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Cycling training for the visually impaired – the Dutch method

Focus: School Years

Topic: Living Skills

Roland van Grinsven

Sensis

The Netherlands

Marten van Doorn

Bartiméus

The Netherlands

You do a lot of things at once when you ride a bike: keep your balance, pedal, brake, steer, go round corners, accelerate, stop and dismount. And in the meantime you have to keep your wits about you. That means you have to judge how far a car is from a junction and look behind you when you pass a parked car without turning the handlebars at the same time. There are also traffic signs to look out for and you have to know which ones are which. In other words, you have to be able to recognise the shape so that you know whether it is a warning sign, a prohibitory sign, a priority sign, a stop sign or an information sign. When you add up all these factors, it’s a wonder you don’t need a driving licence to ride a bike in traffic. However, an experienced cyclist knows very well that riding a bike is not that complicated. Most manoeuvres are automatic, so that all the cyclist’s time and attention can be devoted to the changing traffic situation.

We also expect visually impaired children to be able to apply the traffic regulations and not be a danger to themselves or to other road users. Visually impaired children accept that responsibility every time they get on their bike, no matter what the circumstances. Children with visual impairment are at greater risk in traffic because they cannot react and anticipate as quickly or as accurately. This applies in 'ordinary' situa­tions, let alone 'extraordinary' situations. For these reasons partially sighted children are often not eligible for proper cycling training, whereas the very fact that they are handicapped in this way makes such training essential. Reticence on the part of parents and carers is often behind this. In many respects this reticence seems to be justified. Being a road user is, after all, a risky business. It is therefore best to recognise the cycling ability of a visually impaired child, if necessary have it checked out, and then let the child practise a great deal. It is important for the child to have the opportunity to build up a lot of experience cycling in traffic. Experience is the most important factor in the development of a good sense of road safety. Visually impaired children are often deprived of the opportunity to gain this experience because of the extreme reticence of their parents and carers. Children who have been given the chance to find out what their capabilities and limitations are in traffic are much better equipped for this kind of independence.

In principle no one needs permission to ride a bike. Anyone may cycle in traffic, provided they obey the traffic regulations. Visually impaired children are no exception and are therefore not treated any differently in law or in issues of liability.

Cycling skills

Before taking a child out onto the road, it is important to know whether he or she has the skills necessary to ride a bike. These include mounting and dismounting, riding, braking, cycling slowly, making hand signals, going round corners, balance, reactions, looking round, etc. It is necessary to check these 'cycling skills' to ensure that the child is able to concentrate fully on the traffic. Through adapted cycling aids and literal support the child learns these skills without too much effort. Riding a bike in traffic requires these cycling skills, enabling the child to concentrate on the traffic and maintain control of the bike at all times.

These 'traffic-related' cycling skills are listed in the cycling skills checklist. It is not advisable to practise cycling skills in real-life traffic situations.

It is much more effective to practise in a traffic-free area using various aids to set up different exercises. For children a cross-country course is a unique practice ground, as cycling skills, coping with speed, anticipation and fitness go hand in hand. A courtyard or other large open space can also be laid out with tape and various obstacles to form a course where children can practise riding over a line, ‘slaloming’, negotiating corners, looking round and cycling with one hand. This kind of practice situation also gives an initial indication of the child’s visual function.

Road traffic know-how

The child must also have knowledge of road traffic to be able to cycle safely. This includes knowing about traffic regulations and traffic signs and, in particular, having road sense. Road traffic know-how can be tested in practice by carrying out a test in quiet surroundings. The child should be able to apply traffic regulations and traffic signs and know what they mean. Traffic know-how can also be checked by means of road traffic tests.

 

Other conditions

Other personal factors may play a part in assessing whether a child can and may ride a bike. The following aspects must be taken into consideration, particularly in the case of a visually impaired child with a multiple disability.

  1. Are the mental faculties of the child sufficient to be able to cycle alone eventually? This might include attention and concentration, memory, problem-solving ability, ability to act automatically. Does the child have spatial awareness? Is he or she motivated to learn?
  2. Does the child have an additional motor disability or physical limitation? If so, how does this visual and motor disability interact?

c.         Does the child have good hearing? How good is he or she at auditory orientation, discrimination and localisation?

d.         In view of the fact that the child must have good road traffic know-how and road sense, he or she will be 10 to 12 years of age before he or she can apply adult road traffic skills.

The conditions just mentioned are in increasing order of importance. If the child fails to meet one of these conditions satisfactorily, this does not mean that he or she is not eligible for cycling training. Assistance (in the form of cycling training) can start by working on filling the gaps in the cycling conditions. Only then should specific requests for help be addressed.

The bike

A visually impaired child should have a reliable bike that is easy to recognise, use and steer. The child must be able to touch the ground with both feet, so it is not advisable to buy a bike that has to be ‘grown into’. Both the cyclist and the bike should be 'dressed' conspicuously. The bike should have good brakes, lights, rear reflectors, tyres, bell, stand, carrier, mirror and lock. The advantage of hand brakes is that you can brake immediately. With back-pedal brakes, the pedals first have to be at the same height. A bike fitted with sensor and battery-operated lights is always visible in the dark.

The child should know how to handle the bike as regards holding and walking with it, loading it up, using the lights, bell, lock, etc. If necessary, the child should wear sunglasses or a cap and should be aware that weather conditions can change quickly. A rear-view mirror may be useful in some cases.  

Testing

Checklists have been drawn up to determine whether the child is capable of safely riding a bike in traffic. These checklists are a record of the child’s cycling skills and road safety skills in practice. These tests may be used for children who already have some cycling experience. The lists highlight which areas require special attention during cycling training. The checklists are completed on the basis of observation during practice and traffic situations. The point of the exercise is simply to identify the child’s capabilities so that these can be taken into account during training.

In order to determine the child’s actual visual function, close attention should be paid during cycling training to the child’s powers of observation. Observation using your ears as well as your eyes is part of this. There may be large differences in observation, particularly in changing circumstances. Examples include cycling in changing weather conditions (sunshine, rain, mist, snow) and cycling at dusk or in the dark. The time of day and the length of the bike ride can (as a result of tiredness) affect visual function.

To gain insight into this very important aspect of 'seeing', it is necessary when carrying out the various different elements of the test to continually check whether the child’s powers of observation change. If changing circumstances seriously restrict these powers, the limit for riding safely in traffic may be exceeded. In such a situation it must be made clear to the child that it would be unwise for him or her to ride a bike under these circumstances. The golden rule at all times is that a child can only be considered a safe cyclist if he or she is aware of what he or she can and cannot do in traffic and knows how to cope with unforeseen and difficult situations.

CYCLING TRAINING

A few guidelines

In providing comprehensive cycling training the task of the instructor is to demonstrate, observe and correct the different elements in the road safety checklist. There are four steps covering each cycling skill:

Step 1: preparation of the cycling tasks; the instructor prepares the visually impaired child for the successive cycling tasks.

*          The instructor describes a particular cycling skill

*          The instructor demonstrates precisely how to deal with this situation

*          The child watches from a short distance away or rides alongside or behind the instructor (a tandem is ideal here)

*          The instructor describes each manoeuvre as it is executed

*          The child must be able to see/hear properly what is happening

Step 2: doing it together; the instructor and the visually impaired child ride together, alongside each other or one behind the other.

*           The child describes each manoeuvre as it is executed

*          The instructor corrects, if necessary, during execution

*          The instructor is attentive to the way in which the child observes (looks/listens) and also gives instructions in this respect

*          The instructor praises correct manoeuvres and behaviour during execution

Step 3: mimicking; the visually impaired child rides in front, the instructor rides behind and observes.

*           The instructor does not correct unless there is danger

*          The instructor is attentive to the way in which the child observes

*            Afterwards the exercise is discussed with the child and practised again until the child has mastered it completely

Step 4: the test; the visually impaired child executes the same manoeuvre, but this time in unfamiliar surroundings.

*          The child can choose to assess the situation on foot and then by bike

*          The instructor rides behind the child and observes

*          The instructor discusses and corrects after the exercise

*          If necessary, modifications are discussed and practised

The test of the child’s skills must also be a test of his or her visual function under changing circumstances. The same skill must therefore be tested under different circumstances and in unfamiliar surroundings.

Riding in a group

If a visually impaired child is riding in a group of fellow students or friends, the situation becomes potentially dangerous as soon as the child lets him or herself be led by the group. The child no longer bothers to look out for him or herself and just follows blindly. It is better to ride alone or with one other cyclist. Moreover, for safety reasons, it may be decided to deviate from the usual route and instead opt for a safer route or crossing place. If this latter option is adopted, the suggestion that one’s companion – who is often a classmate – is ‘responsible’ must be treated with caution. Special attention must be paid to this aspect.

CYCLING SKILLS CHECKLIST

The child can get on and off the bike without wobbling about too much

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child can ride slowly without wobbling

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child can follow a straight line easily and precisely

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child can come to a controlled stop without falling over

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child can come to an abrupt stop without falling over

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child can make a short turn to both sides

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child can make a large turn to both sides

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child can look round without wobbling

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child can ride with one hand without wobbling

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

ROAD SAFETY CHECKLIST

                                                                                                 

The bike is in good condition

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child is clearly visible

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child rides off without being a danger to him or herself or to others

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child passes parked vehicles or other road users without any problems

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child obeys the traffic regulations when making a right turn

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child takes up the correct position on the road when making a left turn

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child rides on a cycle path without any problems

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child is capable of crossing a busy and dangerous junction. If necessary, he or she behaves like a pedestrian (walking with bike on the pavement)

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child weighs up traffic situations decisively

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child executes manoeuvres on the bike well

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child stays alert during the manoeuvres

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child not only looks but listens carefully as well

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child makes him or herself visible in traffic and behaves assertively without being a danger to him or herself or to others

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

The child demonstrates that he or she knows and applies the traffic regulations and traffic signs

0 good             0  average                        0 insufficient

                                                                     


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