Vision-impaired Rylee playing the SWISH table

When you live with a vision impairment, playing sport can be incredibly challenging.

And for serious lovers of sport, the opportunity to be active while spending time with family and friends – regardless of visual abilities – is invaluable.

Feros Care has partnered with the local community and Life Skills Australia to bring a SWISH table to Townsville, making sport more accessible for those with vision impairment. 

The Townsville Table Tennis Association is now home to the coastal city's first SWISH table, allowing locals to enjoy a sport that is rapidly growing in popularity - so much so that it's set to stand alone as an event for the first time at the North Queensland Games next month.

The Games, to be held in Townsville from April 29-May 2, will host more events than the Commonwealth Games – attracting around 4000 competitors across 30 sports. They will be the ideal platform to showcase Swish Table Tennis and further boost interest in the sport.

The SWISH tables

25-year-old Rylee Perfect is a Townsville local who has a vision impairment.

Rylee recently played on a handmade SWISH table for the first time at a Feros Care ‘come and try’ day at Townsville’s Table Tennis Hall; he says he not only enjoyed playing the sport, but also the time he spent with his mother and other members of the community. 

Rylee hopes the popularity of Swish table tennis will “take off” and generate enough interest for a regular social event to be organised.

SWISH is an ideal way for people to come together, as people without a vision impairment play the game blindfolded alongside those with vision impairment: “At the social day, mum came too and she had a laugh.”

The SWISH tables are built with barriers on the sides so the ball can’t roll off, and a board in the middle which the ball rolls under and to the other person. The balls have a bell inside which makes a sound when hit with the rectangular Swish bat.

“It’s sort of like air hockey but you can’t see the other side or the other player. I enjoyed it – it was very different and a lot of fun. We had a lot of laughs,” Rylee says.

Making sport accessible to all

Rylee lost much of his sight four years ago. He noticed a ‘blur’ on one eye and was struggling with depth perception. His sight deteriorated and he was left with no central vision.

The genetic eye condition – which has no known history in Rylee’s family –affects Rylee’s ability to see the fine details which are needed for reading and writing. However, he is able to use his peripheral vision to spot a ball or move around.

Rylee grew up playing plenty of sport, especially soccer, and he’s now keen to pursue pathways for people with a vision impairment to be able to play sport and spend time with others in their community - particularly in regional areas.

“It’s about making the opportunities available and making sure the information is out there so people can find out about what’s going on. There’s a lot out there, but it’s often just knowing about it that’s the problem.”

A major impact of living with a disability, Rylee says, is the social isolation that makes it more difficult to get out and meet people: “I’m trying to reach out to others and get the word out there.”

Rylee adds he’s the only person he knows of in Townsville with his eye condition; but he's keen to spread the word about SWISH tables thanks to it being a sport people of all abilities can enjoy together.

Legitimising the game

Feros Care's Andrew Bligh with a SWISH table; people without a vision impairment play blindfolded

Andrew Bligh is Feros Care's Assistant Service Area Manager in Townsville. He says SWISH has been around for about 30 years, but has recently found keen new fans in certain parts of Australia.

When the SWISH events are held at the North Queensland Games, Andrew says he expects the sport on its own could attract up to fifty players both local and from Australia wide, as well as spectators who’ve never seen SWISH before in the local community.

Importantly, SWISH table events will be run at the same time as the men’s and women’s open table tennis blue ribbon events.

“Putting the SWISH tables in the middle of the table tennis hall shows that people with a disability are exactly the same as everyone else in the community – it’s just that they don’t get the same opportunities.

“It will highlight SWISH as an event and it will legitimise the game as well.”

As a social event, Andrew says many locals are “itching” to play, including quite a few older table tennis club members. He says facilitating a social or competitive league for SWISH, after the North Queensland Games, would provide an option for people who are vision-impaired to play a sport, connect with others and maintain and improve people’s mental health.

“It’s about putting something in place where people can join in and enjoy the same benefits as any other member. SWISH tables are to be the vehicle that allows the coming together of people – that’s how the idea evolved.

“It means people can go and meet their mates for a game at a SWISH table, and isn’t that what we all want – to go and meet our mates and come together as part of the same community?

“Mental health-wise, it’s not always about the activity – it’s what goes on around it. We play sport or do something we love.”

Providing inclusion in a sport “removes the disability tag”, breaks down stigma, and ensures each person can enjoy all the benefits of being a member of the club.

Find out more about the work we do in Townsville by clicking here.

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