Humphreys highlight essential equipment

4 Jan 2024

On World Braille Day 2024, Scarlett and Eliza Humphrey discuss what it's like to be a visually impaired athlete, and the equipment they use in the S11 class to help them perform at their best.

World Braille Day, observed every January 4th, is an awareness day acknowledging the invention of the Braille writing system for blind and visually impaired individuals. The theme for 2024, “Empowering Through Inclusion and Diversity,” underscores the commitment to creating a world where individuals with visual impairments are fully included in all aspects of society.

Twin sisters Scarlett and Eliza Humphrey compete in the S11 visually impaired classification - both reaching individual World Championship finals in recent years - and share an insight into some of the equipment and techniques involved in their training and racing.

In the S11 classification you're required to race in blackout goggles - do you train in them too?

Scarlett: We train in the goggles and race in them. For us, because we've lost all of our sight, it doesn't make any difference training in clear or blackened goggles but we've decided to train and race in them [blackout goggles] so there's no confusion - I don't actually own a clear pair of goggles anymore.

Eliza: It means when we pick them out our kitbag we know they're blackened goggles and we can't then get confused in packing for competitions.

With visual impairments within the classifications on a spectrum, do the goggles change anything you personally would be able to see?

Eliza: When I first became an S11, I had some light perception so I could notice a change when I put the goggles on, but as my sight deteriorated further I can't tell if they are on or off [visually] so everything is just black.

Scarlett: I actually found as my sight deteriorated that they helped, as when I did start further losing my sight, the light would distract me and the glare from the water would be quite disorienting. 

So for others we compete against it may help take away that glare factor, but having the blackened goggles in our classification means even if the ability of light perception differs it creates a level playing field - nobody is getting an advantage from how much they can see and it's all about who swims best on the day.

What cues do you use when swimming to help you track your progress up and down each length?

Eliza: At the end of the lane we have people with a long stick and a tennis ball on the end and they are called tappers. They tap us on the back or on the head, and tell us how many strokes we are out from the wall - so I choose to have mine two strokes out for front crawl (freestyle) and I get that information from the tapper to tell me I'm coming into the wall for a turn or finish.

Scarlett: And then when swimming in the lane we'll use the lane ropes to navigate. Ideally you don't want to be too close that you're on top of it, but you might find yourself tapping it with your hand every now and again as it's a fine balance. 

You can sort of feel the water coming back off the rope to you, so maybe half a stroke away from the lane rope and you use that to keep you in as straight a line as possible. If you can stay in a straight line then you can also count your strokes to help you know where exactly you are spatially in the lane on each length.

Scarlett and Eliza staff team huddle
The Humphrey sisters poolside at Madeira 2022 with their tappers, coaching and team support staff

What's one thing you wish people knew about para-swimming?

Scarlett: I'd say we put the same amount of hours into training and the same required intensity required in training as the Olympic swimmers. So no matter whether you're training with the dream of going to either of the Games it's the same effort that goes into the achievements that para-swimmers get.

Eliza: I'd agree, and also I think para-swimming is equally as exciting to watch with lots of close finishing races. We work hard to get our results and strive for ultimately being on the podium.

The opening event of the Citi Para Swimming World Series 2024 calendar takes place in Aberdeen next month (1st-4th February), with Britain’s top athletes set to face off against their international rivals in the pool just six months ahead of the Paris Games at the Citi Para Swimming World Series inc. British Para-Swimming International Winter Meet. Click here to find out more.

For more information about World Braille Day click here.