• Adaptive Sports: Staying Active While Living With A Disability

    An estimated 56.7 million people in the United States, or 19%-20% of the population have a disability. Staying active while living with a disability can help you strengthen your heart, build strong muscles and bones, improve coordination, and make you feel better about yourself.

    For those with disabilities, there are many adaptive sports and recreation programs that can be enjoyed for health, wellness, leisure, social, and competition benefits.

    Before participating in recreational activities or sports, check with your physical therapist or physician to be sure that you are healthy enough for exercise, and what amounts of physical activity are safe for you.


    The most common way for individuals with disabilities to cycle is with the use of modified bikes. Tricycles provide the greatest stability and can be modified with special seats and handlebars. If pedaling a bike or staying upright is difficult, hand cycling allows you to pedal the cycle with your arms in a seated or reclined position. Tandem cycling is a safe way for individuals with visual or hearing impairments to enjoy cycling, and can be upright or recumbent. Cycles can also be modified to allow another person to push the cycle, if needed.

    Related Organizations: Wheelchair Sports Federation, Disabled Sports USA, US Handcycling Federation, and US Deaf Cycling Association

    With the popularity of adaptive cycling, searching the Internet for adaptive bikes and cycling programs is an easy way to find information about this popular recreational activity and growing competitive sport.


    Adaptive golf can be performed standing or sitting. Adaptive golf carts can help with stabilizing the body while swinging the club, and golf clinics can teach individuals with disabilities about adaptive equipment and how to play golf with various disabilities involving limb loss, paralysis, sight, hearing, and emotional, mental, and intellectual impairments.

    Related Organizations: National Amputee Golf Association, American Disabled Golf Association, and Golf 4 the Disabled

    Horseback Riding

    Hippotherapy, therapeutic horseback riding, therapeutic horsemanship, and equine-assisted therapy are terms associated with using horses in the lives of people to improve physical, social, cognitive, sensory, and emotional well-being. Many of these programs are led by certified instructors and therapists.

    Related Organizations: PATH International provides a list of riding programs across the country


    Paddling sports include canoeing, kayaking, rowing, and rafting. Modifications are made to each individual’s canoe or kayak based on needs, making it easy to participate in canoeing and kayaking organizations. Simple adaptations may be needed for positioning and gripping. Canoes, tandem kayaks, and rafts allow people of all abilities to participate in paddling sports together.

    Related Organizations: The American Canoe Association, and the book, "Canoeing and Kayaking for People with Disabilities."

    Sitting Volleyball

    In sitting volleyball, players must be seated on the ground, and the game follows the same rules as stand-up volleyball, with the exception of a shorter net, smaller court, and the caveat that at least 1 buttock must remain in contact with the floor whenever the player contacts the ball.

    Related Organizations: US Club Sitting Volleyball and US Paralympics Sitting Volleyball

    Snow Skiing

    Snow skiing can be performed sitting or standing, and people with all types of disabilities can enjoy skiing with the assistance of adaptive equipment. For individuals with less strength, stability, and coordination, skiing can be performed sitting in a bucket seat on 1 or 2 skis (monoskis and bi-skis respectively). Handheld outriggers are used for stability and steering. Outriggers are mini skis on the end of poles and can also be used for stand-up skiing. Tethers and tandem skis allow you to ski with the assistance of another person steering. A trained guide skis with a visually impaired skier, calling out instructions from in front, beside, or behind the skier.

    Related Organizations: Disabled Sports USA provides a list of local chapters with information for programs across the country


    Adaptive swimming includes all swim strokes and distances. Individuals with various disabilities can participate, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind, and those with cognitive and physical disabilities of all kinds. Because adaptive swimming does not require special equipment, an individual with a disability can participate in a program in their area, with very little modifications.

    Related Organizations: US Paralympic Sports Club


    Tennis uses adaptive equipment for mobility, such as a wheelchair. Rule modifications are made and based on types of disabilities, and a stand-up player can play against or on the same team as a wheelchair player.

    Related Organizations: Let's Roll Wheelchair Tennis provides video tutorials on how to play the game

    Wheelchair Basketball

    Wheelchair basketball is accessible to those with a variety of physical disabilities. The game is played using many of the same rules and standards of basketball, with some variations for dribbling and contact from the wheelchair.

    Related Organizations: National Wheelchair Basketball Association

    Other Adaptive Sports

    Other activities and sports for individuals with disabilities include shooting, archery, pool, fishing, hunting, table tennis, sailing, fencing, Bocce, rugby, bowling, softball, lacrosse, scuba, water skiing, and others. A physical therapist can help you determine possible modifications to equipment, and advise which activities might be best for you.

    Several organizations are devoted to providing people with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy sports and recreation of all kinds:

    National Ability Center

    National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability

    National Sports Center for the Disabled

    Wasatch Adaptive Sports

    Disabled Sports USA

    Endeavor Games

    Paralyzed Veterans of America

    Special Olympics

    Related Resource

    Podcast: Adaptive Sports: Limitless Opportunities

    Authored by: Jeannette Elliott, PT, DPT, MS, and Maria Thomassie, PT, DPT

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