Participation in “sports” and recreation activities has been proven to benefit an individual’s physical, mental, emotional and social skills. For individuals with disabilities (physical, cognitive, and/or emotional), adaptive sports can bypass limitations and allow for participation in a sport of choice. Whether the goal is weight loss, decreasing stress, improving strength, avoiding boredom, meeting people, competing or just having fun, there are ways to adapt pretty much any sport to allow for participation by anybody! There are also sports that have been created specifically for persons with a disability. With the large variety of adaptive sports available there is now something for everyone whether they want to work alone, in a group, for recreation or to compete.
Adaptive sports for people with physical limitations began emerging after World War II when soldiers returning from war were involved in rehabilitation. These sports eventually moved from rehabilitation to recreation to competition. The current Paralympic Games can be traced back to these early hospital rehabilitation sports. With the emphasis on “inclusion” which began in the 1980’s (focus on including athletes with disabilities in the able bodied sport system) more events and training opportunities have emerged. Full integration has not yet been realized, but we are seeing glimmers of it. Take for example, the recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Education to mandate that schools must give students with disabilities equal opportunities to participate in extracurricular athletics, including varsity sports. And if existing sports don't meet the needs of those students, schools must create additional athletic programs.
Another great example, was seeing runner Oscar Pistorius compete in the 2012 summer Olympics. He made history as the first amputee to compete in track at the Olympic Games. Ironically, some athletes complained that his specially designed prosthetics gave him an unfair advantage, but most were awed by his strength and agility and realized he was an incredible elite athlete. This was the true definition of inclusion at work!
Some examples of adaptive sports include using a sit-ski to water or downhill ski, using a ramp or handle ball to bowl, using a sled to play hockey or using a specially designed court chair to play wheelchair basketball or tennis. There are various throwing chairs, gloves, graspers and holders that can be used to assist with throwing discus, shot put or javelins. For weight lifting and use of exercise machines there are also gloves and graspers and hand propelled bikes are now being included at gyms for cycling classes. Each sport also has specific rules and regulations.
Recreational therapists (Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists or CTRS) are experts at assisting people with introducing, learning about and becoming involved in adaptive sports. These therapists are specially trained in working with a wide variety of people with disabilities and in assisting anyone with trying new or re-learning recreational pursuits and in adapting the activity to allow for participation. The expense of the adaptive sports equipment continues to be a challenge for most, but recreational therapists involved in adaptive sports are also experts at assisting with finding ways for everyone to participate in their sport of choice!
By: Sue Boeve, Sr. CTRS, DMC Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan