Working with the Disabled Athlete

This article is designed to give an insight into working with the disabled athlete. Ludwig Guttman held a multi-sport event between hospitals for those injured war service personnel at Stoke Mandeville in 1948.

The 1st style Paralympic Games was in Rome 1960. The ability of the disabled athlete determined the sport competed in, which is still the same today. To help with a level playing field between Disabilities a classification system was set up. Each sport has its own specific system, which can get very complicated.

Types of disability common in Paralympic Sport

  • Spinal cord injuries (SCI)
  • Amputees
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Rare genetic disorders (multiple epiphyseal dysplasia (MED), Arthrogryposis)
  • Spina Bifida
  • Blind & partially sighted
  • Others

Paralympic Sports

To date there are 21 Sports, Boccia for the least able. What goes on behind the competition?

  • Medication
  • TUE’s (Therapeutic Use Exemption)
  • Travel
  • Accessibility
  • Transferring
  • Catheter

Disability Awareness / Behavior / Communication

Always focus on the abilities and not the disabilities especially when communicating with the wheelchair athlete. In some instances athlete’s disability will require they have an interpreter as their speech may be severely impeded.

  • Listen to the athlete; even though their speech may be affected they understand everything you say.
  • Be patient and let them speak.
  • When talking to a wheelchair athlete try to be at eye level with them.
  • Always remember athletes with similar disabilities may vary greatly in their ability.
  • If an athlete requires help, ask them, don’t assume they need help. They will want to perform an activity and if need help will ask.

When communicating with a visually impaired athlete (VIA), introduce yourself to them by name. When guiding a VIA, let them take your arm and make sure you inform them of any steps, curbs or other obstacles in their way. If they have a harnessed guide dog, don’t pat the dog while they are working without the permission of the VIA.

When you come to leave make sure you tell the athlete you are leaving and when you might be seeing them again. Experience the world of the disabled person. Get into a wheelchair and manoeuvre yourself around or have a try at a Paralympic sport. Blind-fold yourself and see what it feels like to not see where you are going.