Young girl balancing on one leg

Upstate Foundation’s “Blind Sport Expo” Receives $15,000

It’s common to see adults with visual or physical impairments engaging in adaptive recreational activities, but there is often a lack of opportunity for youth—most notably on the sports field. The Upstate Foundation's "Blind Sport Expo" is changing that.

It’s easy to take for granted the things that are second nature to us, like our five senses. Color, light, and depth are concepts many of us are so familiar with but we don’t often recognize how different our world would look without them. While this might be the reality for those with vision impairments, the world has the potential to still look and feel just as brilliant.

In many cases it’s common to see adults with visual or physical impairments engaging in adaptive recreational activities, but there is often a lack of those types of opportunities for capable youth—most notably on the sports field. This comes with a number of negative effects, according to Terry Toscano Shenfeld, director, foundation relations at the Upstate Foundation.

“Children who don’t have the opportunity to engage in physical activities with other children may experience limited social interaction and increased physical challenges,” she said. “We recognized the lack of these resources and turned our focus to offer programming for youth experiencing sensory impairments to ensure they have the same opportunities of other fully abled children their age.”

The Central New York Community Foundation provided a $15,000 grant to the Upstate Foundation to help launch two programs targeted primarily to eager young people with visual impairments.

The first program, Camp Abilities, was a week-long virtual sports camp that guided youth and their families through physical activities remotely. This included things like yoga, track & field, soccer and even song writing, computer coding and cooking. Participants also heard from Paralympic athletes and speakers about vocational advocacy and advocacy in physical education and sports.

When COVID-19 restrictions loosened up, the Upstate Foundation held its second program, an in-person Blind Sport Expo Day, which offered three activities that were accessible for participants – jump rope, running and 5-a-Side Soccer, a new Paralympic sport that will appear in the 2028 Olympics.

“Offering a safe space for children to engage in inclusive activities among other children with shared backgrounds and experiences can help to increase their self-confidence and quality of life,” said Toscano Shenfeld. “The ability to find community is an integral part of life, and our programs have the potential to positively affect the lives of children as a result – not only physically, but emotionally and socially as well.”

In addition to the physical activities, Upstate recognized the importance of inviting relatable mentors to the Expo. Key Paralympic speakers came to discuss the importance of sports in communities of people with visual impairments, and served as inspiring examples and role models for the children.

The Upstate Foundation plans on continuing both programs next year, with the hope that they serve as examples of the need for additional opportunities in this space.

“Without our efforts to highlight the lack of activities these wonderful children have, there would be little to no advancement of more opportunities, said Toscano Shenfeld. “The Central New York Community Foundation wholeheartedly supports our vision and we hope to encourage more implementation of programming that all children can enjoy.”

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