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Disability in Sport

We don't know about you, but we have been absolutely transfixed by the paralympic games happening right now in Rio. The athletes are incredible. Righly so, the focus has not been on the athletes’ disabilities, but their abilities as we celebrate their extraordinary prowess. 

That said. the topic of sport and it's effect on peoples' lives and communities is an interesting one. 

What do the Statistics say?

Sport England has released a number of infographics about who is taking part in disability sport and how.

Playing Sport  Age, Gender, Impairment in Sport Top 5 Disability Sports Disability Equipment

[Source: Sport England]

The Psychological and Physiological Benefits of Disability Sport

Sport and physical activity can play a key role in peoples’ lives and communities. Sport provides healthy competition, promotes constructive use of time, positive social interactions and promotes valuable life skills. These benefits are also presented in those who have a physical disability. 

There is a wealth of evidence to support participation in sport for those with a disability. Over the past three decades, several studies have discovered a number of benefits, both psychologically and physiologically. 

There are many benefits to sport and physical activity: 
•    Improved levels of physical health and wellbeing
•    Improved mood-state
•    Reduction of anxiety and depression
•    Increased self-esteem
•    Greater self-efficacy
•    New experiences and relationships
•    Reduced risk of chronic diseases 


The psychological benefits of disabled people partaking in sport

Sport has been shown numerous times to improve physical fitness and general mood. Sport has also been linked to many psychological benefits which can contribute to empowerment of people with disabilities, including self-confidence, social awareness, body image and quality of life. 

Improved self confidence

No matter the disability, participation in sports and physical activities has been proven to have a positive effect on self-esteem (Bragaru et al. 2011; Perrier et al. 2012) as well as a greater sense of belonging and significance (Fox, 2000). 

Participating in sport and physical activity affirms athletes’ feelings of competence, both physically (Godwin et al. 2009) and psychologically (Page et al. 2001) as sports provided a means of being considered as a serious competitor. This heightened sense of skill and competence allowed athletes opportunities to express their ‘true’ selves (Groff & Kleiber, 2001). 

Better body image 

Prescott (2006) and Bragaru et al. (2011) found that participation in sport for disabled athletes – particularly visible disabilities – may serve to heighten individual’s awareness of their body image. 

In addition, sport participation led to decreased awareness of their disabilities and facilitated exploration and expression of identity alternatives (Grodd & Kleiber, 2001). 

Promoted social support

Sport and physical activity may simply serve as catalysts (Page et al. 2001), allowing increased social interaction and promoting social support among individuals who share similar life experiences (Prescott, 2006). 


Bragaru el al. (2011) found that psychosocial impacts were no different to able-bodied individuals; everyone involved with sport and physical activity can benefit from increased social connections.  


Increased quality of life

Taub & Greer (2000) and Bragaru et al (2011) concluded that being physically active is enabling because it increases perceptions of improving life situations and strengthens feelings of having greater control over life events. 

Hutzler (2013) investigated the impact of participation in different sport modalities on quality of life in young people with physical disabilities. It was found that quality of life improved with sport; even in athletes with low functional ability as it increases autonomy and personal control (Fox, 2000). 

There are many psychological benefits for disabled individuals participating in sports and physical activity leading to empower athletes. 


Blinde & Taub (1999) found that the main benefit was less to do with the nature of the activity and extrinsic rewards often associated with activity participation, but more to do with the participation experience overall. 


The physiological benefits of disabled people partaking in sport

As well as sport helping individuals mentally, sport also has positive physiological benefits. Being physically active can help us lead healthier lives. Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of many chronic conditions such as obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes, strokes and coronary heart disease.

Many individuals with disabilities, particularly adults see sport and physical activity participation to have very pragmatic purposes such as promoting fitness (Page et al. 2001) and preventing loss of function (Prescott, 2006), sometimes so much so that adapted sports can replace formal physical therapy and rehabilitation because it is real recreational therapy. (Yazicioglu, 2012) 

Adapted sport improves sport for all individuals

Many find it difficult to relate to someone who has a physical disability, often because they have not had personal interaction with anyone with a disability.


This lack of understanding can create additional challenges for people with disabilities. If society responded more adequately to people who have impairments, they would not experience nearly as many challenges and limitations (LoBianco & Shephard-Jones, 2007).


Özer et al. (2012) found sport to be effective in improving the understanding and attitudes of youths without disabilities towards those with disabilities, and an increased awareness of differences Grandisson (2012). 


Integration and inclusion of people with disabilities in mainstream sport has been a key focus in recent decades and has created new opportunities for participation and competition, with the London 2012 Paralympics watched by 1 billion more TV viewers that Beijing in 2008. 


On a larger scale, participation in disability sport also contributes to nation building and national identity and can also promote rehabilitation of people with disabilities. 


How disabled people can get involved in sport

There are many charities and organisations to encourage people with disabilities to participate in sports and benefit from the positive effects of physical activity. 

English Federation of Disability Sport -

Our charity is working to make active lives possible with a vision that disabled people are active for life.

Deloitte Parasport -

Deloitte Parasport’s aim is to inspire, inform and signpost disabled people and those interested in disability sport to high quality opportunities. The Parasport website helps to find a disability sport or find a local disability sports club.

Sports Trader -

Sports Trader is a youth-focused charity offering youngsters the kit and support they need to discover and fulfil their sporting ambition and potential, whatever their background, ability or disability. 

Dream It Believe It Achieve It -

Dream It, Believe It, Achieve It is a charity that helps those with a disability to achieve their goals and enjoy the benefits of an active lifestyle through sport

Disability Sport

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