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sports for adults with disabilities

A sport is a physical activity people do for pleasure. Generally sport involves competition. Participation in various sports benefits adults because activity:
  • allows for fun
  • builds a positive self-image
  • connects people through competition
  • helps people to meet other people of like interests and situations
  • improves health, discipline, and confidence
A disability is the lack of ability to function normally -- physically or mentally. Sports help to promote a focus on the adult's ability, not on his or her disability.

What is the information for this topic?
Who can participate?

Many adults with varied disabilities can find a sport and level that is right for them. There are sports for adults with hearing impairments or visual impairments. There are sports for adults with mental retardation or physical impairments. A sport is often modified for adults who have differing and varying degrees of disability. It may be modified to accommodate the adults' physical or mental disabilities, likes, and dislikes. For example, the same sport may be played differently for adults who have full use of their legs versus those who do not. The same sport would also be adapted for adults with mental limits versus physical limits.

What levels of participation are available?

There are often different levels of competition in sports. Often an elite level, a competitive level, and a fun level are available. Elite athletic levels have state, national, and world championships. Some of the world championships are held at the same time and place as the Olympic Games. Competitive and fun levels tend to be found in the local community.

What kinds of sports are available?

A wide variety of sports are available for adults with disabilities. The sport and equipment used will vary depending on the abilities, interests, and needs of each person. The sport may be an individual or team sport. For example, many sports are geared for participation in wheelchairs. Some of the elite and competitive sports levels use specialised adaptive equipment. For blind athletes, the sport may be completed with the guidance of a sighted companion.

Here are examples of different sports that adults with disabilities may play:

Wheelchair basketball is one of the most popular sports for adults with disabilities. It is a team sport played on a regulation basketball court. It can be rough because of the contact of the wheelchairs. It is not uncommon for elite players to fall out of their wheelchairs during play. The rules of the sport are modified for people who are in wheelchairs. Two pushes of the chair are allowed before the ball must be dribbled, passed, or shot.

Swimming is also a popular sport. Many adults enjoy this sport because they become weightless in the water. It gives some adults a sense of physical freedom. Swimming may also offer a good cardiovascular workout by helping to improve circulation of the blood. Swimming can be an individual sport or a team effort.

Wheelchair tennis is played on a typical tennis court. A player will need good arm strength to play this game. The rules of the sport are modified for people who are in wheelchairs. A player gets 2 bounces of the ball on his or her side of the court. It then has to be hit back to the other player.

Bowling is done in a typical bowling centre. Some adults grip and throw the ball. Generally, a lighter bowling ball is used. Some adults can use metal or wood ramps to send the ball down the lane. Some adults use a bowling stick. This is a pole with 4 prongs. It is used to give the ball a push to send it down the lane.

Some of the other sports that are available to adults with disabilities are snow skiing, boxing, climbing, dancing, fencing, fishing, golf, hang gliding, hiking, hunting, canoeing, parachuting, sailing, and water skiing.

Where to get more information

An adult with a disability should discuss sports options with the doctor. Hospitals, rehabilitation centres, and other organisations provide information on sports for adults with disabilities. Associations such as the Special Olympics and the Paralympic Games provide sports opportunities for adults with disabilities. Organisations that deal with specific disabilities also are good resources.

Author: Scott Salee, PT
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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