Moving the goalposts: Jack’s Story #MakeSportAccessible
Jack Moffat is 29 years old and volunteers with the Northumberland Sight Loss Council. He lives with the condition Retinitis Pigmentosa, a hereditary condition that begins in childhood and causes a deterioration of vision, primarily affecting peripheral sight. He talks to us about his journey with sport and his passion to #MakeSportAccessible to more people in his area.
Moving the goalposts
Growing up, Jack enjoyed playing football and rugby. However, this got difficult as years went by and his eyesight deteriorated. Jack says he was in denial about his eye condition growing up and hid his sight loss from his friends and peers. Eventually, Jack began to fall behind as his field of vision worsened. Soon enough, Jack would completely withdraw from sport, and it was not until much later that he would find a way to have sport back in his life. Since those early years, Jack says:
“I had to move the goalposts to make myself realise that I am still capable.
I wasn’t going to get back into sport till I’d accepted my condition. I’ve done that in the past few years. I’ve started playing visually impaired cricket, which has been a big part of changing and turning my life around.”
Jack wants to see more blind and partially sighted people get involved in physical activity or sport because of the incredible difference inclusive sport has made in his life.
Giving back through Sight Loss Councils
Jack recently gained a coach development scholarship with the English Cricket Board, where he has proposed to develop a coaching course specific to a visually impaired version of cricket.
“I’ve never been coached by a visually impaired cricket coach because there aren’t any programmes for them. The coaches aren’t taught how to guide, so that’s something I’m working towards.”
Through Jack’s capacity as a Northumberland SLC member, he works closely with his local authority and the Northumberland County Blind Association. He intends to survey the access needs of blind and partially sighted people in Northumberland to better understand what people want and what might be stopping them from participating in sports and fitness. Jack wants to work with local leisure centres, gyms, schools and universities to raise awareness and increase accessibility through VI awareness training.
Jack believes that one of the main obstacles for blind and partially sighted people to access sports and activities in his area are poor travel links, vital to connecting remote parts of the region. Buses in his area are less technologically advanced and do not have audio announcements that tell you what the next stop is. This lack of talking buses means it is especially difficult for blind and partially sighted people to travel independently.
Although living in Northumberland, Jack plays visually impaired cricket for Durham—over 40 miles away from his home! Jack has to get three separate buses and walk half a mile to reach the club. The lack of local VI sports in his area is Jack’s main drive to volunteer for Northumberland Sight Loss Council.
Outside of cricket and sports generally, Jack has had a varied experience accessing gyms in his area. He finds that the older the building, the more likely blind and partially sighted people are to encounter accessibility issues.
Jack believes that BPS people and other people of varying abilities must be consulted early on to ensure accessibility is integral to a facilities’ design and not an add-on. Jack is heavily involved in Northumberland SLC’s work with Active Northumberland to develop their leisure sites across Northumberland. The Sight Loss Council is working with Active Northumberland, the Counties 16 leisure centres and fitness venues operator, to make their sites and activities as inclusive as possible for visually impaired people.
Engagement manager Eamonn Dunne says:
“We’ll not only be providing visual impairment awareness sessions for centre staff, but assessing the layout, signage, and lighting of the venues, and even advising on forthcoming upgrades to their website and smartphone app. Guide dog owners will also be better catered for with safe places for assistance dogs provided for peace of mind.
Accessible Sports Toolkit with UK Coaching
The greatest barrier to blind and partially sighted people participating in sport is confidence. Knowing that a leisure provider understands their needs, helps increase confidence and makes visually impaired people more likely to choose that place to do exercise.
UK Coaching, in partnership with Thomas Pocklington Trust, has created a toolkit for gym and leisure operators to support people with a visual impairment.
The toolkit is central to Sight Loss Councils’ work to #MakeHealthAccessible around the country.
We are asking leisure operators to encourage all their staff – from the front desk to their personal trainers – to get engaged with this training programme and make sport accessible in their venues.
Empathy goes a long way
Jack says that a lot of the time when you attend a gym or leisure centre for the first time, people at the reception don’t know how to approach you. Jack says: “Many people get annoyed at people for not knowing what to do when they encounter a blind person.”
For Jack, it’s not about blame. It’s about starting a conversation and reaching out. He says:
“I want to reach out to members of staff from every leisure centre in my area with the hope that they can pass on what they learn to other members of staff. So when a blind or low vision person does come in. It’s easier for everyone, not only for visually impaired people—because I’ve worked in a care home and know how difficult it is when you’re faced with something you’re not comfortable with, or not been taught how to deal with. I don’t want to make anybody feel like that.”
How sport changed my life
Jack sees sport as a vehicle to work with other people. He is passionate about using sport to build up others in his role as a coach and wants to encourage as many people with visual impairment to get more involved in VI sports.
“On a personal level, it’s changed my life. It reminds you that you are capable. It was just a wonderful feeling for a competitive person like myself who loves sport to get back into competitive sport. That said, the social side of being involved in sport can be even more important and rewarding.”
“Becoming a Sight Loss Council member facilitates me to make a difference.”
Jack wants to encourage other blind and partially sighted people in the North East to get involved.
“Becoming a Sight Loss Council member facilitates you to make a difference. You are given the tools to create the change you’re looking for. Our engagement manager keeps you on track by leading you in the right direction. It’s great to play a part in making the world an easier place to be blind and visually impaired. Change won’t happen on its own– we’re going to have to do something ourselves.”
Want to campaign for more accessible services for blind and partially sighted people in your area? Influence positive change by volunteering for our Sight Loss Council.
Publication date: 03 February 2022