Group photo of Vision Sports project leads infront of DCU sign

New Insight research project on physical activity levels of vision impaired and blind children and adults

Submitted on Tuesday, 14/12/2021

Insight is collaborating in a new research project which explores physical activity in blind and visually impaired children, young people and adults. 2016 Census data revealed stark challenges faced by visually impaired people participating in leisure and other activities, with two in every five declaring difficulty in that regard.

This ambitious project will carry out a first of its kind investigation of the physical activity, sports participation, and wellbeing of blind and vision impaired children and adolescents. In essence, a ‘snapshot’ of the state of play in Ireland with recommendations for future development and policy in this area.

The research is a collaboration between Insight, Vision Sports Ireland, National Council for the Blind of Ireland and DCU’s School of Human Health and Performance. It hopes to support these children to participate in a sport of their choice, and sustain that into adulthood.

By identifying sport and leisure options, issues, and barriers across the lifecycle, the team involved believe that the level of sports participation can be greatly increased among this cohort of young people and also by those who may be vulnerable to economic, social and educational disadvantage. The project also aligns with Sport Ireland’s recently released research strategy.

Prof. Noel O’Connor, Insight CEO, said: “We all aspire to a truly inclusive society yet the findings of the 2016 census on participation levels of the visually impaired in sport and leisure activities highlight a key national challenge in this regard. It is our duty as a society to better understand why this is happening, and on this basis find ways of addressing the situation.

This project will address the first of these challenges – measuring and understanding the extent of the challenge. Under the expert guidance of our partners, Insight researchers will apply state of the art data collection and analysis techniques. The learnings we elicit from this first of a kind study will allow all partners to work together to affect positive change.”

Aaron Mullaniff on behalf of National Council for the Blind in Ireland and Vision Sports Ireland noted that the research project is a critical stepping stone to putting in place needs led structures and programmes which will increase physical activity ‘life chances’ for blind and vision impaired people across the entire lifecycle.

He added that “the absence of research in this space has been a major stumbling block to understanding the barriers to and participation levels of blind and visually impaired people in physical activity. NCBI and Vision Sports capacity to bring about positive change and opportunity is very much dependent on deep engagement with credible and impactful partners like The Insight SFI Research Centre and DCUs School of Health and Human Performance who will ultimately play an influential role in supporting the National Governing Body [Vision Sports Ireland] to leverage new opportunities to promote higher levels of meaningful participation in physical activity and in turn improved overall health and well-being of blind and vision impaired people”.

Dr Sarahjane Belton, from the School of Health and Human Performance at DCU said: “Physical inactivity is one of the greatest health crises facing us in Ireland, and across the world, levels of physical activity in the general population are dangerously low, leading to increased risk of a range of chronic health problems for both children and adults.

Unfortunately, our national physical activity surveillance studies in Ireland to date have not included blind and vision impaired children and adults. Findings in terms of health inequality across the world would suggest that this cohort are at even greater risk of low levels of activity – purley because of the additional barriers and challenges they face in accessing health enhancing physical activity opportunities. This first of its kind research will allow us to investigate the level of the challenges faced, and take the first steps to addressing barriers and increasing opportunities – ultimately leading to enhanced quality of life and increased health outcomes of blind and vision impaired children and adults in Ireland”.

Pictured: Prof Daire Keogh, DCU President; Chris White, CEO National Council for the Blind in Ireland (NCBI); Senator Martin Conway, Senator, Fine Gaeil Seanad spokesperson on health (first/only visually impaired elected representative); Prof Noel O’Connor, CEO Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics; Dr Sarahjane Belton, Head of School of Health and Human Performance; Aaron Mullaniff, CEO Vision Sport Ireland/Assistant Chief Services Officer NCBI; Padraig Healy, Vision Sport Ireland National Sports Development Manager; Kristina Millar, NCBI/ Women in Sport Officer Vision Sport Ireland ; Dr Amy Hall, Insight Operations Team; Dr Stephen Behan, School of Health and Human Performance