications appear to be “a band aid to superficially reduce larger issues.” Haegele and colleagues reflect on the “great importance that non-disabled scholars and educators engage with and centre the voices of visually impaired students about their views towards activity modification and other pedagogical strategies before implementation.” It is important that PE teachers do not make assumptions about the appropriateness and implementation of activity modifications and pedagogical strategies without involving disabled students. We must “place the voices of disabled students at the centre of pedagogical decision making in real time and remain flexible regarding what strategies or modifications they implement to ensure feelings of acceptance, belonging, and value are available to students.”
Tables, figures, and diagrams: There is one table: Table 1. Detailed demographic information about each participant.
The point of the paper: It is easy to assume that, as adults, we know best but as Haegele and colleagues show, it is those who experience activity and pedagogical modifications who best know the actual outcomes of such endeavours. The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to remind us (or even alert us) to the experts in our classrooms whose voices, to date, have often been ignored.
The main arguments: Intentions to include are great but when they are developed by able bodied adults without consultation, in real time, with disabled students (in this case visually impaired students) then they run a risk of being superficial and exclusionary. Consequently, they may, indeed, serve to highlight a young person's disability and further exclude them from physical education.
The importance of this paper: In choosing papers for this blog I try, selfishly perhaps, to find research that challenges my experiences and my expectations. I am delighted to say that this paper certainly did that and it helps me to see that expertise doesn't always lie in qualifications but in real world experiences and yet we/I don't often see or hear those in the know.
The paper’s contribution to my knowledge: My knowledge is useful and often allows me to recognise a problem or an area of ignorance. That said it often leave me impaired and stops me from seeing beyond the end of my own nose. This paper, like so many in this series, bolsters my knowledge and reduces (I hope) the chances of me ignoring the most pertinent voices in any room.
Summary of the paper in one or two sentences: Ideas and good intentions are one thing but empirical evidence and the experiences of those experts in any room are vital if we are to make meaningful changes to integrated PE. Changes that positively impact on those they are supposed to help.
To the Authors: I would welcome a response to this blog. If you wish to write a response to be published on PEPRN, please email me – A.J.B.Casey@lboro.ac.uk with the final text.
About the Twenty 20 Vision Blog: For many years I wrote a weekly blog. In fact, between 2011 and 2021 I accumulated a catalogue of more than 450 blogs. But then I hit a wall. I simply ran out of energy and time. Consequently, 2022 wasn’t a great year for PEPRN. Following a modernization of the blog by Philte (thanks), and recognising my enduring desire that this break be a blip and not an end, I’m back with a new format and renewed ambition.
During 2022 I acknowledged that I needed to run PEPRN differently and over time the idea of a “Twenty 20 vision” blog emerged. This was, in part, in tribute to T20 cricket (which I love) and 20/20 vision (which I used to have) and in part due to the recognition that PEPRN needed to be easier to write and therefore sustain.
The idea, therefore, is for me to read a paper in no more than twenty minutes using an approach I’ve often recommended to my students but never actually done myself. For each paper I will do a shallow dive, reading only (a) the abstract and section headings, (b) the introduction and conclusion, and (c) the tables and diagrams. All other writing will be ignored. With this information to hand, I will then write the blog in no more than 20 minutes (thus twenty 20) using the eight headers above. Whatever emerges will then be published (after a little editing because I make a lot of grammatical errors typing that fast). The aim is to make paper reading and blog writing manageable once again whilst maintaining the integrity and usefulness of PEPRN. I hope I have achieved this, but feedback is welcomed and invited. Please let me know how I can get better at this and how the blog can better serve the community.