Flying Blind: How Disc Golf Can Be Played by People with Visual Impairments

By Kaycee Glattke ~

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Working out in the gym and playing sports are two great ways to stay active and in shape. Yet, both have drawbacks.

While hitting the gym is an excellent way to gain strength and maintain a healthy lifestyle, it lacks in other areas such as social inclusion and cooperation. And while organized sports provide opportunities to interact and socialize with others, many rely heavily on sensory cues such as sight in order to be played.

Despite the growing variety of sports available on either a competitive or social level, there is a noticeable lack of adapted sports available for people with disabilities. Specifically, those who are blind or have significant visual impairment.

In the United States, 41 percent of adults with disabilities are obese, compared to 25 percent of adults without disabilities (1). This has been partly attributed to a lack of physical activities for people with disabilities to participate in. Additionally, studies have shown that adults with visual impairments report significant levels of loneliness and social isolation compared with their non-impaired counterparts (2).

One solution to improve accessibility for those with visual impairments is to integrate alternative sensory cues, such as beeps or vibrating feedback, into gameplay to replace visual cues. For example, beep baseball uses bases that beep so players with visual impairments can tell which direction to run.

However, while these games have been adapted for players with visual impairments, they also introduce new issues. They often require specialized recreation areas and thus may offer limited opportunities for inclusive participation.

An ideal activity that offers social engagement and physical activity would be one that is easy to learn, requires little specialized equipment or associated costs, and allows players to participate spontaneously. Disc golf easily checks off all these boxes. This is thanks to its limited required equipment, availability of free public courses, gentle learning curve for beginners, and relatively low physical impact on players.

At the same time, it is no secret that disc golf is a game that relies heavily on visual cues. Players require vision for locating tees and baskets, avoiding obstacles, and finding discs after they’ve landed. But, in this age of smartphones, a phone app could modify a disc golf course so that it is accessible for people with visual impairments.

Recently, some of my colleagues and I laid the groundwork for such an adapted game, and we hope that one day it can be fully developed and integrated into disc golf courses around the world (3).

Our proposed adapted game relies on GPS to deliver auditory cues instead of visual cues. Bluetooth devices that emit sounds like the TrackR Bravo, controlled with a phone app, would help players locate the major landmarks of the game, like baskets and discs. The app would make use of a phone’s GPS capabilities to map out the course and assist players in navigating each hole, as well as to follow the course in the correct order.

Likewise, because the phone would be able to locate the discs thanks to the Bluetooth devices, a performance feedback component could be implemented into the app to help players tell how well they are playing. For example, the app would produce auditorily pleasing sounds if the player’s disc made progress through the course on a throw; conversely, an unpleasant tone would be played if the player did not make progress or if the disc strayed from the course.

To see how the adapted game might work, check out the video below produced by the Blind Disc Golf Association:

Accessibility of sports for people with disabilities deserves more attention and action. Bringing an adapted disc golf game to fruition could have major social and physical implications for its beneficiaries, including increased social interaction and maintenance of a healthy lifestyle.

The adaptations that could be made to disc golf would be relatively easy to implement with the appropriate resources, creativity and activism.

References:

  1. Kraus, L.: Disability Statistics Annual Report. Durham, NH. (2015)
  2. Hodge, S., Eccles, F.: Loneliness, Social Isolation and Sight Loss. In: Thomas Pocklington Trust, London. (2014)
  3. Glattke K., Fakhri B., Heath C., Moore M., Rahimi M. (2019) Design of an Enhanced Disc Golf Game to Facilitate Players with Visual Impairments. In: Goossens R. (eds) Advances in Social and Occupational Ergonomics, vol 792, Springer, Cham. (2019)

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kayceKaycee Glattke received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in biomechanics from the University of Florida in 2015 and is currently working on her PhD in biomedical engineering at Arizona State University. When she is not spending time in the lab, she enjoys rock climbing, volunteering with the local American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, and adventuring with her dog, Gibson.

 

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Parked is underwritten in part by a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association.

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