Introduction to Sport for People with Disabilities
Introduction[edit | edit source]
One in five people lives with a disability. Physical activity, which may include sports participation, has significant benefits for everyone. However, people with disabilities are often at risk of not engaging or having low engagement in physical activity. Despite the barriers to sports participation, many athletes living with disabilities have experienced the benefits of sport and aim to reach the highest level of their sporting abilities.
Benefits of Sports Participation for People Living with Disabilities[edit | edit source]
|Children and Adolescents||Adults||Elite Athletes|
Barriers to Adaptive Sports Participation[edit | edit source]
- variety of activities available
- dependency on others
- degree of impairment
- lack of energy
- lack of equipment
- general health
- risk of injury
- lack of time
- lack of knowledge of opportunities
- lack of interest and/or motivation
- lack of social support
- inequity in financial support
Recreational and Non-Para Sports[edit | edit source]
The word “Paralympic“ derives from the Greek preposition “para“ (beside or alongside) and the word “Olympic“, meaning that Paralympics are parallel to the Olympics. Some examples of recreational and non-Paralympic sports include:
- wheelchair dance
- power football
- extreme or adventure sports
Paralympic sports are listed below.
Special Olympics[edit | edit source]
- Provision of year-round sporting activities and athletic competitions in a variety of sports for people with intellectual disabilities
- Providing continuing opportunities to:
- develop physical fitness
- demonstrate courage
- experience joy
- Participate in the sharing of gifts and friendships with their loved ones, other athletes and the community
Read more: Special Olympics
Paralympics[edit | edit source]
The Paralympics are the ultimate competition for world-class, elite athletes with physical disabilities. Athletes with disabilities should have opportunities to:
- pursue their goals
- dream of winning a gold medal
- commit to strenuous training regimes
- meet strict qualification standards
- exist in an environment of excellence and personal best performances
The four core values of the Paralympic movement are:
- Courage – “It encompasses the unique spirit of the Paralympic athlete who seeks to accomplish what the general public deems unexpected, but what the athlete knows as a truth.”
- Determination – “The manifestation of the idea that Paralympic athletes push their physical ability to the absolute limit.”
- Inspiration – “When intense and personal affection is begotten from the stories and accomplishments of Paralympic athletes, and the effect is applying this spirit to one's personal life.”
- Equality – “Paralympic Sport acts as an agent for change to break down social barriers of discrimination for persons with an impairment.”
Current Paralympic Sports[edit | edit source]
Currently there are 28 Paralympic sports (22 summer sports and 6 winter sports):
|Summer Sports||Winter Sports|
Classification[edit | edit source]
Classification is an integral part of sport for people with disabilities. It provides structure to competition and ensures fair and equitable competition at all levels of sport. Specific criteria are established to ensure that winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus.
How Does Classification Work?[edit | edit source]
Athlete evaluation focuses on three fundamental questions:
- "Does the athlete have an eligible impairment for this sport?"
- "Does the athlete's eligible impairment meet the minimum impairment criteria of the sport?"
- "Which Sport Class should the athlete be allocated in based on the extent to which the athlete is able to execute the specific tasks and activities fundamental to the sport?"
The IPC athlete classification code supports and coordinates the development and implementation of "accurate, reliable, consistent and credible" classification systems in parasport.
Download the IPC Athlete Classification Code from here.
The International Standards provide technical and operational standards for specific aspects such as eligible impairments, athlete evaluation, protests and appeals, classifier personnel and training and classification data protection.
Find the International Standards in the IPC Handbook
Eligible Impairment Types[edit | edit source]
There are ten eligible impairment types in the Paralympic movement:
|Impaired muscle power||Athlete has a health condition that reduces/eliminates the ability to voluntarily contract muscles in order to move or generate force
Examples of conditions: spinal cord injury, muscular dystrophy, post-polio syndrome, spina bifida
|Impaired passive range of movement||Athlete has a restriction/lack of passive movement in one/more joints
Examples of conditions: arthrogryposis, contractures from chronic joint immobilisation or trauma affecting a joint
|Limb deficiency||Total or partial absence of bones or joints from trauma, illness or congenital limb deficiency
Examples of conditions: traumatic amputation, amputation due to cancer, dysmelia
|Leg length difference||Athletes with differences in the length of their legs
Examples of conditions: disturbance of limb growth, trauma
|Short stature||Athletes with reduced length in bones of the upper limbs, lower limbs and/or trunk
Examples of conditions: achondroplasia, growth hormone dysfunction, osteogenesis imperfecta
|Hypertonia||Athletes with an increase in muscle tension and reduced ability of a muscle to stretch due to damage to the central nervous system
Examples of conditions: cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, stroke
|Ataxia||Athletes with uncoordinated movements due to damage to the central nervous system
Examples of conditions: cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis
|Athetosis||Athletes have continuously slow involuntary movements
Examples of conditions: cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, stroke
|Vision impairment||Athletes have reduced or no vision due to damage to the eye structure, optic nerves or pathways or the visual cortex of the brain
Examples of conditions: retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinopathy
|Intellectual impairment||Athletes have a restriction in intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviour which affects conceptual, social and practical skills necessary for everyday life. Intellectual impairment must be present before the age of 18.|
Examples of classification classes for people with and without disabilities are shown in Table 5.
|Sport for people without disabilities||Sport for people with disabilities|
Members of the Classification Team[edit | edit source]
- Occupational therapist
- Sport Technical
- Former athlete
Main Organisations[edit | edit source]
- International Paralympic Committee (IPC)
- International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (CISS)
- International Blind Sports Federation
- World Abilitysport (The International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS) and the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CPISRA) joined forces)
- Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport (Previously the International sport federation for persons with intellectual disability)
- Special Olympics International
Doping and Cheating in Paralympic Sport[edit | edit source]
Adaptive sports provide a platform for athletes with disabilities to perform at the highest level. With this, there is the added benefit of financial gain through winnings and sponsorships, leading to a more competitive environment and athletes wanting to achieve the highest levels of performance and skills. Similar to sport for people without disabilities, this improvement in performance is not always achieved ethically. Some methods used by athletes with disabilities are:
- doping by taking prohibited substances
- boosting - a special form of doping specific to athletes with spinal cord injury
- techno-doping - the use of advanced adaptive technology or equipment
Another method is cheating on classification and athletes feel strongly that this issue should be handled as a serious issue in integrity in sport.
Research on Classification[edit | edit source]
The IPC developed a conceptual framework for evidence-based classification. Read this position statement here: International Paralympic Committee position stand—background and scientific principles of classification in Paralympic sport. In this position stand, it is stated that each sport should develop its own classification system based on evidence. The empirical evidence needs to show the link or association between impairment and performance in that specific sport.
A five-step process has been proposed to describe the research needed to develop an evidence-based classification system in Para sports. These five steps are:
- Identify the sport and eligible impairment types
- Develop a theoretical model to identify the determinants of performance in a specific sport
- Develop ways to measure impairment and determinants of performance in a specific sport
- Use the tests designed and developed in step 3 to assess the relationship between impairment and performance in a specific sport
- Develop a minimum impact criteria and class profiles for each sport
In addition, a translational phase is key wherein the implementation of a new classification system is being addressed and a monitoring phase wherein periodic monitoring of the classification system is necessary to evaluate if change is necessary or not. This conceptual framework for Paralympic classification should aim to:
- be consistent with the taxonomy and terminology of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF)
- be based on scientific evidence
- define eligible impairment types by sport
- define the minimum impairment criteria
- classify impairments according to the extent of activity limitation caused
Read more: Classification Research and Research needs for the development of evidence-based systems of classification for physical, vision, and intellectual impairments (Chapter 7) in Training and Coaching the Paralympic Athlete
Articles on classification discussed by Dr. James Laskin in the course video:
- Game efficiency of wheelchair rugby athletes at the 2008 Paralympic Games with regard to player classification. 
- Relationship between functional classification levels and anaerobic performance of wheelchair basketball athletes. 
References[edit | edit source]
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- Tweedy SM, Mann D, Vanlandewijck YC. Research needs for the development of evidence‐based systems of classification for physical, vision, and intellectual impairments. Training and coaching the paralympic athlete: Handbook of sports medicine and science. 2016 Jul 27:122-49.
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- Morgulec-Adamowicz N, Kosmol A, Bogdan M, Molik B, Rutkowska I, Bednarczuk G. Game efficiency of wheelchair rugby athletes at the 2008 Paralympic Games with regard to player classification. Hum Mov. 2010 Jun 1;11(1):29-36.
- Molik B, Laskin JJ, Kosmol A, Skucas K, Bida U. Relationship between functional classification levels and anaerobic performance of wheelchair basketball athletes. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 2010 Mar 1;81(1):69-73.