NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – From modified courts, to sound-adapted tennis balls, a new program in Queens is helping visually impaired people get on the court.
They’re learning to play tennis just like anyone else.
Fritz Lauture never thought he would experience this again – the joy he gets from playing tennis.
“It’s absolutely awesome. I was a very avid tennis player prior to this vision change,” the 55-year-old Upper West Side resident said.
Since birth, the Manhattan man always had eye problems, but in 2001 he says both of his retinas detached overnight – causing him to lose 90 percent of his field of vision and preventing him from playing most sports – until now.
“What this reaffirms to me is that, yeah, I will play tennis again. It’s just not the way I used to, but I still can do it and that’s a wonderful feeling to have when everything is dark.”
Court 16 is launching its new “Sound of Tennis” program at its state of the art Long Island City facility. They’re teaching visually impaired people how to play tennis. For many, it’s their first time trying the sport.
“It’s a sport, I never thought I could participate it because I assumed it was only performed by sighted people,” Dennis Farrow of Valley Stream said.
“It brings a new sport to visually impaired people and it’s not just about the tennis, it’s about getting people out of the house and fit,” Ilias Catsaros added.
The building includes four indoor tennis courts. The founder says it’s the first in the country to use LED lights as lines.
“Whether we have children, or adults or visually impaired athletes we can change the configuration of the space based on the program of the day,” Anthony Evrard, the founder of Court 16 said.
For its “Sound of Tennis” program, organizers also put down tactile lines to help participants feel where they are on the court. They use foam balls with bells inside so they can hear them coming and swing lighter rackets.
“I hope this gets the word out that because you have a visual impairment, it doesn’t mean you can’t engage fully in society,” Liz Surge of Hellen Keller Services for the Blind said.
The pros better look out, “I feel like I am going to be the next Arthur Ashe,” Lauture said.
Plenty more players have now just entered the game.
Court 16 offers weekly classes, and for qualified participants, it could be free of cost.