Activity devised by Nancy Pinkerton - Habilitation Specialist, Royal Blind School
In a large space, a hall, or a multi-use games area (MUGA), encourage the young person to self-propel their wheelchair in order to find a large physio ball.
A large space, like the one in the photograph, gives lots of room to manoeuvre and develop skills that can transfer to other more enclosed areas.
The object used in the activity doesn’t have to be a ball. It can be any sensory object the young person you are working with will associate with and be motivated to find. For the young person in the video clips the bouncing physio ball gives good sensory stimulation in that particular environment.
At the Royal Blind School a pupil may have two sessions of this activity per week. In the first session two members of staff are involved, and in the second session only one member of staff. When there are two members of staff the lead habilitation specialist can have the opportunity to teach the young person to manage obstacles. For this reason it is better to choose a location with more obstacles when there are two members of staff available.
Start by bouncing the ball approximately three or four paces in front of the young person.
Encourage the young person to come to the ball by using the following phrase (for this example we will use the name ‘Frazer’).
“If Frazer wants the ball he needs to come to the ball.”
Once the young person learns this phrase well they may start to move after they have heard the first part.
Once the young person has brought themselves to the ball, place the ball in their hands and allow them to throw it away and listen to where it lands.
When retrieving the ball, start bouncing it from the spot where it landed and walk with the ball until you are closer to the young person.
To help them develop directional skills when self-propelling their chair, begin positioning the ball slightly to their left or right and increase the distance they need to travel on each occasion.
It is important to allow the young person to move their chair independently when carrying out this activity even if you anticipate that they are about to bump into an obstacle like a fence or wall.
The young person in the video clip uses echolocation to navigate within his environment. This is similar to the way animals like bats and dolphins use echolocation. Blind or partially sighted people can learn to detect objects by bouncing sound waves off them. They may click their fingers or click their tongue. You will see that the young person in the video has developed his own particular technique.
If the young person bumps into a fence or wall reinforce what has happened. In the example shown here the habilitation specialist does this by saying “Opps, Bump”, but you can develop your own phrase with the young person you work with.
Ask the young person if they need assistance and wait for them to respond before giving assistance. When giving assistance, tap the young person on the arm to indicate the direction they are turning and say “right/left wheel backward” while physically pulling the wheel backward. This will give the young person the opportunity to feel the wheel move and hopefully they will learn to do this for themselves.
Please ensure that the young person has the opportunity to listen to the ball and the sounds in the environment by limiting spoken language to key phrases involved in the activity.
This is particularly important if the young person uses echolocation to navigate the environment.
Learn how to progress this activity with a student: Wheelchair Manoeuvring Ball Activity (Advanced)
Get practical advice for wheelchair mobility training: Wheelchair Mobility Route Learning Activity