Parental influence and the attraction to physical activity for youths who are visually impaired at a residential-day school.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Parental influences (Research)
Visually disabled children (Physiological aspects)
Visually disabled children (Research)
Exercise for children (Research)
Physical fitness for children (Research)
Authors: Ward, Stefan
Farnsworth, Charles
Babkes-Stellino, Megan
Perrett, Jamis
Pub Date: 08/01/2011
Publication: Name: Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness Publisher: American Foundation for the Blind Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 American Foundation for the Blind ISSN: 0145-482X
Issue: Date: August, 2011 Source Volume: 105 Source Issue: 8
Topic: Event Code: 310 Science & research
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 265870241
Full Text: Staying physically active is important for the health of all people (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2000). The lack of attention to fitness has contributed to an obesity crisis in the United States that is so significant that obesity is now considered one of the most important public health problems of our time (Simons-Morton, Obarzanek, & Cutler, 2006). Less is known about obesity in low-incidence disability populations, such as people who are visually impaired (that is, those who are blind or have low vision), but the levels of reported physical activity for this population are alarmingly low (Brown et al., 2003; Capella-McDonnall, 2007; Holbrook, Caputo, Perry, Fuller, & Morgan, 2009; Lieberman, Stuart, Hand, & Robinson, 2006). It has been shown that youths who are visually impaired have significantly lower levels of physical fitness and activity than do youths who are sighted (Harrison, 2006; Kozub & Oh, 2004; Lieberman, Byrne, Mattern, Watt, & Fernandez-Vivio, 2010; Longmuir & Bar-Or, 2000). Youths with visual impairments also lag behind sighted youths in actual motor skills (Aki, Atasavun, Turan, & Kayihan, 2007; Lieberman, Schedlin, & Pierce, 2009).

Physical activity levels of youths have also been linked to parental influences (Dempsey, Kimiecik, & Horn, 1993). Ayanvazoglu, Oh, and Kozub (2006) found this to be true for participants who were visually impaired and reported that the parents of youths with the highest rates of participation in physical activities were the most involved with their children. Conversely, overprotectiveness and lower expectations of parents and teachers contributed to the formation of sedentary tendencies among children with visual impairments (Bishop, 2000; Fiorini, Stanton, & Reid, 1996; Kiavina & Roswal, 2003; Lieberman, Houston-Wilson, & Kozub, 2002).

The study reported here investigated social influences on the attraction to physical activity and perceptions of physical competence among youths with visual impairments. Specifically, what is the perceived influence that parents and peers have on attraction to physical activity among children who are visually impaired? Various predictors of children's physical activity-related beliefs and involvement were examined among children with visual impairments with particular reference to parental and peer forms of influence. Research has supported the view that parental and peer beliefs and behaviors are related to the interests of sighted children in physical activity (Babkes & Weiss, 1999; Brustad, 1993, 1996), but little research has examined predictors and patterns of interest and involvement in physical activity among children who are visually impaired.


Study design

The study was a qualitative case study of a residential-day school in a western state. Eight youths (5 boys and 3 girls) aged 10-18 were interviewed. The participants were chosen from all available students with visual impairments who had no other physical or mental impairments and could respond appropriately to the questions. All the participants had medically documented evidence of a corrected visual acuity of 20/70 or worse. Four of the eight participants were braille readers, and the other four used large print.

The study was approved by the institutional review board of the University of Northern Colorado before we contacted the school. Permission from the parents and the school was received prior to contacting potential participants for this study. Consent forms were obtained from the parents, and assent forms were obtained from the students.


During the interviews, the youths were asked questions that were derived from the Children's Attraction to Physical Activity (CAPA) survey (Brustad, 1993, 1996). The CAPA survey was developed from Hatter's (1983) competence motivation theory that children are essentially attracted to (have intrinsic motivation for) activities in which they feel competent. The protocol guide consisted of questions concerning the child's attraction to physical activity, the child's perceived physical competence, and the child's perceptions of both parents' influence over their engagement in physical activity.

Data collection and analysis

Individual interviews were conducted over two days and lasted approximately 30-45 minutes each. They were digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim. The participants were given pseudonyms in the transcriptions in an attempt to maintain their anonymity.

Deductive analytic induction was used for the analyses (Taylor & Bogden, 1984). The deductive content analysis focused on themes that were based on the previous CAPA results: motivation to be physically active or play a sport, perceptions of physical competence, and the perceived influence of the youths' parents and peers on physical activity and involvement in sports. Trustworthiness was ensured by multiple procedures. Sources of data (from the interviews, questionnaires, and staff) were triangulated. Comparisons were made with the quantitative data taken from the CAPA survey (from a parallel study) with these students and no irregularities were found. Peer debriefing among the researchers, participants, and school staff was also used to verify the validity of the data. Member checks were conducted with six of the eight youths at a later date (two of the students were no longer attending the school when the member checks were conducted). The results were discussed in small groups to corroborate the findings and ensure confirmability (Schwandt, 2001).


The analysis revealed a number of meaningful themes related to the results of the previous CAPA survey. The participants reported high levels of interest in a variety of sports and physical activities. These results were expressed in the themes of motivation to be physically active or to play a sport, perceptions of physical competence, and perceived social influence of parents or peers. Several themes and subthemes were found for each of these categories.

In the first CAPA category, attraction to physical activity, two subthemes emerged. The first theme indicated the fun of physical exertion and vigorous physical activity for these participants. The male participants reported enjoying the experiences of getting sweaty and breathing hard. Tom, for example, said: "I kind of sort of like it. You're being active, and ... your heart rate is going, and stuff like that." Davie stated: "Like, playing hard is good. And so, exercise is good. But I wish I could do it every day. Like, I could go to the gym every single day. I wish I could do that."

The female participants also described enjoying the experience of exertion. Jordan said: "I love it 100%. I just think it's a good way to release stress. It's a good way to just get out and do something with yourself, and at the same time you're doing something good for your body." However, the girls also claimed not to like getting sweaty. For instance, Debra said: "I don't like that. Ha! Because you get all sweaty and sticky." Sue agreed, "I'm a girly girl; I thought it was absolutely disgusting."

Another subtheme was the participants' enjoyment of games and sports. The boys reported enjoying wrestling, track, and goal ball, and the girls described liking goal ball and cheerleading. Sharon suggested: "I love playing sports. I've been playing ever since I ..., you know, my whole life. I'm used to it, I love it!"

The second CAPA result was perceived physical competence. The participants' perceptions of their competence were high, and the participants reported that they were "good players" or at least fair in skill. Sharon said: "I think I'm a good goal ball player." Tom declared: "I'm fairly good even though I have a visual impairment. I can do just about the same amount as a person who doesn't have a visual impairment, I'm actually pretty good.... Every time I play a game or something like that, I usually win." These statements were usually supported by references to what their parents or coaches had told them. Tom said: "I'm the best thrower on my team, and I've been told that by my coach and other kids on my team." However, the participants' self-reports of their skills differed when the participants were asked to compare their skills to those of others. As Sharon, who had said that she thought she was good goal ball player, stated, "With the team, I'm OK. I'm fair. I think I still need some more practice."

The third CAPA result was social influence on the attraction to physical activity, which was broken down into the influence of parents and peers. In terms of parental influence, the participants reported that overall, they received little encouragement from their parents to participate in sports and physical activity. Typically, parental support was limited to granting permission and purchasing equipment. John commented that his father "doesn't do much; he buys the equipment but he doesn't play." The parents were typically reported as saying "school first, then sports" and often withdrawing their children from activities they felt the children could not do.

Peers at school were perceived as supportive. Emily stated: "You know, we always give each other a lot of support and feedback and say 'good game,' and, you know, we help each other out." The participants said that they were sometimes uncomfortable in performing physical activities around students who were sighted. Davie suggested "They just don't ask me. But ... kids will sometimes ask.... to play with me, and maybe I'll say 'yes.' But it's too rare; it is weird, too."


The study investigated social influences on attraction to physical activity and perceived physical competence among youths with visual impairments and the perceived influence that parents and peers have on their attraction to physical activity. Specifically, we sought a deeper understanding of this population's attraction to physical activity with regard to their motivation to be physically active or play sports, perceptions of physical competence, and perceived social influence of parents and peers.

The participants reported high levels of attraction to physical activity, including an interest in a variety of sports and physical activities. In addition, they reported participating in different activities than did sighted students in previous studies (Brustad, 1993, 1996), a finding that is not surprising, since sports like baseball, basketball, and football that use visual tracking skills are inherently more difficult for youths who are visually impaired. However, it is noteworthy that the high level of attraction to physical activity among this small sample of youths with visual impairments was similar to previous findings of populations of typically sighted youths (Brustad, 1996; Seelye, 1983). Unfortunately, this attraction to physical activity and sports by youths who are visually impaired did not translate into similar self-reported levels of participation. The trend toward inactivity is consistent with that of adult populations and often leads to reports of a lower quality of life (Capella-McDonnall, 2007; Holbrook et al., 2009; Rimmer, Riley, Wang, Rauworth, & Jurkowski, 2004).

Despite their desires, these students did not report levels of actual activity that would be consistent with those of typically sighted youths with comparable CAPA scores. Various barriers to physical activity that are unique to the population of youths with visual impairments may account for this difference. Children and youths who are visually impaired have reported a lack of parental encouragement to, modeling for, and participation in physical activity, which could be a hindrance to participation in such activity (Lieberman et al., 2002; Stuart, Lieberman, & Hand, 2006). Also, the Robinson and Lieberman study confirmed that parental involvement is crucial to maximizing the participation in physical activity for these youths with visual impairments (Robinson & Lieberman, 2007). Another obstacle to physical activity participation is that many youths who are visually impaired have a limited awareness of the opportunities that are available for such activities, even those provided by organizations that are dedicated to individuals with visual impairments (Longmuir & Bar-Or, 2000). Robinson and Lieberman (2007) found that parents often indicate satisfaction with the physical activity levels of their children, even if the levels are lower than the averages of sighted children of the same age. Other potential barriers may include the lack of opportunities for participation, including adequate facilities, trained staff, and special equipment that are needed for youths with special needs (Rimmer, 2006; Rimmer et al., 2004).

Limitations and future research

Potential limitations of the study included the small sample of students from one setting. However, from a qualitative perspective, these were not limitations, because we sought a deeper understanding of this specific group's attraction to physical activity, rather than to generalize to the larger population of students who are visually impaired.

Gaining this deeper knowledge about the nature of family and peer influences on students who are visually impaired at one school has suggested that future studies on beliefs about and involvement in physical activity in a broader range of youths are necessary to design and create more opportunities for children of all abilities to participate in sports and physical activity programs and enjoy the benefits the programs provide. In addition, studies are needed on how to increase parental involvement to improve youths' involvement in physical activities.


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Stefan Ward, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Physical Education, Central Washington University, 400 East University Way, Ellensburg, WA 98926; e-mail: . Charles Farnsworth, Ed.D., assistant professor and director, Program for Teachers of Students Who Are Visually Impaired, Dominican College, 470 Western Highway, Orangeburg, NY 10962; e-mail: . Megan Babkes-Stellino, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Sport and Exercise Science, University of Northern Colorado, 501 20th Street, Greeley, CO 80639; e-mail: . Jamis Perrett, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Statistics, Texas A&M University, 3143 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843; e-mail: .
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