Disabled Sports: A Quick Course in Popular Para-Sports

From the top-of-the-mountain Paralympic Games to local get-togethers, individuals with disabilities are showing up to give it their all in their favorite sports. Here are a few examples of sports that people with disabilities have taken head-on:


Paracanoeing became an official Paralympic sport in 2009. The rules and goals for competitive canoeing take on many forms, depending on where it is performed. In the Paralympics, competitors must outrace the others on a 200-meter course on a calm body of water. Competitors are separated into classes according to a point system that measures their level of impairment. This helps ensure all competitors face others with levels similar to theirs.


disabled Cycling

Image via Pixabay by superdirk

Cycling is one of the best examples of adaptive sports out there. There are many ways people with disabilities can partake in this sport: tandem cycling for the visually impaired, handbikes for those with lower extremity disabilities, standard bicycles for those outfitted with prosthetics, tricycles, and more. Finding a category or form of cycling that accommodates a competitor’s specific disability is easy with so many options. Some of the competitions are individual time trials and some are races, but each is a strenuous and exciting competition.


The para-triathlon made its official debut in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. This triathlon includes three sports: swimming (750 meters), running (5 kilometers), and cycling (20 kilometers). Competitors with visual and physical impairments went head-to-head in this grueling competition. Depending on the section and the competitor’s impairment, different prostheses, racing wheelchairs, handbikes, and more are used to take on the challenge ahead.

Skiing and Snowboarding

As prosthetic technology advances, so does the access of people with disabilities to more sports. Prosthetics designed specifically to take on the movements required by downhill skiing and snowboarding are important to athletes who enjoy winter sports. Whole prostheses may be designed to fit the skier or snowboarder, or a special boot may be installed onto the skis or snowboard to attach to an existing prosthetic, especially for those with below-knee amputations.

Sitting Volleyball

Sitting volleyball is an adaptive sport that has been played at the Paralympics for decades. The court for sitting volleyball is smaller than a regular volleyball court: 10 meters long and 6 meters wide. The net is lower to adapt to the sitting position the players take. To strike the volleyball, the player must have one buttock in contact with the floor. The only time players are allowed to not be seated is in intense defensive situations.

Sitting volleyball is played by athletes with many types of disabilities, from amputees to people with loss of muscle strength. Players are classified into one of two categories: minimally disabled (MD) and disabled (D). Each team is allowed two MDs on the roster, but only one on the court. The inability to stand is not a requirement.


A popular para-sport that doesn’t require special prostheses, wheelchairs, or other gear is competitive swimming. Due to the lack of need for special gear, swimming as a disability sport is important, as it decreases the need for extra gear. The Paralympics have featured swimming since 1960 for a diverse range of impairments. Competitors swim with other people who have similar disabilities to promote fairness in the race. In short, if you can swim, you can compete.

Wheelchair Basketball

Wheelchair basketball is arguably one of the most popular para-sports of all time. This adaptive sport has been around since the 1940s, when it was first developed to promote rehabilitation for World War II soldiers. Now, wheelchair basketball is played in almost 100 countries and is a popular staple of the Paralympic Games.
Wheelchair basketball is much the same as able-bodied basketball. The court dimensions are the same, and there are five players on the court for each team. Players are divided into classifications based on their level of impairment. This is done via a point system of 1 to 4.5. The higher the number, the lower the level of impairment. Neither team may exceed 14 points when their numbers are added up.

Wheelchair Rugby

Originally called “murderball,” wheelchair rugby is a tough sport for tough people, as its former name suggests. Players are strapped into a wheelchair with angled wheels much like other wheelchair-centric sports. The difference is the wheelchairs are outfitted with spokeless, sturdy wheels and metal bumpers. There are two types of bumpers: offensive and defensive. Offensive bumpers are short bumpers that allow for protection and movement through tight spaces. Defensive bumpers are longer and designed for ramming and hooking onto other wheelchairs. Wheelchair rugby involves a lot of aggressive physical contact, which makes it an appealing option for many competitors.

Wheelchair Tennis

Wheelchair tennis is another popular wheeled para-sport. There are only two major differences between wheelchair tennis and non-disabled tennis: the fact that it’s played in wheelchairs and that the ball can bounce twice, with the final bounce occurring outside the court.

The wheelchairs are specially designed to handle the fast action of a tennis match. At the Paralympics and the Grand Slam tournaments, those with upper extremity disabilities can also play in the Quads category.

Come Out and Play

The importance of disabled sports cannot be understated. It breaks down social barriers, lifts the confidence of those who choose to compete, and combats the stigma associated with disabilities. Just as much as non-disabled sports, the world of para-sports is a nexus between a sense of community and personal pride. With dozens upon dozens of sports for the disabled to choose from, all people with disabilities need is the right gear to get started — and sometimes not even that.

The sports on this list are just some of the most popular sports available to individuals with disabilities. With the right equipment and perseverance, these and other sports are waiting for you to get into the action, and our expert team of orthotists, prosthetists, and pedorthists at Scheck & Siress is waiting to get you the help and gear you need to increase your mobility, health, and happiness.