Youth with visual impairments need adapted support and special programming to safely participate in outdoor recreation activities

Lieberman, L. J., Haibach-Beach, P. ., Perreault, M. ., & Stribing, A. . (2023). Outdoor recreation experiences in youth with visual impairments: A qualitative inquiry. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 23, 170-183.

Previous research indicates that the benefits of outdoor recreation for youth with visual impairments include increased self-determination, independence, socialization, sensory experiences, and knowledge of the environment. Yet, youth with visual impairments often encounter multiple barriers to engaging in outdoor recreation activities. This study sought to gain a better understanding “of each participant’s lived outdoor recreation experiences, and to illuminate and show specific meanings that participants assign to their lived experiences.” The participants were 16 youth between the ages of 9–19 with visual impairments.

Semi-structured interviews and outdoor recreation logs were used as sources of data. The interviews were conducted on Zoom with the youth participant and a parent or guardian present. During the interview, the participants were asked to describe their outdoor recreation experiences throughout their lives. Prior to the interview, each participant kept an outdoor recreation log over a period of 30 days. The logs were used to record type and duration of outdoor recreation activities, information about who participated in the activities, barriers faced and/or modifications made, and feelings during the outdoor activity.

Information gathered from the logs and the interviews demonstrate that youth with visual impairment do participate in a variety of outdoor recreation activities. In fact, a total of 34 different activities were recorded in the logs, with biking, walking, swimming, and sports the most common types. Three types of benefits were noted: (1) affective benefits, such as increased pride, enjoyment, sense of accomplishment, and feeling energized; (2) physical benefits including increased fitness and motor competence; and (3) psychosocial benefits which included increased opportunities to be social with family and friends. Barriers to involvement in outdoor recreation activities identified by the youth include the physical environment (e.g., extreme weather conditions), concern for health and safety, and lack of access due to the absence of adequate modifications. Supports that facilitated their ability to participate include equipment (e.g., guide wires, tethers for running and kayaking, tandem bike, etc.), guides, and cues or strategies.

This study reinforces what other research illustrates – that is, that outdoor recreation offers a variety of benefits for youth with visual impairments. It also highlights the need for adapted support and special programming for these youth to safely participate.

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