Sports, Accessibility & AT

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by Kirk Aranada, YO! Disabled and Proud Youth Advocate

It’s fall again, and it’s during this time of the year that lots of people start watching and playing team sports again. There are many, many different sports and sport activities that individuals with disabilities can participate in and oftentimes that means searching for some helpful assistive technology (AT) to use. For some people that use wheelchairs, soccer, basketball and rugby are possible options. They are three of the most popular sports and have a growing number of competing local, regional, and national leagues. Check out Disabled Sports USA  for more information on a variety of sports and to view active chapters in your area. 


Picture of 3 men in wheelchairs fighting for control of the rugby ball all with their hands up in the air. Shirts say US and Australia.
U.S. Wheelchair Rugby Team in Bejing
The world of AT has made the rough-and-tumble game of rugby accessible for all in the form of wheelchair rugby. In fact, currently, there are over 25 countries playing wheelchair rugby! It is played indoors on a hardwood court with two teams of 12 players each. The AT involved includes a manual wheelchair that is custom-made and specifically designed for wheelchair rugby. The customization includes having a bumper in the front so that players are able to strike and hold opponents, an anti-tip device at the back, wings  positioned in the front of the main wheels to make it more difficult to stop and hold an opponent, and, lastly spoke protectors to prevent damage to the wheels. Having this specially-designed AT equipment prepares players to really give it their all in taking down their opponents.
power wheelchair that has a bumper gate in the front of it
Power Wheelchair for Soccer
Wheelchair soccer is pretty similar to rugby when it comes to that AT that is used and its game structure.  It is also played indoors on a hardwood court, but power wheelchairs are used instead.  These power wheelchairs have a metal bumper that surrounds the front of the wheelchair. The soccer ball used is slightly larger and the ball ricochets off of the wheelchair bumpers for passing, scoring and blocking as well for defense. Soccer wheelchair is another sport that is becoming increasingly popular thanks to assistive technology.
on the basketball court, shows 4 women going for the ball in wheelchairs
Germany’s Female Wheelchair Basketball Team

Finally, there is wheelchair basketball. It is one of the most popular sports around! The wheelchairs used for playing basketball are usually non-folding and have a pronounced negative camber for the wheels in order to provide more stability while making the necessary sharp turns.  The rules are pretty much the same as standard basketball; they use a normal-sized court and a ten foot hoop.  “Traveling” in wheelchair basketball occurs when the athlete touches his wheels more than twice after receiving or dribbling the ball. The person with the ball must pass, bounce or shoot the ball before touching their wheels again. In some countries, it is becoming more common to have mixed teams competing side by side with each other – teams with both wheelchair-users and non-wheelchair users. 

YO! Youth Advisory Council Member, Ania, has competed in wheelchair basketball for a long time and has been playing sports since she was five years old.  Ania feels that her getting into wheelchair basketball at a younger age was a great decision and one that she has never regretted.   
“It has done a lot for me.  Playing sports has helped boost my confidence as a person; it made me more competitive and helped me to learn to be more aggressive on and off the court.  It’s helped me be more self-assured in knowing what I want in life,” said Ania.
Accessible sports are making an impact all over the world. They are bringing people together and boosting confidence and athleticism among participants.  Do you play or have you watched any of these wheelchair sports? Share your experience with us in the comment box below. 

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