In years past a serious physical disability meant unemployment isolation and inactivity for many thousands of people.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act has opened up the workplace and public facilities to people with disabilities, many organizations around the country have sprung up, offering access to sports programs both for wheelchair-bound individuals and amputees with artificial prosthetic devices.
Disabled people are experiencing the joy of participating in Alpine and cross-country skiing, all kinds of water sports from swimming to sailing to scuba diving, and even more extreme sports such as mountain climbing and sky diving.
The importance of both competitive and recreational sports for individuals with disabilities can't be overestimated. Particularly for formerly able-bodied people who find themselves disabled, sports can serve as a tremendous motivation in the rehabilitation process and can help alleviate the depression, confusion, and loss of self-esteem that often accompanies a debilitating injury. For those born with a serious disability, sports can serve as an important way of connecting to the "abled" world.
Competitive sports for the disabled are experiencing phenomenal success. The world-wide organization now known as the Paralympic Games was founded in Rome, Italy, in 1960, inspired by a 1948 competition organized in England for disabled World War II veterans. According to the Paralympic Games, participating athletes compete in a variety of sports based on one of six disability-based classifications: amputee, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, visual impairment, intellectual disability, and a general group including individual disabilities which do not fit into one of the other five categories.
Both summer and winter sports competitions give disabled athletes the change to compete in a variety of sports; the list of summer sports includes 21 different competitive sports, ranging from archery and cycling to equestrian, power-lifting and judo. Five competitions designed specifically for wheelchair-bound athletes include basketball, dancing, fencing, rugby, and tennis. The list of winter sports is smaller, but no less challenging: athletes can compete in either Alpine or Nordic skiing, ice sledge hockey, and wheelchair curling.
Children with physical disabilities have special challenges; they're dealing with sometimes substantial limitations at the same time that they are meeting all the other demands of becoming competent, balanced, emotionally and mentally healthy human beings. The National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) offers opportunities for children to take part in a wide range of sports activities, from skiing, ski racing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in the winter to rafting, horseback riding, and in-line skating in the summer.
The Paralympics and NSCD are only two of many organizations founded to involve disabled individuals in sports. It's evident, from the success and increasing popularity of these organizations, that both adults and children with disabilities benefit greatly from participating in adaptive sports activities, and that the benefit extends to all aspects of their lives.