The International Paralympic Committee requires their member sports to develop a classification system that is sport-specific, meaning that the specific 'class' in which an athlete competes should be suitable for the degree to which the athlete's impairment affects performance in that particular sport. However, swimmers with vision impairment (VI) currently compete in classes that were developed on the basis of legal definitions of blindness, failing to consider how vision impacts swimming performance. The aim of this study was to establish expert guidance on the specific requirements for a sport-specific system of classification for VI swimming. A three-round Delphi review was conducted with a panel of 16 people with expertise in VI swimming either as an athlete, coach, administrator, or scientist. There was clear consensus (86%) among the panel that the current classification system used for VI swimming fails to fulfill the aim of minimizing the impact of VI on the outcome of competition. Particularly, the panel agreed that there are a range of aspects of visual function (e.g., depth perception and contrast sensitivity) that are important for optimal swimming performance, yet are not assessed using the current classification system. The panel also identified nine performance components of a swimming race that are mostly likely to be affected by VI. Interestingly, these were spread across all four major segments (start, clean swim, turn, and finish), and weren't necessarily those performance determinants generally used by performance analysts and coaches. There was also strong agreement that the age at which VI is acquired will substantially impact the ability of a swimmer to reach their full potential in the pool. The main implication is that changes are required to the way that swimmers with VI are classified for para-sport competition. Clear guidance has been provided for how to further the development of an evidence-based classification system.
- Vision impairment