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Sports: University device helps open up Boccia for the visually impaired

A new handheld grid enabling visually impaired people to participate in the sport of Boccia has been developed by Loughborough University designers.

Boccia is a Paralympic sport specifically designed for athletes with a severe degree of physical disability. Men and women compete together in teams, pairs and individual events, attempting to throw leather balls as close as possible to a white target ball.

Until now the sport was not suitable for people with a visual impairment, but this is set to change thanks to a new device created by George Torrens from the Loughborough Design School.

George was approached by sports coaches Mark Beeby and Faye Kanchelski to help develop their concept Tactile Boccia – a spin off from traditional Boccia that would enable the visually impaired to participate in the sport.

With funding from Sport England and Boccia England, the team have developed a handheld grid referencing system that enables players to feel where their ball is in relation to the target and to their competitors, on the court. Support staff place a series of different shaped reference pegs into the grid, moving them accordingly as the game progresses.

Speaking about the grid George said: “Working on this project has been fantastic. The grid will open up the sport of Boccia to visually impaired people everywhere, thanks to the commitment and drive of Mark and Faye to make it all happen.”

Mark added: “We worked with a number of organisations when developing the grid to ensure it would work, including the RNIB, and we are incredibly pleased with the results.”

The Tactile Boccia grid was unveiled at an event at the University on Saturday (20 October) which was attended by the Mayor of Charnwood Councillor Diane Wise, representatives of CP Sport, Boccia England, Action for Blind People as well as sighted and visually impaired Boccia players including some from the Special Olympics.

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