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Disability Issues in Sports

author image Jackie Lohrey
Based in Green Bay, Wisc., Jackie Lohrey has been writing professionally since 2009. In addition to writing web content and training manuals for small business clients and nonprofit organizations, including ERA Realtors and the Bay Area Humane Society, Lohrey also works as a finance data analyst for a global business outsourcing company.
Disability Issues in Sports
Men in wheelchairs playing tennis Photo Credit: Huntstock/DisabilityImages/Getty Images

The main disability issues in sports center on attitudes and opportunities. Programs such as the Paralympics and Special Olympics create opportunities for some. Still, the Women’s Sports Foundation reports that although almost half of children with disabilities wanted to participate in sports, 38 percent of their parents reported that no such programs existed. Resolving disability issues in sports requires developing a sense of awareness, as well as respect and acceptance for those with physical and intellectual disabilities.

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Discriminatory Attitudes

Although Article 30.5 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities exists to ensure the rights of disabled people with regard to participation in sports, reports that discriminatory attitudes remain. In cases of mainstream sports in which athletes play on the same team regardless of the presence or absence of any disability, attitudes regarding the ability or capability of disabled players as well as safety concerns may prevail, limiting participation. When the sport is disability-specific, facility issues, equal practice time and finding knowledgeable coaches are often an issue.

Beating Negative Attitudes

Stereotypes, attitudes, assumptions and perceptions often combine to create a stigma around people with disabilities. These barriers to sports participation can cause a disabled person to see himself as less worthy. This is especially true for disabled women. According to, only about 7 percent of women with disabilities exercise regularly or participate in any type of sport.

Community Opportunities May Be Lacking

Participation in sporting activities is significantly lower for disabled people, a fact that says may relate more to lack of opportunity than to lack of motivation. This may be because while competitive organizations are available on a national and international level, fewer grassroots opportunities exist within individual communities.

Assessing the Risk Factor

Assumptions and attitudes, including those of your doctor, often take precedence over facts when it comes to assessing the risk factor disabled athletes face. In his book “Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Principles and Practice,” senior medical educator Joel A. DeLisa identifies two common errors in thinking. The errors lie at opposite ends of the spectrum. The first is that no risk exists; the second is that too many risks exist. Although sports injuries are a risk all athletes face, DeLisa notes that the general risk for a disabled person is no higher because of her disability. When they do occur, though, injuries tend to keep disabled athletes on the sidelines longer. Rather than attributing this to active participation, DeLisa points to ineffective coaching methods and lack of access to knowledgeable medical care as the primary cause.

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