Mark Winder, CEO of Goalball UK explains how Goalball is improving employment prospects for candidates with visual impairment – and giving their visually abled colleagues the opportunity to experience the challenges they face.
Accessibility is more than adapting the environment
Great strides have been made in the past few decades in creating welcoming and accessible workplaces for people with disabilities – but the reality is that accessibility means more than adapted workspaces or technology.
At Goalball UK, we work with blind and visually impaired (VI) people living with the daily challenge of environments that have not be made with them in mind. A lack of confidence, isolation and the absence of many opportunities to strike out on their own can make the job market seem impenetrable.
3/4 visually impaired people are not in paid employment
In fact, three out of four people who are registered blind or visually impaired are not in paid employment. They’re also twice as likely as people without a disability to have no qualifications reflecting an equally challenging experience of education that can thwart the ambitions of VI youth.
Goalball improves prospects by 47%
For those young people who take part in Goalball, the picture is strikingly different. They are 47 per cent more likely to be in full time education or employment then their peers.
Looking at education, so often the foundation of a successful career, 60 per cent of Goalball players are in full-time education. Nationally more than four in ten (42.8 per cent) of visually impaired young people were classified at NEETS (not in employment, education or training) – almost double the rate for 16-25 year olds in the general population.
What is Goalball?
Goalball was originally created to rehabilitate soldiers after WWII and is the only sport designed specifically for the blind and visually impaired (VI). Played with blindfolds, it is open to all levels of visual impairment at elite competitions and absolutely anyone can play at a club level.
Players are not treated with kid gloves. With a ball weighing around 1.25kg and serves reaching up to 45mph – this is not a sport for the faint hearted. However, surrounding the game itself is a dedicated team of volunteers that help with vital pastoral support. Everything from helping those with degenerative conditions learn to use a cane to long chats over cups of tea with people who have lost their sight suddenly – it all goes towards ensuring players are standing on their own two feet, safe in the knowledge that we have their back.
Participation trains people for careers in a sighted world
In short, participation in a specialist sport tailored to their needs is setting up a new generation of VI people for successful careers in a sighted world.
For many of the adult players, tournaments and training camps across the country have been the first occasions where they have travelled independently. From there, it is not too big a leap to getting on the train to go to that job interview or networking event.
…and can train others how to experience life as a visually impaired person
Just as many of the children in our clubs bring along their friends in order to play a game that they can enjoy together, Goalball can be a fantastic way to give people a glimpse into the world of their VI colleagues.
While the value of the Goalball to the VI community is clear, in the past few years we have been keen to demonstrate how the sport can benefit their sighted peers.
We recently launched our corporate event experience in order to give sighted colleagues a chance to experience life as a VI person for a few hours. Donning the black-out goggles, players must rely on their other senses and learn quickly how best to communicate with their team mates. Fast paced and challenging, players get a fun and active afternoon with the added benefit of a new perspective on the world – it’s certainly a different experience from the normal ‘corporate event’ – and one that levels the playing field for visually impaired colleagues!
Creating opportunities and a support network
Sport has always been as much about the participation as the winning, but with Goalball, this is even more important – the results speak for themselves
Even if someone never advances beyond a novice level, Goalball provides the confidence, team work skills and support network it takes to succeed. We also have two PhD students on our GB Teams, several who have started their own businesses and clubs, dozens entering higher education and a raft of young players who are looking to their futures surrounded by a supportive and encouraging community.