The road to good health does not stop when a person with a
disability is discharged from hospital. Even though his life may have been
saved, his medical condition has stabilised and he has been issued with a
wheelchair or prosthesis, this does not mean this person’s rehabilitation is
It’s a long of intensive rehabilitation that lies ahead as
this person slowly adapts to a new life. Many people are born with a disability
and do not have a sudden change in their function. One of the activities that
can improve the health, well-being and quality of life of any person with a
disability is sport.
Sport offers physical advantages – good blood circulation,
stronger muscles, better balance and co-ordination. But, sport can offer so
much more. “Sport provides a platform for acquiring life skills,” says Hilary
Beeton, an occupational therapist and athletics classifier for the South
African Sports Association for Physically Disabled and the International
Paralympic Committee. Beeton says people who participate in sports enjoy
psychological benefits like goodself-esteem and confidence and a belief in
their skills and abilities.
They may also have lower anger and stress scores than people
with disabilities who are inactive.
The healthy side of
Through training for a sport, learning a new skill and
working with others, Beeton says many people have better self-discipline,
better organisational skills, leadership and a sense of responsibility towards
themselves and others.
Communities can also benefit when community members are
involved in sport. Many sport programmes around the world are focused on
including unemployed youth in crime-ridden areas. “Sport can provide healthy
competition, promote constructive time use, positive social interactions and
promote valuable life skills,” she says. In the same way, sport is beneficial
to people with disabilities.
Sports may need to be adapted by changing the rules or
changing the way in which it is done, to enable a person with a disability to
participate, but as a general rule, the adaptations are reduced to a minimum.
For example, Beeton says, in athletics, the athlete with
poor balance or inability to stand, may compete sitting using a throwing frame;
in wheelchair tennis the ball may bounce twice.
Common sports for
Some of the sports more commonly available for people with
disabilities are track and field, table tennis, wheelchair tennis, wheelchair
dance, chess, judo, 5-a-side soccer (for the athlete with visual impairment),
7-a-side football for athletes with cerebral palsy, swimming, wheelchair
basketball, wheelchair rugby and cycling.
In some sports the rules don’t need to be changed at all to
accommodate a person with a disability – depending entirely on the disability
and how it affects playing the sport.
An example of such a sport is archery. An archer with a disability can compete on an
equal footing with any other archer.
In competitive sport, such as in the Paralympics, athletes
with disabilities undergo classification in which they receive a sport class
based on their impairment and the extent to which it impacts sport performance.
Classification is done togroup athletes with similar levels of impairment for
competition purposes and to level the playing field.
Classification ensures that athletes who succeed in
competition do so because of sport ability, skill and training rather than
because of having milder impairment than a fellow competitor. Beeton maintains
that the fairer the competition is, the more it attracts the interest of the
public, the media, and the athletes and their coaches.
disabilities are encouraged to join regular mainstream sports clubs in their
own communities to access coaching, sporting facilities, and the social
interactions that club membership affords,” she says.
“The challenge out there is for all community-based sports
clubs and school sport to promote inclusion of people with disabilities in all
their sporting activities as far as is possible, by removing physical and
emotional barriers to participation.
Stigma and an incorrect perception that people with disabilities do not
want to or cannot participate in sporting activities is one of the biggest
barriers to be overcome.
“ The recent media coverage of elite competition at the 2012
Paralympics has had a very positive impact on attitudes.”
Beeton suggests that people interested in taking part in a
sport look at the official Paralympics
website for more information.