Sport and Disability

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Sport is a significant part of this world; it acts as a social construction (DePauw & Gavron, 1995). It offers individuals a time to socialise and build a relationship with each other. Individuals with disabilities have always been present in society, although they experienced exclusion and not recognised as a “normal” person. In terms of sport, mentally retarded persons were thought to not understand the rules of the sport and therefore were left out. Physically disabled were thought of not having the ability to participate and therefore they were excluded from sport participation.

In earlier times, a disability was defined as a person with a physical impairment. In today’s world, the preferred terminology is using the person first, for example, person with a disability or individual with a physical impairment. So people with disabilities were being respected and acknowledged by society. A person can be classified as being mentally disabled or physically disabled. Physically disabled means to have amputated limbs and intellectually disabled means that a person suffers from a mental, social, cultural and emotional state, which does not allow them to live normal lives because they do not have the appropriate life skills (Special Olympics, 2010).

For the past one hundred years, individuals with selected disabilities have participated in the sporting world, but these athletes have not received the recognition they deserve and more important, accepted as athletes. The sporting movement for individuals with disabilities has changed significantly over the past forty years. Public awareness has increased and as a result, more and more individuals with disabilities are confident participating in sport. Furthermore, sporting organisations developed programmes for athletes with disabilities with the intention of attracting more athletes to experience a whole new world. Sport as a whole or organised sport, had challenges that they needed to overcome. Challenges such as, inclusion of people with disabilities to the sporting environment, access to sport, sport modification, the issues in sport and disability, discovering and implementing strategies for coaching athletes with disabilities.


Sport is loved all around the world, whether you are poor or rich. Sport is not only highly visible, but also touches almost everyone as a participant, spectator or consumer. Sport brings people together, and because it is so pervasive in society and seen as an equalizer and a means of acceptance, individuals with disabilities want access to sport (DePauw & Gavron, 1995). Disability sport is sport played by individuals with disabilities, such as physical and intellectual disabilities. The sports that these individuals play are existing sports, modified for people with disabilities, they are also referred to as adapted sports. Sport is broken down into categories specific to people’s disability, including handicapped sports, sport for the disabled, adapted sport, disabled sport, wheelchair sport and deaf sport. These terms identifies the type of disability and the sport environment designed for individuals with disabilities.

Organised sport for people with disabilities is divided into three groups, namely, persons with physical disability, persons with intellectual disability and the deaf. Each group has its own history and is run by its own organisation, with its own approach to sport. Organised sport for people with physical disabilities such as, mobility disability, amputations, cerebral palsy and blindness developed from rehabilitation programs. After the Second World War, injured ex-service members and civilians, introduced sport as a key part of rehabilitation. It was introduced by Ludwig Guttman of Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England. In 1948, Ludwig Guttman set up a competition for wheelchair athletes, following the 1948 Olympic Games in London. As a result this transformed into the Stoke Mandeville...
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