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Winter 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Elina Mullen Ed.D. CAPE, Adapted Physical Education Teacher,
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Abstract: An Adapted Physical Education Teacher who works at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired describes her work with students with visual impairments and additional disabilities, and with college Kinesiology students.

Keywords: Adapted Physical Education, visual impairment, multiple disabilities, college practicum.


How does it feel to be in a school as a new or emerging teacher? How does it feel to be teaching adapted physical education in a “special school”?

Eighteen years ago I walked into Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, as an adapted physical educator.  At first I was overwhelmed by the myriad of disabilities I encountered in one classroom, in one lesson!  It felt like I had fallen overboard into a stormy sea, knowing how to swim, but not knowing where to go. But I learned more about these disabilities, and so began the journey I share with you.

Texas School for the Blind is an excellent environment for a teacher to gain knowledge and build upon one’s skills.  The staff development training and on campus courses helped me assimilate my knowledge and experiences into workable units.

Communication is the key to a teacher’s success, and the level and modality is of great importance.  This is where I put into practice the van Dijk system I had learned about in college.  I also got to use sign language and infuse all other related knowledge into how I worked with my students.

My field is adapted physical education.  Thinking of the time it took me to settle into my job, I made contact with the Kinesiology Department at the University of Texas (UT) and offered the students an internship experience.  The idea caught on and has been ongoing for fifteen years.

During their internship, college students learn the following:

  1. All people have the same needs and wants. Every one has dignity and needs respect.
  2. All my students are unique individuals with special needs.
  3. Any individual can be taught, if you have the patience to wait “years” for the results.
  4. How to instruct at a level not taught in college.
  5. To be consistent and persistent in teaching the same things the same way over and over and over again.
  6. For students who are deafblind, to be able to break any movement pattern down to its lowest level and give it some meaning. An example is, why do we bend down to touch our toes? The answer is for flexibility.  To make this exercise understandable I use:
  • Ten little bright square cards in a box (pieces of velcro at the back);
  • A big piece of carpet stuck on the wall like a window;
  • The activity “Let us play the card and Window game”.

The student learns to pick the cards from the floor, one at a time and stick it into the window.  At the end of this exercise the student has bent down and stretched ten times for flexibility.

  1. To be the eyes and ears of the students while guiding them through motion.
  2. To use the best teaching practices while working with all students.
  3. To make every movement experience so successful and enjoyable that the student wants to return to your classroom.  This motivation becomes so evident on occasions like when a deafblind student stood up during his class activities, went over to his daily calendar, picked out his gym symbol, and proceeded to make his way to the door on his way to the gym.

This cooperative exchange has many benefits, some of which are:

  1. UT students have met a student with disabilities and actually worked with him or her, breaking down fear barriers and preconceived ideas;
  2. TSBVI students have had many more trials at the movement experience, and as a result learn faster;
  3. TSBVI students have peer role models, where applicable;
  4. The positive exposure encourages some UT students to venture into the world of teaching and the field of adapted physical education;
  5. As members of the society, the UT students are able to make educated choices in terms of policy and practices on behalf of people with disabilities.
  6. UT students develop a life-long understanding of disabilities in our world.