The word ‘disability’ covers a very wide spectrum, including the blind, the partially sighted, wheelchair bowlers and those with a mental handicap. Some instructors of the English Bowls Coaches Society devote many hours of their time to helping the above groups to enjoy their game of bowls.
There are also bowlers with no coaching qualifications who perform admirable work with disabled bowlers. Since the game of bowls demands a limited physical input, it is not surprising that many people who are disabled in one form or another can achieve some measure of success in the game. There is also a chair available for wheelchair bowlers, which has been especially designed to leave no mark or imprint on the playing surface.
This is called the Bradshaw Buggy and can be custom built for the particular needs of the individual bowler. Many bowling clubs have purchased such a chair and make it available for any person in a wheelchair who wishes to use it.
To assist the blind and partially sighted, a string can be placed along the centre line of the rink. By touching the string the bowler can help to orientate himself on the mat, to line up the body with the line they wish to adopt to play a particular shot.
The coach at the head can feed back information to the bowler by using the clock method, so that if a bowl delivered on a correct line comes to rest some 4ft (1.2m) beyond the jack, he will be informed that the bowl has come to rest at 12 o’clock and is 4ft (1.2m) beyond the jack. If the bowl had been delivered on the correct line, but comes to rest 4ft (1.2m) short, its position would be given as 6 o’clock and 4ft (1.2m) short.
This constant flow of information is very important but equally important is the way in which it is given, bearing in mind that the keynote should always be one of encouragement.
Mentally handicapped bowlers, especially those with Down’s Syndrome, seem to enjoy the game very much indeed. When encouraged and persuaded to play, statistics seem to support the fact that it has a beneficial effect upon their behaviour patterns.
It is sometimes difficult for them to communicate their feelings to those who work with them but to watch their faces when they have bowled a good bowl is a tremendous reward in itself.
Gratitude must be expressed to all those bowling clubs, both indoor and outdoor, who place their facilities at the disposal of coaches and players with disabilities.