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Adaptive Sports for Disabled People by Travis White

posted by Michelle Bell | July 12, 2017

​Disabilities affect more than 56 million people in the United States. That’s nearly 20 percent of the population who have been diagnosed with a physical or mental disability and who, each and every day, live, work and play in a world that wasn’t specifically designed for them.

One of the challenges of living with a disability is figuring out how to stay active. Traditional sports and fitness programs have not always been accessible for disabled people. As a result, people with disabilities ranging from blindness to anxiety disorders have been left with fewer options for physical activity than their able-bodied peers. Additionally, persons with disabilities often feel as if they are negatively perceived or discriminated against. That’s why participation in sports and physical activity is so much lower for members of the disabled community relative to the general population.

But staying active is important for everyone. Regular physical activity helps ward off heart disease, stroke and even some cancers. It also improves our mental health and self esteem, while helping us meet people and be more social. Staying active while living with a disability is particularly important, as people with disabilities are often more susceptible to the physical conditions exercise helps prevent, as well as mental health issues like depression.

Now, thanks to adaptive sports and recreation programs, people with disabilities can enjoy most any activity they’d like. From archery to yoga, there are endless opportunities for disabled people to reap the physical and mental benefits of regular exercise. To read more about the opportunities that may be right for you, click here.

Typically, adaptive sports are separated into three broad disability categories: the deaf, people with physical disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities. Of course, there are many sports appropriate for every group, and people in all of these groups can excel in recreational or competitive performance.

For the deaf and hard of hearing, exercises like hiking and yoga that can accommodate a service dog (to find out more about service dogs, read here) or human guide are common choices. The same goes for people with physical impairments like blindness. People with mobility issues, on the other hand, might choose water sports for more freedom of movement, while those with mental impairments often enjoy and excel in team sports.

Sometimes the activities themselves are modified to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. Rules can be changed, or the setting of the game can be altered to make it more accessible. In wheelchair basketball, as an example, variations for dribbling and wheelchair contact are offered.

In other cases, adaptive equipment is used to participate. Snow skiing can be performed either standing or sitting with modified skis, handheld steering mechanisms and even in tandem with a guide. Cycling is another example of a sport where adaptive equipment like hand controls, modified seats and tandem bikes allow people with disabilities to participate.

Some sports, like tennis, can require both types of modifications. There are some activities however, where there are no required adjustments. Water sports like swimming and kayaking, for example, often can be enjoyed with no special rules or equipment, but a lifeguard who is aware of the disability should be on site.

In any event, it is important to choose an activity that is both enjoyable and suitable for your physical fitness level and abilities. It’s also a good idea to check with your doctor and/or physical therapist, and get their okay before you begin a new exercise program or activity.

The idea of people with disabilities being able to participate in physical activity is no longer an uncommon one. Thanks to the increased availability of adaptive measures, people with disabilities have more options than ever when it comes to pursuing their own health and happiness via sports and exercise.

-by Travis White, LearnFit.org

Travis considers himself a foodie and loves sharing his cooking tips and recipes. He writes about food in his spare time. He enjoys showing LearnFit visitors how to cook restaurant-quality meals at home.

Image via Pixabay