On Friday 2nd December last Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Patrick O’Donovan TD presented awards from the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) to blind and vision impaired Paralympians from Team Ireland. The awards recognise the achievements of the athletes at Rio 2016 in the fields of athletics, tandem cycling and the first ever Para-triathlon.
Seven blind or vision impaired athletes and three tandem pilots attended the reception, held by NCBI and Vision Sports Ireland, including gold medalists Jason Smyth and Katie George Dunleavy and veteran Paralympian Catherine Walsh, who has now competed in a record seven Paralympics.
Minister O’Donovan congratulated each of the athletes on their significant achievements and for inspiring young people who are blind or vision impaired.
“I was delighted to present these awards on behalf of NCBI and Vision Sports Ireland, particularly as it comes a day ahead of International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It’s a particularly appropriate time to recognise the achievements of these athletes, whose journey to Rio 2016 has faced even greater hurdles than that of other elite athletes. The legacy of their success goes far beyond the number of medals won. In inspiring young people who are blind or vision impaired to get involved in sport, at any level, these athletes are helping to develop the athletes who will go on to representing Ireland at Paralympics for many years to come.”
Among the athletes being presented with awards were Jason Smyth, who won his 5th Paralympic gold at Rio, and the tandem team of Katie George Dunleavy and pilot Eve McCrystal, who won their first Paralympic gold. Katie is only the fourth vision impaired Paralympic athlete ever to win gold.
There are a number of barriers that prevent children and young people with sight loss from participating in sport and recreation. These include lack of awareness on how to accommodate someone with a vision impairment in mainstream sport and the lack of availability of either vision impaired sporting opportunities locally or public transport to get to a centre where they are available, particularly in rural areas.
Joe Geraghty, Chairman of Vision Sports Ireland, the national governing body for sport for vision impaired people in Ireland, said the future is bright for young people with sight loss wishing to get involved in sport.
“Vision Sports Ireland is the only Irish organisation solely dedicated to promoting sport and recreation for vision impaired people. Our aim is that every vision impaired person should be able to participate in the sport or recreational activity of their choice. Among our top 10 sports currently are athletics, tandem cycling, triathlon, tennis, swimming, blind football, judo and blind golf. There are always adaptations that can be made. The options are increasing but we need to continue to work hard to improve access to sporting opportunities nationally.”
Chris White, CEO of NCBI, stressed the importance of opening up sporting opportunities for young people who are blind or vision impaired.
“The benefits to being active are immense. It helps to combat social isolation, which is a huge problem for people with sight loss. Being involved in sport also improves self-confidence, develops new skills and of course has many health benefits. NCBI is proud to present these awards to our athletes and proud to keep working with Vision Sports Ireland to ensure we continue to provide opportunities for our young people with sight loss to try new sports and to excel in the same way as their sighted peers.”
– Extract from Press Release issued by NCBI