Water Aerobics and People who are Blind or Visually Impaired



Since we all need to integrate physical activity into our daily lives, it’s important to examine various activities to find ones we can truly enjoy.  For me, this is water aerobics.  I am totally blind and have done water aerobics for about five years now, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.  Below I describe some of these insights in hopes they will help participants who are blind or visually impaired and/or instructors in this most enjoyable activity.


Find a Pool
First, explore what gyms or pools are near you or on public transportation routes.  Find out if they are heated and/or open year round, and what times they offer water aerobics classes.  Pools differ even within national fitness clubs so it is important to research the options before you join.

Learn Your Way around the Dressing Room
Depending on what type of mobility aid you use, you will want to figure out the layout of both the dressing rooms and the pool.  Ask whoever is orienting you to describe and show you physically where things are in the dressing room, including, locker areas, water fountain, toilets, hand/hair dryers, showers etc.  Also ask if there are any hazards such as step down area meant for drainage in the showers so you’ll know to be especially careful to avoid these.  Examine the locker layout since they will all look alike to you.  You can tie a ribbon or rubber band to your lock in order to more readily identify your locker.  Once you become familiar with the layout, you will most likely use a locker in a similar location when available.  Most lockers have hooks inside to hang your clothes.  If you have a guide dog, look for areas where they can lie while you dress and shower that are convenient for everyone, and where they are not an obstacle.  Also look for hooks where you can hook your dogs leash both while you are dressing and showering and also around the pool and deck area    while you swim. 


Get Oriented to the Pool Area
My dog does best when she is near me  so I tie her leash around a bench foot and she lies on the deck beside the outer lane where I swim.  You will want to consider the pathway to this location as often there is lots of water equipment on the pool deck.  I find that shuffling my feet allows me to push it away rather than tripping on it. Also, friends most often get my equipment for me which greatly facilitates my movement meaning I don’t have to walk back and forth on the deck.  When you choose a location to swim for water aerobics, consider the depth for your height, and the proximity to the teacher as it is often quite hard to hear in the pool. I sometimes ask classmates which exercise we are doing if I don’t hear, or just keep active and out of the way until the next one begins.  I prefer to be nearest to a pool corner    as that way there’s only a person in front of me but not behind.  I also tell the person in front to let me know if I am drifting too close because when floating I may not be able to tell.  I also sometimes work out a system with the teacher to raise my hand if I didn’t hear the call of the exercise. You will also want to learn landmarks that are used during class, such as “turn toward the dressing room, the clocks, back or front”. 
Learn Water Aerobics Lingo
I found that spending time in the water with the instructor or someone knowledgable about the teacher and their classes was a great benefit.  By doing this, I learned the names of the exercises and could much more easily follow during class.  It is also most helpful if the instructor is verbal about your starting position such as “face the clock”, “with palms facing each other”, or “with your head toward the steam room”.  Below are a couple of examples of exercises and how to describe them that may be helpful both to swimmers who are blind and to water aerobics instructors.  

Cross Country Ski
Start with your left foot forward and right foot back, both flat on the floor.  Sliding your feet along the floor, chage places with your feet.  Now add hand movements by moving the opposite hand forward.  So, when your left foot is forward, your right hand is forward. 

Many water aerobics exercises have variations.  In cross country ski for example, instead of moving your feet along the floor you can vary it by raising your feet and bending your knees.  Pretend there is a rock on the fllor right below you and you are lifting your feet over it. 

Another variation is to add intensity by pushing your hands out to 10:00 and 2:00 o’clock respectively. You can also bring your knees up during this variation.  Sometimes instructors will have you suspend your actions, meaning without touching the floor.  For example, they might indicate to do four on the floor and four suspended. 

Elbow to Knee
Put your hand on your shoulders, now bring one knee up at a time, touching your knee to the opposite elbow.  This can be varied by touching the elbow to knee on the same side alternating or at the same time. 


As you get acquainted with people in your class you will learn that often they do not do every exercise as it is called by the instructor.  So, if you are unsure what is happening, just keep moving, doing exercises you know that are beneficial and where you won’t be in the way of others.  Often there are class systems like e-mail lists where you can get information about pool closures, potluck lunches and other class information.  Additionally, you may learn how others use additional water aerobics equipment for enhanced exercise. Making friends in class is a definite motivator to keep coming as you encourage one another.


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