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The Special Methoids for Teaching Tai Chi to Visually Impaired People

by Dr. Suzanne Droleskey, ATCQA Certified Tai Chi Instructor (Level II), published in September 2018
This is an excerpt from the author's original article. ATCQA members and certified instructors/practitioners can read the full article on ATCQA website. Sign in your ATCQA account and then click the link for "Study Materials".

Why teach tai chi to someone who is visually impaired?

This is the first question most people ask me when they find out that I have been doing this on a regular basis for five years, with 24 past students and a good level of success.

The answer is fundamental to the practice of tai chi: balance and harmony. I cannot think of a population as underserved as the visually impaired who are more in need of understanding both the physical and mental components of external and internal balance. Decades of research about tai chi's value in preventing falls confirms the obvious importance of tai chi to those who are visually impaired. The question then becomes, how does one teach this visual activity to someone with diminished sight?

Through years of experience, I have developed knowledge and practical ways to teach Tai Chi to this special group of students.

For example, to guide these students to learn the layout of the classroom and the way to reach and navigate it, I give them a tour at the first class. The tour not only covers the classroom, but also how to navigate the building from the entrance, to restrooms, to water fountains, and to the classroom door. It is very important to help these students be independent in their classroom space. If you have a facility where the students must navigate hallways, stairs, elevators, etc. to access your classroom, be sure to eye these areas for obstacles and consistent furniture placement, too.

For another example, I provide color clues in carefully selecting my clothing so students can distinguish my right and left arms and legs, my torso vs. my legs, etc. I use black and red (colors suggested by my visually impaired students) wristbands or gloves to distinguish one hand from the other, a red shirt and black pants. Within my classroom, this prevents my skin color or clothing colors from causing me to blend into the background of my classroom.

Dr. Suzanne Droleskey teaching a visually impaired student..

Above all, the most complicated element I had to change about my own teaching style when working with visually impaired students was to provide detailed, clear, oral instructions that describe each movement I am asking them to make. Consider how you will verbally describe "holding the ball" or "bow stance", or the "claw" hand position, for example, to someone who cannot see what you are doing at all. It is fine to have them touch you and "see" it with their hands in a static position, but you will need to be able to explain in detail what is happening as the movements change throughout a position and when you piece positions together in a form or sequence.

I also recognize that there are others far more knowledgeable than I am about working with the visually impaired. So, if something isn't coming across to the students, seek out experts in working with the visually impaired. In truth, we as tai chi instructors don't need to be experts at teaching those who are visually impaired. We simply need to tap into that tremendous resource and allow others to spark our imaginations about what may be possible.




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