Hitting the Court, With an Ear on the Ball

In blind tennis, invented in Japan and spreading in the United States, players rely on their hearing to follow the trajectory of a foam ball that rattles when it bounces or is struck.

Comments: 34

  1. Amazing, truly amazing and inspirational!!!!

  2. Thanks for a few good tears in my afternoon tea!

  3. This is make-believe world PC nonsense.

    Imagine you exist in the real world, and have to budget resources for sports for the blind. Tennis would be about the last thing you'd bother with. Running, weightlifting, dance, track and field, to name a few, would be realistic. This is just plain foolish.

  4. Come on man. Lighten up.

    I hate political correctness and am first in line to criticize it. I don’t see where this is a political correctness issue at all.

    Blind kids and adults that find this type of tennis to be fun aren’t engaging in a pointless (foolish) activity. There just having fun that’s within their respective abilities. Having fun and getting some exercise enriches their lives, just as the other activities that you listed that you feel are not so foolish would enrich their lives.

    They’re not doing it with expectations to one day be seeded and competitive on the USTA pro circuit. They’re doing it because it’s a challenge… and again, because it’s fun.

    I think that C Kent thought that he won game, set, and match… and in leaping over the net in self-perceived victory, snagged his foot and landed flat on his face.

    Rather embarrassing.

  5. C. Kent. You obviously have never played tennis not to understand how this is different from running, weightlifting, track and field....In those sports you are by yourself. In tennis you are trying to outwit the guy across the net.

    Being able to hit a backhand down the line is an incredible FEELING!

    Tennis combines footwork, mental acuity, (not really present in lifting a barbell or with running), speed, kinesthetic sense of where your arm and tennis racquet are in space and ALL of this on a confined space on a court.

    Why keep fun things from the blind? We could go back and forth all day on what should be funded or not... but sports for kids who are blind? Yeah we can do that!

    Go for it people!

  6. I am not sure where your hostility towards blind tennis comes from but I feel I have to counter your statements. This is not "PC nonsense". The benefits of this sport for blind people are stated in the article. Players develop a better sense of space and increase their navigation abilities. Practice in locating and hitting a flying projectile helps players develop skills that can be useful in the real world. And, like all forms of tennis, blind tennis encourages strategy and healthy competition. Blind people play (and therefore trained in) hockey, golf, baseball, biathalon, mountain climbing, alpine and nordic skiing... all sports that require a lot more special equipment than tennis. The only foolish idea is the notion that you would want to limit people who are blind or those with low vision by predetermining what sports you think are appropriate for them to engage in.

  7. @ C. Kent, who wrote, "This is make-believe world PC nonsense. Imagine you exist in the real world, and have to budget resources for sports for the blind. Tennis would be about the last thing you'd bother with. Running, weightlifting, dance, track and field, to name a few, would be realistic. This is just plain foolish."

    The folks in the video don't know it's make-believe. I think they see something you don't.

  8. C. Kent,

    You have no clue! This young woman Ms. Vallabh is trying to make a small corner of the world a better place.

    We all seem to have bought into the right wing kool aid that being politically correct is bad and that it is something to put down. Well I for one disagree strongly. You go Sejal !

  9. I wonder if C. Kent has ever seen or heard of the play "The Miracle Worker". Some members of Helen Keller's family thought it was a waste of time and a kind of cruelty to make any attempt to enable her to communicate with the sighted, hearing world. Aren't all the generations that have been inspired by the story lucky that those voices didn't prevail against Annie Sullivan's work.

  10. Fascinating report. It inspires other blind sports ideas, say, basketball, using a hoop that emits a faint sound, as well as a sonic basketball. The game could be conducted like the 3-point contest of the NBA all-star weekend, with the blind person shooting from different positions and distances, trying to beat the clock. Or catching and fielding a sonic softball using regulation gloves. Etc...

  11. Now that's a sport.

  12. I just want to take a moment and say that you guys are incredible, tennis or not. I am sorry you can't see - but you do a better job of living than those who can, including me.

    Huge respect.

  13. So refreshing to comment on an article that's positive all the way around.

    This is the kind of stuff that makes you block out the nonsense, even for a little.

    Well done, to everybody involved.

  14. This can be generalized to motivated people with almost any learning or physical disability: if you identify their strengths, and adapt the challenge/environment to draw on the strength, amazing things are possible. (I do this with LD students.)

    Congratulations to all who made this possible.

  15. Incredible! Kudus to the athletes, Ms. Vallabh, and all involved!

  16. It seems there is no limit to the human spirit especially with the help of caring others.

  17. Best Unintended Irony:

    “I want to show that it is possible for blind athletes to play tennis,” Ms. Vallabh said. No one believes it, she said, “until they see it for themselves.”

  18. Hello C. Kent. I can't believe your callous remark! It is just plain ignorant.

  19. Thanks NY Times, for the article.

    People like C.Kent.. I would never understand. Is it really that hard to *try* to put yourself in someone else's shoes just for a micro second?

    I know we can never truly understand how it is to be a blind person if you are not -- but if your brain is functioning at least at a fraction of normal capacity it shouldn't be too hard to just have an inkling. Add a dash of humanity, you should be all set to appreciate the efforts of people involved in this endeavor.

    By the way, looking at the faces of people playing the sport, it looks to me they truly are enjoying the challenge and accomplishment. To call them pawns and the good folks doing this PC peddlers seems lacking in all dimensions.

  20. Why not utilize a specialized hearing device as well? Something that could pick-up whatever sound the ball makes... maybe use a sound that is outside of normal human hearing.

    This story brings back memories of when I was a little kid. I did not know it at the time, but I had extremely good hearing. There were many nights that I would pull my bed covers very tightly over my head because all of the sounds I was hearing were terrifying me. It didn't help that "bigfoot" was on the "six million dollar man" show... as a little kid I was petrified. I would fall asleep eventually... but only after I had sweat buckets of water under those bed covers.

    Anyways, good luck guys improving this game... it sounds like a lot of fun!

  21. I can't play at all and I can see. This is terrific! If they are having fun, great.

  22. I wish blind people could comment on this article.

  23. They can.

  24. This is awesome. There are some good youtube videos of high level matches.

    Something that I didn't see explained is how you orient yourself on the court with respect the boundaries. Is your memory really good enough to serve throughout the match or are the lines raised or something like that?

  25. Some of you may be interested in following the Paralympics which always follow the Olympics in the same venues. I attended the Paralympics in Torino, Beijing and Vancouver and will be going to London this year. The dates are Aug 29 to Sept 9.

    The competition features adaptive sports which accommodate various physical disabilities. There are one legged skiers and blind sprinters who have guides (just think, not only do you have to train for speed, you also have to learn to sprint WITH someone!). Thus, in addition to the basic athletic skills required by the sport, these athletes will have some additional challenges that require more training.

    One of the more well known athletes is Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee sprinter from South Africa. The American team has a number of veterans from our current wars.

    Since most of you are intrigued by tennis for the blind, you may be particularly interested in the following events: wheelchair tennis (this is one of my favorite events and there is a great American player named NIck Taylor who tosses the ball with his foot), as well as some sports for the visually impaired: goalball (team sport where the ball has a bell in it), as well as track and field and downhill skiing where they have guides. I'm a skier and can't imagine going down a mountain not being able to see the obstacles! The athletes are great.

  26. Being sighted, I now know I really have no excuse for how badly I play.

  27. Thank you for this inspiring article. Ms. Vallabh is an incredible young woman!

  28. Thank you for sharing this article! The statement that "we live in a world meant for sighted people" is all too true. I know there are many stories of blind and visually impaired people participating in activities that are simply not meant for those with such challenges. Yet, we see it every day. Sighted people can learn a lot from stories such as these. I just hope that those affected by vision impairments find inspiration in stories such as this. I too hope this sport catches on! Please keep these article coming!

  29. Article brought up many thoughts from my own pleasure in tennis, and playing with a friend who happens to be legally blind. Couldn't fit it all in this comment box so it's available at


  30. I have normal eyesight. Once, I punctured an eardrum and was surprised at my sudden inability to locate sounds, whether passing cars or individual instruments at concerts by the local orchestra in a 500-seat hall with dry acoustics. The first concert after the eardrum accident was disturbing.

    Tennis-by-sound seems a great proposition.

  31. Andrea Bocelli, the blind Italian Tenor went to a school for the blind and played soccer with a ball that could be heard as it had a bell in it. Unfortunately one day the ball hit him in the head and made his eyes worse.
    Please read his book, The Music of Silence. And, you must hear his voice. Don't miss one of his concerts as he goes around the world.

  32. I've heard of blind golf. I believe there is also blind bowling.

    So tennis for the blind seems possible in that you can listen to the ball and locate it to hit.

    But with golf and bowling it's your skill, without interacting one-on-one with another individual. So you can hear your "target" and aim - golf hole, bowling pin.

    How does the tennis player know where the lines are, where the opposing player is positioned, whether to race to the net (and where is the net), to lob the ball or strike it hard? Tennis is very much a tactical and finesse game, kind of like chess, not just hitting the ball back and forth. And you need to know geometry and math - angles and speed.

    I'm not being critical; I'm just describing tennis as the game I know, play and watch as someone with sight (though fading with age).

    If the visually-impaired can get enjoyment, benefit and competition from tennis, I say terrific.