A History of Disability or Differently Abled Sport

Although persons with different abilities have been involved in organized sports for at least 100 years, it is only very recently that they gained any level
of recognition for such participation (DePauw. 1995).


Below are Excerpts from an Excellent Resource on the History of Disability Sport excepted from Sports N Spokes magazine (Vol 25, no 9, pp 10-45). Although
some names and events may be unfamiliar, it provides only a small cross-section of the diverse people and events of disability sports . Feel free to follow
the Sports ‘N Spokes link for further detail.

  • 1946 Generally considered the birth year for wheelchair sports as World War II Veterans became involved in sports with the primary emphasis on wheelchair
    basketball. Many of these sports evolved from the Stoke Mandeville Sports Centre in Ashbury England founded by neurologist, Sir Ludwig Guttman, often considered
    the father of wheelchair sports. The Center hosted the first international wheelchair competition.
  • 1973 Sports N Spokes magazine founded
  • 1975 First woman’s wheelchair basketball tournament; Bob Hall first to wheel in Boston marathon; National Wheelchair Officials Association Organized
  • 1976 Olympiad held in Toronto, Canada for paraplegic, blind and amputee athletes in separate divisions
  • 1977 First intercollegiate wheelchair basketball tournament; Sharon Rahn Hedrick first woman to wheel Boston Marathon; first wheelchair softball tournament.
  • 1978 National Wheelchair Athletic Association relaxes competitive wheelchair regulations and custom wheelchairs used in competition for the first time at
    the National Wheelchair Games; US Olympic Committee forms handicapped in sports committee
  • 1980 Sled skiers compete for the first time; Olympics for the Disabled in Holland for Paraplegics, Amputees; First wheelchair tennis national tournament.
  • 1981 International Wheelchair Road Racers club holds first annual meeting at Orange Bowl Marathon; first world wheelchair marathon won by George Murray
    (2:12.31); 25th anniversary of Wheelchair Games in Seattle, WA; First Veterans Wheelchair Games
  • 1982 National Wheelchair Athletic Association moves national office to Colorado Springs; World Championships of Winter Sports for the Disabled held; First
    national veterans wheelchair games; First World Tennis Table Championships for the Disabled.
  • 1983 First survey of sport wheelchairs; Second international quad rugby tournament; First international women’s wheelchair basketball tournament; National
    wheelchair racquetball association formed;
  • 1984 First exhibition wheelchair races at the summer Olympics in Los Angeles; George Murray appears on Wheaties cereal box; VII Paralympics Games in US
    cancelled; International Games for the Disabled includes all athletes but spinal cord injury wheelchair athletes; First Junior National Championships;
    Rode Rodewald becomes the first pilot with paraplegic to circle the world.
  • 1985 Start of Rick Hansen’s man in motion world tour; First national Bass fishing tournament for persons with disabilities; Athletes with disabilities invited
    to national sports festival.
  • 1986 Challenge Cup Series for top wheelchair basketball teams launched; First World Championships for Youth with Disabilities held in England; First National
    Triathlon for Physically Challenged.
  • 1987 End of Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion tour.
  • 1988 First U.S. Quad Rugby Championships; Prototype , three-wheel racing chairs make their appearance in competition; Wheelchair Exhibition Races at the
    Seoul Summer Olympics; First international quad rugby tournament held.
  • 1989 Craig Blanchette sets the mile record (3:51) at Prefontaine classic; Mark Wellman climbs El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
  • 1990 Mustpha Badid breaks the 1:30 barrier with 1:29.53 win at Boston Marathon; France wins Basketball’s gold cup; NWBA Hall of Fame Integrated with Basketball
    Hall of Fame.
  • 1991 Junior wheelchair tennis players make their first appearance at the US Olympic Festival; First Annual North American Challenge Cup for nautical competition
    for persons with different abilities; Mark Wellman climbs Half Dome in Yosemite; Jean Driscoll awarded Women’s Sport’s Foundations Amateur Athlete of the
  • 1992 University of Texas-Arlington’s “Movin Mav’s” capture 15th annual intercollegiate wheelchair basketball tournament; Jim Knaub and Jean Driscoll win
    at Boston Marathon; IX Paralympic Games held in Barcelona, Spain.
    1993 45th National Wheelchair Basketball tournament won by Arkansas’s Rollin Razorbacks; Last National Wheelchair Basketball tournaments held in Boston;
    Joe Gredjus first wheelchair archer to win in National Archery Association Nationals; First Women’s World Basketball Championships; National Wheelchair
    Athletic Association Changes name to Wheelchair Sports, U.S.A..
  • 1994 VI Annual Paralympic Games Held in Lilehammer, Norway; 6th Gold Cup won by US in Canada; First National Wheelchair Billiards Association US Open 8-ball
  • 1995 First Wheelchair Rugby World Championships in Nottwil, Switzerland.
  • 1996 US Organization of Disabled Athletes (USODA) changes name to America’s Disabled Athletes (ADA); X Paralympic Games in Atlanta held including introduction
    of Equestrian competition.
  • 2000 XI Paralympic Games held in Sydney, Australia.
  • 2004 XII Paralympic Games held in Athens, Greece.
  • 2008 XIII Paralympic Games held in Beijing, China.


At this point it is good to list some definitions that can be used when considering sports and recreation for persons of different abilities.


an umbrella term for services that promote and active, healthy lifestyle by remediating psychomotor problems that interfere with
self-actualization (Sherrill, 1998, p 5). Included within this category is Adapted Physical Education a profession which works, through direct service,
classroom consultation and curriculum modification and development, to ensure that school age children have access and the fullest participation possible
of Physical Education services mandated by law.


“refers to sport governed by the Comite International des Sports des Sourdes (International Committee for Sports of Silence). .. Summer and
Winter games for the Deaf are held the year after the equivalent Olympic Games” (Sherrill, 1998, p 33). It should be noted that the Deaf community offers
and exception to person first terminology in that the term of Deaf is used to distinguish a person who is affiliated with the Deaf Community and Deaf Culture
versus the uncapitilized use of deaf to identify someone who may have a hearing loss but who does not participate in Deaf Culture and its given language
(American Sign Language).


often a controversial term, disability is defined by DePauw (1992) as the situation “when an impairment adversely affects
one’s performance” (p5). Some persons take offense to both the term disability and impairment and prefer use of the term different ability to describe
themselves (Egbert, 2000).


Originally referred to as Sport Conducted by Disability Sport Organizations. Today the term encompasses
broader definitions to include mainstream and reverse mainstream in which athletes both with and without disabilities may participate (Sherrill, 1998,
p 32).


“In disability sport, functional ability refers to the innate capacity that cannot be altered by training, practice, or motivation”
Sherrill, 1998, p 33). Functional ability in these terms, is therefore used for classification of different competitive levels to attempt to ensure that
an athlete has the same potential for winning through success and training versus innate and inalterable limitations as those against whom s(he) competes.


“activities and events and settings in which individuals with and without disabilities, recreate or compete around each other” (Sherrill,
1998, p32). An example of such an event might be an equestrian competition in which such individuals compete freely in their given skill categories.


A situation opposite to mainstream sport in which persons without disabilities compete in sports specifically designed for persons
with disabilities or different abilities (Sherrill, 1998).. Examples might include Goal Ball, a Paralympic sport for individuals who are blind, that can
also be played by blindfolded players.


“a world-wide sport movement for elite athletes with disabilities, which parallels the Olympics in that international Summer and Winter games
are held alternately every 2 years. Current Paralympic Sports include : Summer sports of archery, athletics (track and field), boccia, cycling, equestrian,
fencing, goalball, judo, lawn bowling, power lifting, sailing, shooting, soccer (football), swimming, table tennis, volleyball (sitting and standing),
wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis as well as Winter sports of alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, ice sledge hockey, ice sledge
racing and wheelchair dance sport. For more information on a specific event, be sure to visit the International Paralympic Committee’s website.


This phrase refers to an approach of describing person’s with disabilities or different abilities in an attempt to emphasize an
individual over any given medical condition. An example might be a child with autism versus an autistic child. Such an approach is not always adhered to
universally and persons with disability or different ability may frequently even use slang such as “crip culture, paras, quads, etc”. However, it is a
generally accepted practice and unwritten etiquette by persons outside of a differently abled culture to refrain from such slang and use person first terminology
in professional or academic endeavors.


This term refers to the method that a person finds most functional for their daily mobility skills. For example, a person who
has cerebral palsy may find that he has the ability to execute a broken gait (or walking pattern) with leg and ankle braces, crutches, a walker, etc; however
s(he) may determine that it expends too much energy and is not accomplished at a reasonable pace and therefore may opt to use a manual or motorized wheelchair.
Many persons with prostheses may also find this to be true. Within the scenario of disability or differently abled sports, one may also find an opposite
scenario…Many persons are shocked to see athletes with such conditions as amputations, multiple sclerosis, or incomplete quadriplegia (i.e., partial,
but not complete paralysis or weakness) get up from their wheelchairs following a given sport (i.e., basketball, tennis, etc.). However the primary eligibility
for most disability or differently abled sports is the inability to compete in regular or open competition of a given sport. Therefore, a person with severely
arthritic knees, for example, may use walking as their primary mode of mobility during everyday activity, but may require a wheelchair to equitably compete
in a sport such as basketball.


Term most generally associated with use of leisure time for activities which are often representative of “a continuous re-creation of beliefs,
attitudes and intentions,” (Sherrill, 1998; p 5). Frequently divisions between recreation disability or differently abled sports leagues and highly competitive
leagues may be seen as is the trend of a more encompassing definition of sports and leisure.


“a world wide movement for athletes with mental retardation…athletes may have a second disability, but the major eligibility is mental
retardation” (Sherrill, 1998, p32). The games have changed their philosophy over the past 30 years shifting from an “everyone’s a winner” motto to the
trend of handing out participation ribbons in recognition of an athlete’s participation and accomplishment. However, the emphasis on awards for participation
is a significant departure from the highly specialized and competitive model of the Paralympics. Because of this, some Paralympic athletes do not feel
that they are significantly acknowledged for their skills and training when the common mistake of referring to the Paralympics as the Special Olympics
occurs. It should be noted that there is a European founded organization, the International Sports Federation for Persons with Mental Handicapp which officially
represents the condition of mental retardation within the Paralympic movement (Sherrill, 1998).
SPORT: sport is defined by Giddens(1977) and Sage (1987) as a cultural phenomenon or a reflection of society. Many however, argue that such sport has been
exclusive in the society in which it reflects, therefore limiting access to all persons who desire participation (Bonace, Karwas, DePauw, 1992). Coakley
(1998) further defines sports as “internalized competitive activities that involve physical exertion or the use of relatively complex physical skills by
individuals whose participation is motivated by a combination of personal enjoyment and external rewards.”(p.19).


“an assessment and programming system based on functional and/or medical capabilities used to assign athletes to events or heats that
provide optimal success in competition. Classification is the major adaptation that separates disability sport from AB (able bodied) sport” (Sherrill,
1998, p33).
SPORT CHAIR: a wheelchair utilized by an athlete for his or her given sport. Although disability or different ability sport was far less specialized during
its inception (it was not unusual for an athlete to compete in 4 or 5 events in earlier competitions), the current Paralympics and parallel competitions
are highly elite and specialized in a manner similar to the Olympic games. During the aforementioned period of less specialized competition, most athletes
(for example the veterans who played basketball just following World War II) used their everyday medical chairs for competition. These chairs were often
rigid, and bulky and as disability sport progressed, the athletes themselves began adapting their chairs to fit a given sport. Now it is the norm to have
a given chair for a given sport because of that sports highly specialized needs. For example, basketball and tennis wheelchairs frequently have increased
“camber” and “valance” which refers to the tilting of the wheelbase to provide a better turning radius whereas a three wheeled track chair is designed
for fast forward propulsion, but has minimal turning mobility. The need to acquire such individual chairs is a costly proposition for athletes. Sometimes
sports organizations and recreation centers offer lending programs since few insurance policies will reimburse for such chairs. Another common trend is
for high level, elite athletes to seek sponsorship, particularly from wheelchair manufacturers. You may want to visit the links page for more information
on wheelchair vendors.

*Written by Amy McBride, A.P.E. Specialist, Occupational Therapist, Ph.D. student, Texas Woman’s University.

Reproduced from http://educaofsicaadaptadaeeducaoespecial.blogspot.com/2008/12/history-of-disability-or-differently.html