6:00pm Thursday 29th May 2014
By Ian Weinfass
ONE thing I’ve always associated with tennis is exceptional hand-eye co-ordination.
Agreeing to take part in a session of the sport for the blind and partially sighted was, therefore, a bit daunting.
The game – run each Monday by the Basis charity – is played with specially-adapted balls which make a distinctive sound when they hit the floor.
Players either have two or three bounces – depending on their level of blindness – to return the shot.
The group’s fundraising officer Ron Whitt, from Little Burstead, said: “I’m 78 and I’ve been blind for 30 years.
“When I first heard about the group on my talking newspaper, I thought, ‘How can you play tennis when you’re blind?’ “I just went along to take the mickey. Then I had a racket put in my hand and before I knew it, I was addicted and was amazed to see how good I could get.”
The sessions take place at Frynerns Baptist Church hall, in Whitmore Way, Basildon.
As I stepped on to court, Cara Ivatt, Basis’s outreach information officer, helped blindfold me.
She then guided me to where I was supposed to stand – a thoroughly disorentating process where I could barely work out the direction I was supposed to be facing, let alone think about hitting the ball.
To play the game completely blind, even with an allowance of three bounces before returns, was almost impossible.
Ron, the only completely blind player on the day I attended, said: “When I first lost my sight, I thought that was the end of the world.
“I couldn’t drive, couldn’t drive motorcycles, it was finished.
“But people like Basis help you do things. There are a whole load of activities that are open to you.”
The Basildon-based charity – full name the Blind and Sight Impaired Society – runs other activities, including off-road driving, photography and archery.
After failing miserably completely blindfolded, I was able to play the sport wearing glasses, which replicated different types of visual impairment.
Wearing a pair that combined the effects of tunnel vision and cataracts, I was almost completely blind and not much better than I had been blindfolded.
Switching to glasses which replicated macular degeneration – a gradual loss of central vision – I thought I stood a better chance.
The glasses were mostly clear, but had blotches in the middle of each eye. While I was able to see the balls coming over, the few returns I could hit mostly went straight into the net.
I had more luck with the blotchy half blindness that came from the glasses replicating the condition diabetic retinopathy.
But whether I was hitting the ball well or not, the members of the group weren’t judging me.
They were having a laugh and enjoying the game instead.
Ron said: “Anyone joining will receive the same treatment.
“It’s a social activity. We start with a cup of tea and a chat and people can play as much or as little as they want to.”
By the end of my session, I was getting quite competitive and enjoying the exercise, and I had a new found respect for those who live with visual impairment – and still manage to carry out everyday, fun, activities.
For more information about the group, or tomake a donation call 01268 522817 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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