Disabled sports

Iris Pruysen competes in the long jump at the 2014 Paris Athletics Paralympic Meeting.

Disabled sports, also adaptive sports or parasports, are sports played by persons with a disability, including physical and intellectual disabilities. As many disabled sports are based on existing able bodied sports, modified to meet the needs of persons with a disability, they are sometimes referred to as adapted sports. However, not all disabled sports are adapted; several sports that have been specifically created for persons with a disability have no equivalent in non-disabled sports. Disability exists in four categories: physical, mental, permanent and temporary.

Organization and history

Organized sport for athletes with a disability is generally divided into three broad disability groups: the deaf, people with physical disabilities, and people with intellectual disabilities. Each group has a distinct history, organization, competition program, and approach to sport.

Formal international competition in deaf sport began with the 1924 Paris Silent Games, organized by the Comité International des Sports des Sourds, CISS (The International Committee of Sports for the Deaf). These games evolved into the modern Deaflympics, governed by the CISS. The CISS maintains separate games for deaf athletes based on their numbers, their special communication needs on the sports field, and the social interaction that is a vital part of sports.[1]

Organized sport for persons with physical disabilities existed as early as 1911, when the "Cripples Olympiad" was held in the U.S.A. One of the successful athletes was Walter William Francis, a Welshman, who won both the running and wrestling championships.[2] Later, events often developed out of rehabilitation programs. Following the Second World War, in response to the needs of large numbers of injured ex-service members and civilians, sport was introduced as a key part of rehabilitation. Sport for rehabilitation grew into recreational sport and then into competitive sport. The pioneer of this approach was Sir Ludwig Guttmann of the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England. In 1948, while the Olympic Games were being held in London, he organized a sports competition for wheelchair athletes at Stoke Mandeville. This was the origin of the Stoke Mandeville Games, which evolved into the modern Paralympic Games. The first official Paralympic Games, after the name change, was held in Rome in 1960. In 1975, the Paralympic Games expanded to include those with limb amputations and visual impairments. Individuals with cerebral palsy were allowed to compete beginning in 1980.[3]

Currently, Paralympic sport is governed by the International Paralympic Committee, in conjunction with a wide range of other international sport organizations.[4] Today, there are numerous sport opportunities throughout the United States for injured service members, including cycling, wheelchair tennis, shooting, wheelchair basketball, track and field, adapted water sports, and snow skiing. One such program is the Wounded Warrior program, which offers sitting volleyball to injured service members. Some organizations also offer sport opportunities to family and friends of injured service members in addition to the members themselves.[5]

Sport for persons with intellectual disabilities began to be organized in the 1960s through the Special Olympics movement. This grew out of a series of summer camps organized by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, beginning in 1962. In 1968 the first international Special Olympics were held, in Chicago. Today, Special Olympics provides training and competition in a variety of sports for persons with intellectual disabilities.[6]

Sport for persons with physical disabilities began to be organized in the US in the late 1960s through Disabled Sports USA. Disabled Sports USA was established in 1967 by disabled military veterans, including Jim Winthers,[7] to help rehabilitate the injured soldiers returning from Vietnam[8] and originally named the National Amputee Skiers Association.[9] In 1970, Hal O'Leary founded the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) at Winter Park in Colorado. Today, NSCD has 19 certified instructors and more than 1,000 volunteers. Disabled Sports USA has become one of the largest national multi-sport, multi-disability organizations in the United States, serving more than 60,000 wounded warriors, youth and adults annually.[10]

In 1986, the International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID) was formed to support elite competition for athletes with intellectual disabilities. This was established in contrast to the more participative, "sport for all" approach of Special Olympics. For a time, athletes with intellectual disabilities were included in the Paralympic Games. After a cheating scandal at the 2000 Summer Paralympics, where a number of athletes participating in intellectual disability events were revealed to not be disabled, INAS-FID athletes were banned from Paralympic competition, but the ban on intellectually disabled athletes has since been lifted.[11]

In 2006, the Extremity Games was formed for people with limb loss or limb difference to compete in extreme sports. College Park Industries, a manufacturer of prosthetic feet, organized this event to give amputee athletes a venue to compete in this increasingly popular sports genre also referred to as action sports. This annual event held in the summer in Orlando, FL includes competitions in skateboarding, wakeboarding, rock climbing, mountain biking, surfing, moto-x and kayaking. Various organizations, such as Paradox Sports,[12] have arisen to help empower and inspire disabled people through equipping and welcoming them into the extreme sports community.

In 2007, a group of San Diego, California-based athletes, coaches, volunteers, and parents split from Special Olympics Southern California to gain local control over disabled athletics programs.[13] This group – SPORTS for Exceptional Athletes (S4EA) – serves people with developmental disabilities within the age range of 5 years old through adults. By combining people with and without disabilities, S4EA hopes that participating athletes will interact and form lasting bonds of friendship through shared sports and recreational activities in S4EA's served communities. Although the organization's focus is primarily San Diego County, S4EA has grown from this base to satellite programs in Ventura and Temecula, California.

Since 1988, the International Olympic Committee have chosen to validate Disabled Sports (physical disabilities) and incorporate it as a part of the Games: the staging of the Paralympic Games immediately follows the Olympic Games. This scheduling helps to foster greater interest in disabled sports. An investigation published on a Swiss website has /shown that more and more International Sports Federations list disabled athletes than any other sportsmen or sportswomen.[14]

Two Paralympic-style multi-sport events exist exclusively for wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and veterans. These are the Warrior Games in the United States and the Invictus Games which originated in the United Kingdom.

Adapted sports help society learn about disability. They also can help remove some of the stigma associated with having a disability.[15]

Minnesota Adapted Athletics Association

In 1969, Jim Christy, along with some other students at Marshall U High in Minnesota, asked their physical education teacher why students with physical disabilities could not participate in athletic competitions that non-disabled students could. During this time, Christy and other students played floor hockey during physical education class and at the Courage Center. In 1971, the rules of adapted floor hockey kept evolving at Marshall U High and Courage Center.

In 1974, the first organized Adapted Floor Hockey league was created. The first game was also played. This league consisted of four teams. There were two teams from Marshall U High, one from the Courage Center and one alumni team. A year later this league became only for secondary school students only. Two of the teams were from St. Paul, one from Marshall U High and one from Minneapolis. In 1976, athletic letters were given to participants who played in adapted athletics.

In 1978, an organized conference called the Minnesota Adapted Athletics Association (MAAA) was established. The first year of adapted soccer was in 1979. It consisted of six teams: St Paul Independents, St Paul Humboldt, Anoka, Osseo, Minneapolis Independents, and Marshall U High. The spring of 1983 was the start of adapted softball. The MAAA was officially incorporated in 1984 and became part of the Minnesota State High School League in 1992. Minnesota is currently host to the only organized high school adapted athletics league. The MAAA still continues today. [16]


A wheelchair racer during the Marathon International de Paris (Paris Marathon) in 2014.
Wounded Warrior Chuck Sketch participates in swim practice on Feb. 14, 2012 at United States Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

A wide range of sports have been adapted to be played by people with various disabilities, as well as several that are unique to disabled athletes. Within each movement, different sports are practised at different levels; for example, not all sports in the Paralympic movement are part of the Paralympic Games. In addition, many sports are practiced by persons with a disability outside the formal sports movements.


Beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s, work began within several countries and organizations to include athletes with disabilities in the non-disabled sport system. This included adding events for athletes with disabilities to major games such as the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games, and integration of these athletes into non-disabled sports organizations.[17] Since 1984, the Olympics have included exhibition events for Paralympic athletes. However, integration of full medal events has not taken place, and the status of athletes with a disability in the Olympic movement remains controversial.[18] Within the Commonwealth Games, athletes with a disability were first included in exhibition events in 1994,[19] and at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games they were included as full members of their national teams, making these the first fully inclusive international multi-sport games.[20] This policy has continued with the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, where Canadian Chantal Petitclerc became the first athlete with a disability to carry her country's flag in the Opening Ceremonies of an integrated games. Individual athletes such as swimmer Natalie du Toit and track athlete Oscar Pistorius have competed as equals against able bodied athletes at various events including the Olympic Games.

2013 the FIFA decided that Austrian footballer Martin Hofbauer can continue to play competitive football with prosthetics after he lost his right lower leg due to cancer.[21]

The Self-Determination Theory has been one of the most proven theories on how athletes participate in competitions of this level. Studies have supported this theory especially in intellectually or developmentally disabled athletes.[22] Studies have continued to question the motivation for joining such competitions like the Special Olympics as well as the Paralympic Games. The Motivations for joining the Special Olympics uncover themes among individuals and families for their participation or abstention from these Olympic programs.

Unified sports

"Unified sports" involve teams made up of athletes with and without disabilities.[23] Since the 1990s, Special Olympics Unified Sports have been promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition. This initiative has expanded globally and now involves more than 700,000 players in 127 countries worldwide. The principle behind Unified Sports is simple: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.

The NBA has been a major supporter of Unified Sports, sponsoring the annual NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game during the NBA All-Star Weekend. The Walt Disney Company, ESPN and Special Olympics are also working on a two-year global initiative that will leverage the power of sports to promote an environment of social inclusion and acceptance.[23]

See also


  1. "International Committee of Sport for the Deaf". Retrieved 12 September 2010.
  2. "Skipper Francis at Thames Star, New Zealand". paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. 17 October 1913.
  3. Cooper, Rory A.; Nowak, Christopher J. (2011). "Paralympics and veterans". Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development. 48 (10): xi–xii. doi:10.1682/JRRD.2011.11.0209.
  4. "Paralympic Games". International Paralympic Committee. Retrieved 12 September 2010.
  5. Goff, Mandy (March 2012). "Adapted Sport Programs for Veterans with Disabilities". Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. 83 (3): 27–28.
  6. "The History of Special Olympics". Retrieved September 12, 2010.
  7. "Disabled Sports: Early History". Disabled Sports USA. Disabled Sports USA. Retrieved 2016-02-01.
  8. Megan Crandall, "BLM Enters Into Memorandum of Understanding with Disabled Sports USA", US Bureau of Land Management Press Release, December 24, 2011
  9. Chris Durso, "Leading By Example: Kirk Bauer Able-Bodied", Convene Magazine, June, 2010
  10. Candus Thomson, "Disabled veterans vow to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro", Baltimore Sun, July 31, 2010
  11. "Archive News". INAS-FID. 21 November 2009. Retrieved 12 September 2010. During the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) General Assembly in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the IPC membership today decided in favour of the re-inclusion of athletes with an intellectual disability (ID athletes) in competitions, including the Paralympic Games.
  12. "Paradox Sports - Physical Adaptive Sports". Paradox Sports.
  13. "Special Olympics members break away". The San Diego Union-Tribune. 2007-04-26. Retrieved 2012-09-16.
  14. AB40V. "Le Sport avant tout, avec ou sans handicap – Info Stades, Salle polyvalentes, Fédération Sportives, Clubs, Championnats... tout le Handisport". Lausanne, Switzerland: Wheelchair.ch. Retrieved 2012-09-16.
  15. Cooper; Nowak. "Paralympics and veterans".
  16. "MAAA History". Minnesota Adapted Athletics Association. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  17. Daignault, Louis. "Integration Battle Heats Up At CommonWealth Games". Access Guide Canada. Canadian Abilities Foundation. Retrieved 12 September 2010.
  18. "2004 IOC decision". Archived from rickhansen.com the original Check |url= value (help) on March 23, 2006.
  19. Van Ooyen and Justin Anjema, Mark; Anjema, Justin (25 March 2004). "A Review and Interpretation of the Events of the 1994 Commonwealth Games" (PDF). Redeemer University College. Retrieved 12 September 2010.
  20. "Commonwealth Games Federation - Commonwealth Sports - Elite Athletes With A Disability (EAD)". Thecgf.com. Retrieved 2012-09-16.
  21. FIFA erlaubt Steirer Einsatz mit Prothese, orf.at, 2013-05-13.
  22. "Self Determination Theory: An Approach to Human Motivation & Personality". Retrieved 2 December 2011.
  23. 1 2 "Special Olympics: Unified Sports". specialolympics.org.
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