Inaugural tennis conference serves the international blind and visually-impaired community

Simon McFarland, former IBTA Board Member (left); Tony Stingley, USTA Community Outreach (center); and Gabriella Castaneda, USTA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (right) conduct an in-court workshop during the inaugural International Blind and Visually-Impaired Tennis Education Conference.

The United States Tennis Association National Campus at Lake Nona recently hosted the inaugural 2023 International Blind and Visually-Impaired Tennis Education Conference, addressing the status of the sport and growth of the game for those impacted by the blindness or visual impairment.

Today, Blind and Visually Impaired Tennis is played all over the world guided by the governing body of the sport, the International Blind Tennis Association, IBTA.

“The first International Blind and Visually-Impaired Tennis Education Conference and friendly tournament was a great success,” said Samir Mahir, President of the IBTA.

“It is a must attend event for anyone interested in BVI Tennis and in learning about Adaptive Tennis in general,” said Mahir, who was featured as the conference’s keynote speaker.

Leading the way in bringing Blind and Visually Impaired tennis to the mainstream, the United States Blind Tennis Association, USBTA, was founded in 2022 by Highland Park Tennis Club President, Dana Squelch-Costa.

Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the organization works closely with the United States Tennis Association, USTA Middle States Section and the USTA Allegheny Mountain District, to bring tennis opportunities to a community that has been traditionally underrepresented.

“We are a small but mighty team,” said Squelch-Costa, a member of the USTA Adaptive Tennis Committee and IBTA Board.

Steve Manley (left), Tennis Australia New South Wales Inclusion & Development Coach; Dana Squelch-Costa (center), USTA Adaptive Tennis Committee member and Board Member on the International Blind Tennis Association; and President of the IBTA, Samir Mahir.

USBTA conducts trainings and introduces programming in numerous states, growing and developing the sport through its outreach and research initiatives led by Squelch-Costa.

“We proudly create life-changing opportunities through recreational and competitive tennis activities, educating and inspiring people throughout the country as we move the needle,” said Squelch-Costa.

Inspired to start a program by her then 5-year-old daughter, Domiana, who has a visual impairment, the wife and mother of two wanted to make sure children with visual impairments, like her daughter, have the opportunity to play tennis. For her efforts, Squelch-Costa received the USTA’s Adaptive Tennis National Community Service Award last year.

“We are breaking barriers and pushing boundaries in a space that too often comes with an assumption that those that are blind or visually impaired are incapable. We are passionate about providing opportunities and chances to prove otherwise,” said Squelch-Costa.

There are an estimated 52,000 school-aged children who are blind and visually impaired in the United States, according to the American Foundation for the Blind.

Nearly 70 percent of these children do not participate in even a limited physical education curriculum.

A survey of United States Association of Blind Athletes, USABA, members revealed that not only do participants benefit academically from their involvement in sports during elementary and high school, but 57 percent of USABA members continued on to higher education to pursue a college degree.

This rate is more than double the national average of 23 percent for their visually impaired peers.

Domiana Jo Costa (9) of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania participates in the inaugural International Blind and Visually-Impaired Tennis Education Conference on the USTA’s National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida.

Tennis can be adapted so that everyone can participate in the sport.

The International Blind and Visually-Impaired Tennis Education Conference highlighted the work of those individuals and organizations at the forefront, of this segment of the tennis industry, ensuring the sport of a lifetime includes the blind and visually impaired population.

“On behalf of the IBTA, I would like to thank all the USTA and USBTA teams involved including the players, coaches and volunteers who participated in the tournament,” said Mahir.

“A big thank you to Dana Squelch-Costa, Andrea Snead, Dr. Jason Allen, Simon McFarland, and Martin Etheridge (IBTA Head of Technical, USTA BVI Tournament Referee and Officiating Trainer) for organizing and contributing to such an amazing and inclusive event.”


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