Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

Spotlight on RDPFS Grantee: The USABA, Empowering Americans with Vision Loss to Experience “Life-Changing Opportunities in Sports, Recreation, and Physical Education”

by B. E. Lewis, RDPFS Intern, and Janet Weinstein, RDPFS Editorial Director/Consultant:

The U. S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) “empowers Americans who are blind and visually impaired to experience life-changing opportunities in sports, recreation and physical education activities, thereby educating and inspiring the nation.” In pursuing this goal, the organization has worked since 1976 to foster leadership and advocacy opportunities for athletes and participants. We recently spoke with USABA Chief Executive Officer Molly Quinn to learn more about the organization and its current initiatives.

USABA has been named the national governing body for the Paralympic sport of blind soccer. This new responsibility expands on their existing role in the Paralympics, where they already serve as the national governing body for goalball. Quinn noted that in goalball, the U.S. boasts the “most decorated men’s and women’s programs in the world,” with 12 Paralympic medals and 11 world championships. Blind soccer, an emerging sport in this nation known internationally as blind football, is slated to make its Team USA debut in the 2028 Paralympic Games in Los Angeles. Although the sport has been played at Paralympic Games since 2004, the U.S. has never fielded a team. In 2028, Team USA will make history and receive automatic entry into the blind soccer competition as the host country.

“Inspiring the Next Generation”

In addition to its responsibilities for blind soccer and goalball at the “elite (Paralympic) level,” USABA serves as a resource to find opportunities and organizations nationwide, “inspiring the next generation.” Their ambassador program focuses on motivating athletes “on and off the field.” The message is that “Even if you’re losing your sight, you can participate in health and wellness” and experience the camaraderie of being on a team, “the sense of belonging,” and gain “important skills for everyday life.”

Building a Sport “From the Ground Up”

With blind soccer, the organization is building it nationally “from the ground up.” The inaugural Blind Soccer National Coaching Summit was held this August, hosted by USABA and the Rutgers University Department of Kinesiology and Health and Center for Disability Sports, Health and Wellness in partnership with Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation (RDPFS). “Partners for Sight funding allowed us to hold the summit at Rutgers to support their growing adaptive sports program as well as providing national structure and outreach,” contributing greatly to its success, Quinn explained. Participants came from 10 states across the nation, including organizations from the blind and visually impaired (BVI) community, adaptive physical education teachers, sports coaches, and athletes. Quinn noted that these efforts “provide opportunities for able-bodied soccer organizations to learn more about the sport so they can meet the needs of participants where they are.” BVI organizations learned more about soccer, while those from the soccer community gained a better understanding of blind soccer, integrating the two in sustainable way. As a former triathlete, Quinn herself saw the inclusiveness of this sport as an inspiration for her continued career in sports philanthropy and was enthusiastic about the summit’s outcome. “The biggest piece that transpired is that the clinic ended with a collaborative conversation on the next steps these coaches need to take to grow the game in their hometowns.” To make it national in scope, clinic participants were called upon to bring what they learned back to their home communities. A number of them have begun to take the next steps, committing to moving the program ahead in their areas in the coming months. Learn more here about USABA. Check out the YouTube from the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA)here for Your Guide to Blind Football.”