In 2017 we celebrated our eighth year of delivering our blind tennis program which has now benefited more than 300 people with vision loss.
When we developed this initiative in 2009, it was Australia’s first program of its kind.
Tennis for blind and vision impaired people was invented by Miyoshi Takei in Japan in 1984. In order to establish blind tennis in Australia, Blind Sports & Recreation Victoria (BSRV) President Maurice Gleeson OAM established a close relationship with the Japanese Blind Tennis Federation to benchmark best practice, develop rules for the game and establish strong professional links.
Personal meetings with the Japanese Federation in Tokyo in 2013 and an exhibition blind tennis match between the two countries helped to deepen BSRV’s expertise. This led to subsequent benchmarking of other countries’ practices, including the United Kingdom and Italy.
Our program is supported by Tennis Victoria - which has also provided the Melbourne Park Tennis Centre facility and promoted the program through its channels.
A key factor in the program’s success has been partner engagement and a number of universities have provided young, sighted volunteers (many from multicultural backgrounds) to assist on court and make the activity safe.
Many totally blind people may never have held a tennis racquet or been on a tennis court. This program helps them – as well as participants with low vision - to develop skills, directional hearing and balance with the help of audible balls containing bells.
Coaches are specially trained in adapting rules and conditions for people with vision loss.
The inclusive nature of the program sees first-time beginners playing alongside seasoned competitors in an open, welcoming environment.
According to VicHealth, people with disabilities experience substantial disadvantage and much poorer health outcomes than the general Australian population.
As a consequence of blindness and vision impairment, opportunities for physical activity can be more challenging and limiting than for the general community. This can lead to obesity and health related issues; and a lack of confidence and independence.
Being a social game, blind tennis also helps to create social connections for people with vision loss, as they participate together in one of the world’s most popular sports.
Beyond health and fitness, the program has delivered a myriad of other benefits. Weekly blind tennis clinics have brought together people from diverse backgrounds, regardless of gender, ability or culture.
The social opportunities between players and between volunteers and players has improved confidence and even transformed lives.
LaTrobe University, through VicHealth, has evaluated the Victorian Blind Tennis program and the following milestones have been achieved: