Sports and Recreational Activities
 for Children with Physical Disabilities
from The Cure Our Children Foundation



These original research articles are provided as a free service of
The Cure Our Children Foundation

Original Articles in this page,
Click here:
I Know I Can Do It, Sports are for Disabled Children Too
Table of Popular Sports versus Alternative Sports for the Disabled

Ten Years Later: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Sports Programs
Model Sports and Recreation Policy for Accommodating Children with Disabilities

List of web links and phone numbers in this page, Click here:
Golf     Wheelchair Archery     Biking     Horseback Riding

Water Sports
     Winter Sports     Wheelchair Dancing     Baseball and Softball
Organizations and Associations
     Articles, Magazines and Publications
Americans with Disabilities Act

**This guide has been written for educational purposes only. It cannot be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. If you have or suspect that you or your child may have a health problem, you should consult your doctor.  You should consult your child's doctor before he or she begins any exercise or sports program. Additionally, this site is not intended to provide medical or legal advice or opinions, or financial advice or opinions.  If you need legal advice or opinions, please consult your attorney.  If you need medical advice, please consult your doctor. If you need financial advice, consult a qualified accountant.** 

Original Article:

'I Know I Can Do It':
Sports Are For Disabled Children, Too

by Barbara Martin,
with contributions by Barry Sugarman, B.S.ENGR., President,
The Cure Our Children Foundation, and
Dr. Lainie Shapiro, Vice President, The Cure Our Children Foundation

"Disabled children are equally entitled to an exciting and brilliant future. We must see to it that we remove the obstacles ... whether they stem from poor access to facilities; poor education; lack of transport; lack of funding; or unavailability of equipment such as children's wheelchairs. Only then will the rights of the disabled to equal opportunities become a reality. " -- Nelson Mandela at the opening of the first annual South African Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp in Johannesburg, December 1995

Ten-year-old Phillip suffers from Frederick's ataxia, a progressive neurological disorder. When Katherine Rodriguez, vice president of Disabled Sports USA, Far West 1, met him, he was already "very, very disabled," she said in a recent interview. Phillip had come to participate in the organization's water skiing program. He used adaptive equipment that allowed him to ski sitting down, and because Phillip's hands and arms were weak, Rodriguez wanted to tie the ski to the boat so that Phillip would not have to hang on to the rope and pull himself up out of the water when the boat started moving. But Phillip insisted on doing it himself.

Rodriguez tried to talk him out of it. "But you can't grip," she said.

Phillip was adamant. "I know I can do it," he told her. So Rodriguez let him try.

Over and over, the rope slipped from his hands. Each time, Rodriguez jumped out of the boat to pull him out of the water and back into position on the ski. It was agonizing to watch him try so hard, she said, and it was even more painful for Phillip's mother, who rode in the boat with Rodriguez and the driver. Each time Phillip fell, Rodriguez tried to persuade him that he couldn't possibly hold on, but he insisted on trying again. Finally, she could stand it no more. "Don't you have enough water up your nose yet?" she asked him. But he wasn't ready to give up, and she agreed to let him try one last time -- "just one more time," he insisted.

When the boat started moving again, "he pulled up and held on and went all around the lake," Rodriguez said. "I was crying; his mother was crying; even the driver was crying. He proved all of us wrong. It was something we totally knew couldn't happen, but he knew it would happen."

More and more children like Phillip are participating in sports and recreational activities, and more and more disabled young athletes are doing what was once considered impossible.

One reason is that there are a growing number of recreational and sporting opportunities for handicapped children. Special equipment has been developed for sports such as water skiing, cycling, snow skiing -- even hockey -- and the Paralympics 2 and other organized competitions, such as the American Amputee Soccer Association  3 and the America’s Athletes With Disabilities Victory Games 4 allow the disabled to compete with people who have the same abilities and limitations.

According to a 1998 study by Emory University and the University of Georgia and published on the Web site of the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs 5, children who participate in sports improve in strength, coordination, and flexibility. In addition, parents and teachers report the children are less likely to be depressed and often show improvement in behavior, academics, and social interaction. The study also indicated that many parents noted a decrease in secondary health complications when their children became less sedentary. 6

Dr. William J. Schiller, associate director and technology coordinator for the National Center of Physical Activity and Disability 7, spends much of his time educating teachers, parents, and the disabled themselves about the benefits of sports and recreational activities. One of the services provided by NCPAD is to alert parents to recreational programs in their area. "The focus is trying to reduce secondary health problems: obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression. (Exercise) promotes flexibility, motor control, social relationships, and reduces the need for medications. The body needs a certain amount of activity to function optimally," says Schiller.

Under federal law, handicapped children are entitled to participate in organized sports, physical education, and recreational programs unless their presence puts them or someone else in danger 8, but many communities and schools have been slow to respond to the needs of special children. "That's slowly trickling down to sports programs and school programs," Schiller said. In many cases, nonprofit organizations, citizens groups, and businesses are taking it into their own hands to ensure that every child has a chance to participate. For instance, the Children's Golf Foundation 9 in West Palm Beach, Fla., is building the country's first golf learning facility for handicapped children.  And for five years, Horton's Orthotic Lab in Arkansas has sponsored a Fishin' at the Harbor 10 event for disabled children. Volunteers supply instructions, free lunches, and trophies. The company reported that, this year, more than forty children caught about one hundred pounds of catfish.

These kinds of grassroots efforts, when they become pervasive enough, will impact government involvement and funding, Schiller  said. “That’s the way to get government to do things…That gets people’s attention in government,” he said.

Community involvement is, indeed, important, said Judy Miller, director of Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare 11 and mother of a paraplegic daughter who competed in track and field and swimming events. Sports and recreation programs for disabled children “take ongoing support,” she said.

Involvement in adapted sports and recreation covers a wide range of activities and opportunities, according to officials at Gillette, a regional health center for children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities, headquartered in St. Paul, Minn. There is something for everyone, even young people with severe disabilities, Miller says.

Adapted sports -- also called adaptive sports -- are activities in which the equipment and rules have been modified just enough to allow handicapped people to participate, experts interviewed for this article said. For instance, in "sitting" volleyball 12, players sit on the floor and play on a smaller court with a lower net. In wheelchair tennis 13, the ball is allowed to bounce twice instead of once.

When Rodriguez went to work with Disabled Sports USA, Far West, in Alpine Meadows, California, twenty-five years ago, the organization had very little adaptive sports equipment: one sit ski, two pairs of outriggers (akin to a forearm crutch, used in snow skiing by a person who can't hold himself up), and a blind bib (worn by a blind skier to alert the people around him of his handicap). Now, the organization has a staggering array of equipment that can accommodate just about every type of disability. On the day she was interviewed for this article, Rodriguez said,  she talked to two disabled people: one with a congenital birth defect that left her with only half a pelvis, and another whose joints were fused. Both were able to ski with adaptive equipment.

Disabled Sports USA, Far West -- one of 85 chapters of Disabled Sports USA 14, the nation's largest, nonprofit, multi-sport, multi-disability organization -- offers summer and winter sports programs. Activities include camping, sailing, kayaking, snow boarding, snowmobiling, cycling for the whole family, riding on a personal watercraft, boating, mountain biking, and fishing. In addition, volunteer golf pros teach their sport to the disabled. Disabled golfers might need special equipment and carts, but "anywhere a golf cart can travel is fairly accessible," Rodriguez said. With a grant from the state of California and the help of local four-wheel-drive enthusiasts who volunteer their time, Disabled Sports USA, Far West, also offers four-wheel-drive adventures.

The Adaptive Sports Association 15, a nonprofit corporation headquartered in Durango, Colorado, and also a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, organizes day-long adventures in alpine skiing, snowboarding, whitewater rafting, sea kayaking, hiking, fishing, sailing, four-by-four adventures, and canoeing. (Links for these and many other sports programs and associations are listed at the bottom of this Web page.)

The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD) 16 recommends that before anyone -- whether they are handicapped in some way or not --  begins an exercise program, they seek the advice of their physician and, if possible, a trained exercise professional for an individualized exercise prescription.

According to NCPAD, there are three kinds of exercise, and all are important:

The center asserts that people with disabilities need:

While safety concerns always come first, and good coaches are essential in any competitive sport for the disabled, parents must sometimes fight the urge to over-protect their children, Miller says. It's a problem she's struggled with herself. She admits she worried when her daughter's coach decided to remove "anti-tipping" devices from her wheelchair because they made the chair less maneuverable. “Fitness is important for everyone, and don’t set the bar lower for a kid with a disability," Miller said. "They have to get out there ... and lose and win just like everybody else."

Adapted sports can include swimming, weight lifting, horseback riding, playing wheelchair basketball, throwing or "blowing" darts, riding a bicycle with hand pedals, or using an arm ergometer, which is similar to a stationary bicycle but is pedaled with the hands. They can also include competitive dancing, rock wall climbing, and even sky diving. Mike Munro 17 wrote about his own experience skydiving, harnessed to an instructor,  in Enablelink's magazine "Abilities" 18: "Sailing towards the ground at 120 miles per hour, and being aware of everything and feeling totally free, not hampered by anything as insignificant as an inability to walk or use my hands,  I was equal to all able-bodied people."

Michelle Amerie 19, another contributor to "Abilities", enjoys scuba diving. "The ocean depths serve as the great equalizer...," she wrote. "Basic laws of gravity wash away; unrestricted freedom of movement takes over. ... All that is needed is an adventurous heart."

An often-overlooked source of recreation and exercise for children is gardening. The Shriners Hospitals for Children, Chicago 20, began "therapeutic gardening" programs about two years ago as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation program for children and young people, the hospital reported on its Web site. The hospital built container gardens and raised-bed gardens so that children in wheelchairs could participate. Likewise, the Rehabilitation Center at the University of Virginia Children’s Medical Center in Charlottesville 21 offers horticulture therapy in the form of greenhouses and raised beds. Patients with amputations, cancer, cerebral palsy, or other physical or mental disabilities participate.  The hospital reports that the patients' activities in the gardens -- watering, raking, planting, weeding, etc. -- build muscle strength and improve eye-hand coordination and dexterity.  (It is important to note, however, that cancer patients, especially children, are not permitted to do any gardening until after all their treatment ends due to the possibility of yeast and mold invasive infections. Cancer patients should wait until at least four months after all treatment ends, and then they should always wear gardening gloves.)

Courage Center 22, a rehabilitation and resource center  headquartered in Maple Lake, Minnesota, serves everyone with disabilities from children to senior citizens. In  honor of its seventy-fifth anniversary, the center organized a two-day, seventy-five-mile ride from the center to home plate at the Twins game in the Metrodome. Participants biked, hand-cycled, tandem biked, or wheeled the distance, the center's public relations department said. 23 Sharon Van Winkel, program director for Courage Center’s Sports and Recreation Program and a past winner of the Boston Marathon wheelchair division, said organizers wanted to "show that people with disabilities can achieve most anything they put their minds to, and often success in sports is the beginning. When they master an athletic skill, they often find the confidence to take on bigger challenges.”

Among those who participated in the event were wheelchair athletes ranging in age from twelve to nineteen, adult track and road racers, and a paraplegic father who hand-cycled with his able-bodied son.

It is important for everyone to lead active lives, but the disabled especially benefit, Miller said. Disabled children who are sedentary often have to struggle with their weight, which can put added stress on their joints and complicate necessary surgical procedures, she said.  “Weight management and fitness are really, really important goals,” she said.

People with disabilities are much more likely to lead sedentary lives and, therefore, more likely to develop a secondary condition, such as diabetes, respiratory failure, osteoporosis, or cardiovascular disease, our experts said, but many of these conditions can be reduced or prevented with regular exercise.

Courage St. Croix 24, a Courage Center program, launched a pilot program in 2001 aimed at improving the health and well-being of individuals with disabilities through expanded fitness opportunities. A new fitness center specifically designed for people with physical disabilities was one aspect of the program. It was built as a handicapped-accessible facility and offered state-of-the-art fitness equipment that could be adapted for people with a variety of disabilities. It also offered a staff trained to work with the disabled.

"By removing the barriers to exercise that people with disabilities usually face, these people can choose to take actions that can significantly improve their health," said Peter Polga, director of Courage St. Croix. "The availability of these services gives people greater control and the ability to significantly impact their health and quality of life."

A majority of the sixty-three participants in the program reported they were better able to cope with daily activities because of gains in strength, balance, flexibility, and other health benefits. "These results, among others, show amazing possibilities for improving health for people with disabilities," according to a Courage press release.

In some ways, Miller said, Canada is ahead of the United States in its approach to sports for the disabled. There, she said, many schools and sports leagues allow able-bodied and disabled athletes to play on the same teams. "They've been more inclusionary, less segregated," she said.

In the United States, she pointed out, golfer Casey Martin, who suffers from a degenerative leg ailment, had to fight all the way to the Supreme Court before he was allowed to ride a cart in tournaments. The PGA's stance was that all pro golfers must walk because the integrity of the sport was jeopardized if competitors didn't follow a uniform set of rules. In a seven-to-two ruling handed down in May 2001, the Supreme Court disagreed, saying Martin's use of a golf cart did not fundamentally change the game 25.

The PE Center, an online publication dedicated to assisting teachers and other adults in helping children become physically active and healthy for a lifetime, defines Adapted Physical Education this way: "Change the word 'adapted' to 'modified' and you have the idea of Adapted Physical Education. It is GOOD teaching which adapts (modifies) the curriculum, task, and/or environment so that ALL students can fully participate in physical education. ... For all practical purposes, Adapted Physical Education IS developmentally appropriate physical education at its finest. It is adapting, modifying, and/or changing a physical activity so it is as appropriate for the person with a disability as it is for a person without a disability."26

The Center points out that physical education is not the same as physical or occupational therapy and that federal law mandates that physical education be provided to students with disabilities. Federal law, Center experts say, defines physical education as the development of:

The Center suggests the following modifications 26 for golf:

Use a club with a larger head
Use shorter/lighter club
Use colored/larger balls
Practice without a ball
Use tee for all shots
Shorten distance to hole

For soccer:

Use walking instead of running
Have well defined boundaries
Reduce playing area
Play six-a-side soccer
If student uses a wheelchair, allow him to hold ball on his lap while pushing the wheelchair
Use a deflated ball, Nerf ball, beeper ball, brightly colored ball
Use a target that makes noise when hit

For volleyball:

Use larger, lighter, softer, bright colored balls
Allow players to catch ball instead of volleying
Allow student to self toss and set ball
Lower the net
Reduce the playing court
Stand closer to net on serve
Allow ball to bounce first
Hold ball and have student hit it

The Anchorage School District's Adapted Physical Education Guide 27,  published online, defines adapted PE this way: "The art and science of assessment and prescription within the psychomotor domain ensure that an individual with a disability has access to programs designed to develop physical and motor fitness, fundamental motor skills and patterns and skill in aquatics, dance and sports so that the individual can ultimately participate in community based leisure, recreation and sport activities and enjoy an enhanced quality of life. A diversified program of physical education having the same goals and objectives as regular physical education, but modified when necessary to meet the unique need of each individual. Students are given appropriate placement within the LEAST RESTRICTIVE environment..."

The guide also offers suggestions for modifying activities and equipment for handicapped children. Some of these suggestions are below:

Throwing and catching:


Students who use power wheelchairs or manual wheelchairs with assistance have limited movement or no movement of their legs. These students may kick using a two foot thrusting motion. This forward motion of the legs can be developed to perform the skill on request with increasing accuracy and timing:

The guide also lists games that handicapped children can play. For instance, pillow polo can be played using volleyballs and scooter boards, and for "chariot races", students take turns riding scooter boards pulled by other students.

Whatever the activity, when schools and sports leagues automatically separate handicapped from non-handicapped athletes, they can offer fewer types of sports to the handicapped because there are fewer players, Miller said. “Schools do have a role – really good adapted P.E. programs and allowing kids to be part of competitive sports and to letter.”

Tip Ray 28, an author, advocate, and inclusive recreation specialist, says segregation in sports and recreation activities is born of "fear of the unknown, past practices, and uncertainty about 'how' to include people with disabilities into recreational environments."

"The general public needs to know that children are children, regardless of whether or not they have a disability," he said in an e-mail interview. "Parents of children with disabilities have similar dreams and aspirations as their counterparts and recognize that involvement in recreation activity will benefit their child in the same way as it does non-disabled kids. While the approach to meeting these needs might look a little different, recognize that all kids have unique needs and abilities they bring into a recreational setting that a good recreation provider will recognize and address."

But it's not just the handicapped who benefit from inclusion, he said.

"... Stereotypes are eliminated, as people's awareness is heightened and attitudes change," he said. "When this happens ... new, more accepting attitudes and behaviors find their way into other areas of everyday life."

Schiller agrees inclusion is important. Schools often keep handicapped children and able-bodied children apart, setting aside "a special time for kids in wheelchairs to use the gym, for instance," he said. He recognizes that "not every child, disabled or not, is going to be on the starting football team," but "to the extent that you don't make them exclusive groups -- separated in some way -- they have a greater opportunity to not be seen like they're unusual."

Even in popular culture, he says, the idea of inclusion is catching on. He used the animated television show "South Park" as an example. A number of the children on the show are disabled, and they are treated no differently than the non-handicapped characters. "They are mocked the same as other kids are mocked. Years ago, you wouldn't have seen that," he said.

Miller's daughter competed in Junior National Wheelchair Championship 29 events in this country and abroad. Miller said it was a positive experience for her daughter. "It was a true competition," she said.

And Mom benefited as well. "Parents met other parents that are facing similar challenges, and that's how all of us learn to parent," she said.

Likewise, parents can benefit from support groups, says Pat Linkhorn, editor of special education information at 30 and the mother of two daughters with special needs. In an article for "Premature Baby, Premature Child" 31, she wrote: "Time and again I've heard other parents say, 'I found out I wasn't alone!' when talking about support groups. ...  If you haven't joined (or started) a support group, think about it. ... It may seem like just another 'thing' that you have to do, but it will benefit the whole family. You'll be around other adults like yourself, hear normal adult conversations and be able to go home with a slightly different, better perspective. You'll begin to heal and accept. You'll begin to think of the future differently, and hopefully, with a more positive attitude."

For parents who can't find a support group in their area and don't want to start their own, there are online support groups. For instance, Robyn's Nest: The Parenting Network 32  offers a bulletin board where parents of handicapped children can exchange information and offer encouragement to each other. And Special Child 33, an online publication for parents and caregivers of children with special needs, offers articles, inspirational stories, and bulletin boards on a number of topics.  Another support group is the Federation for Children with Special Needs.34

Whether a child is playing in a competitive event or not, “it doesn’t really matter," Miller said. "You’re really there for the fun of it.” For those who prefer a solitary sport, adapted bikes or recumbent tricycles may be all they need. But not everyone can afford them, or other types of adapted sports and exercise equipment, because the price can be prohibitive, Miller said, and such equipment is “not considered medically necessary, and hence not covered” by many insurance companies.

Miller said she has seen government funding cuts in recreational and sports programs for disabled children, and she worries such cuts will continue. "It’s easy for things like this to get cut out. … It’s really important that we have kids that have all different kinds of experiences. I just hope that these things don’t go by the wayside,” she said.

Organizations such as NCPAD encourage people to lobby the government for better funding and legislation. "We try to promote the idea that people with disabilities should lobby for support for preventive medicine (exercise equipment) like that,” Schiller said.

Schiller says there is a mistaken tendency to look at handicapped-accessible parks and other facilities or sports programs for the disabled as  “a charitable thing or a nice thing.”

"In a lot of cases, civil rights are not being met," he said. "They don’t have the same access, but they’re paying taxes for those parks and programs just like everybody else. Even if I'm in a wheelchair, I have every right to expect to be able to get into that building.”

But it's a parent's fear -- not a lack of opportunities -- that keeps many disabled children from participating in sports and recreation activities, Rodriguez said. Rodriguez is the parent of a special needs child herself. Her son was born with club feet and gross motor delays, but Rodriguez allowed him to participate in sports. He skis so well now, he skis with non-handicapped athletes, she said.

"I know how it feels to hand my child over to somebody else," she said, referring to letting professional instructors rather than the parents themselves teach their kids sports activities. "It's a very difficult thing, especially if they've been through a lot, and you've been through a lot. ... If parents see their child hurting and in pain, they just want to protect them."

She recommends that, before a parent enrolls a child in a sports or recreation program, both the parent and the child should visit the facilities, meet the director and instructors, ask questions, and watch how the instructors interact with their students. There are no federal guidelines as to who can teach at adapted sports centers, she said. Instructors at Disabled Sports USA, Far West, are doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and teachers.  Parents should check out instructors' credentials and training before allowing their children to participate in any sports program, and they may want to talk to other parents whose children are enrolled.

In a safe environment, Rodriguez said, with properly trained instructors and volunteers, a good sports program can work wonders for a child's self-esteem and mental and physical well-being. "I wish more kids could try this," she said.

"This chair's not so fragile, and neither am I." -- Spirit Synnot, Canadian wheelchair dancer

If there is a sport your child loves but can’t participate in because of a disability, there are usually alternative sports available. It is important, experts say, to focus on the child’s strengths rather than weaknesses. The chart below offers possible alternatives for popular sports. Special equipment is required for some sports. Consult your child’s physician before allowing him or her to participate in any new sport or recreational activity. (More information about these sports can be found in the links at the bottom of this Web page.)

Popular Sport


Archery Wheelchair Archery
Hiking Hand-Pedaled Biking, ATV Trail Riding, Horseback Riding
Hunting Laser Shooting, Target Shooting, Paint Ball
Horseback Riding Carriage Driving, Disabled Riding
Water Skiing Sit-down Skiing, Personal Watercraft Riding, Tire Tubing, Wave Riding
Biking Hand-Pedaled Biking, ATV Trail Riding
Volleyball “Sitting” Volleyball (played with smaller court, lower net)
Tennis "Sitting" Tennis, Table Tennis, "Sitting" Badminton
Bowling Boccia (played on an indoor court with a ball made of leather)
Track and Field Hand-Pedaled Bike Races, Shot-Put, Discus, Javelin
Ice Hockey Sledge Hockey (also known as sled hockey; players lie on a two-blade sled and use sticks with a spike end to propel themselves and a blade end); Broomball
Competitive Dance Wheelchair Dance Sport (disabled person uses a wheelchair and may partner with another disabled person or a non-disabled person)
Swimming Boogie Boarding, Canoeing, Kayaking
Sailing Pontoon Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing
Golfing Putt-Putt Golfing; Miniature Golfing
Snow Skiing Snowmobiling, Adaptive Skiing
Mountain Biking Adaptive Cycling, Horseback Riding
Darts Blow Darts
Basketball Wheelchair Basketball
Contact Sports Dance, Gymnastics, Croquet, Baseball with Substitute Runners, stretching, karate, Tai Chi, Yoga, Weight Lifting, Ice Skating, Curling
Downhill Skiing Cross-Country Skiing, Ice Skating
Running Walking

References and Contact Information:

1) Disabled Sports USA, Far West, 2600 Alpine Meadows Road, Subway Building, Alpine Meadows, CA 96145; Phone: (530) 581-4161; Fax: (530) 581-3127; General e-mail:; Katherine Rodriguez's e-mail:

2) Paralympics, U.S. Olympic Committee, U.S. Paralympics, One Olympic Plaza, Colorado Springs, CO 80909; Phone: 719-866-2030; e-mail:

3) American Amputee Soccer Association: The Association's Web site offers only an e-mail address for inquiries:

4) America’s Athletes With Disabilities, National Headquarters, 8630 Fenton Street / Suite 920, Silver Spring, MD  20910; Toll-free phone: 1-800-238-7632; Local phone: 301-589-9042; Fax: 301-589-9052

5) American Association of Adapted Sports Programs, P.O. Box 538, Pine Lake, GA 30072; Phone: (404) 294-0070; Fax:(404) 294-5758; e-mail:

6) Adapted Sports Lead to Healthy, Quality Lives, 1997-98 study by Emory University and the University of Georgia, published on the American Association of Adapted Sports Program Web site

7) National Center of Physical Activity and Disability, 1640 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, Ill. 60608-6904; Toll-free phone: 1-800-900-8086; Fax: 1-312-355-4058

8) Americans With Disabilities Act, ADA Info Line: 800-514-0301, TTY:800-514-0383

9) Children's Golf Foundation, 7301 N. Haverhill Road, West Palm Beach, Fla. 33407;  Phone: (561) 842-0066; Fax: (561) 842-0304; e-mail:

10) Horton's Hosts Fishing Day for Disabled Children, The O&P Edge, May 9, 2003

11) Judy Miller, Director, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, 200 East University Ave., St. Paul, Minn. 55101, Phone: (651) 291-2848

12) Teheran Win the Sitting Volleyball Cup in Leverkusen, Bayer Sports, March 22, 2003

13) Wheelchair Tennis International, Tennis Federation, Bank Lane, Roehampton, London SW15 5XZ, Great Britain; Phone: +44 208 878 6464; Fax: +44 208 392 4741; email:

14) Disabled Sports USA, National Headquarters, 451 Hungerford Drive, Suite 100, Rockville, MD 20850; Phone: (301) 217-0960; Fax: (301) 217-0968; e-mail, Executive Director Kirk Bauer:

15) Adaptive Sports Association, P.O. Box 1884, Durango, CO 81302; Phone: 970-259-0374; e-mail:

16) The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability, 1640 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago Ill. 60608-6904; Toll-free Phone: 1-800-900-8086; Fax (312) 355-4058

17) Free-fall, Abilities magazine archives, Tandem Sky Diving, author Mike Munro

18) Abilities online magazine, Enablelink, The Canadian Abilities Foundation, 340 College St., Suite 650, Toronto, ON M5T 3A9; Phone: (416) 923-1885; Fax: (416) 923-9829; e-mail:

19) Dancing in Neptune's Garden: Club Challenge Takes Its Members Scuba Diving in Bonaire For Memories Of A Lifetime, Abilities magazine archives, author Michelle Amerie

20) The Shriners Hospitals for Children, Chicago, 2211 N. Oak Park Ave., Chicago, IL 60707; Phone: (773) 622-5400; Fax 773-385-5453

21) University of Virginia's Children’s Medical Center, Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center, 2270 Ivy Road, Charlottesville, VA 22903; Phone: (804) 924-8825

22) Courage Center, 3915 Golden Valley Road, Minneapolis, MN  55422; Toll-free phone: 1-888-846-8253; Phone: (763) 520-0312

23) Courage Center celebrates 75th with 75-mile ride for wheelers/bikers from Camp Courage to Twins game, Courage Center news release, Aug. 11, 2003

24) New Health, Wellness and Fitness Services at Courage St. Croix Gives People Chance to Improve Their Quality of Life, Courage Center news release, Nov. 14, 2002

25) Ruling Gives Martin Relief, USA Today, May 30, 2001, Supreme Court Ruling in favor of Golf Cart usage for the disabled.

26) What Is Adapted Physical Education?; Adaptations for Physical Disabilities; The PE Center,  Nov. 21, 2001 (Used with permission)

27) The Anchorage School District's Adapted Physical Education Guide, Anchorage School District, 4600 DeBarr Road, PO Box 196614, Anchorage, Alaska 99519-6614; Phone: 907-742-4000

28) Tip Ray, inclusive recreation specialist, conducts accessibility audits for outdoor developed areas and trails, assists parks and recreation managers to develop specific inclusion strategies, and provides training on outdoor recreation. A book that he co-authored, "Community Recreation and People with Disabilities," is out of print but is available used at He can be reached via e-mail at

29) Junior National Wheelchair Championship, USDAF, 1775 The Exchange Suite 540, Atlanta GA 30339; Phone: 770-850-8199; e-mail: BLAZESPORTS@BLAZESPORTS.COM.

30), Special Ed

31) No One Is an Island: The Value of Support Groups, Premature Baby, Premature Child, author Pat Linkhorn, 2001

32) Robyn's Nest: The Parenting Network, an online support group

33) Special Child, an online publication for parents and caregivers of children with special needs

34) Federation for Children with Special Needs, Phone 617-236-7210, Fax 617-572-2094


"I don’t want (a disability) to define me. I just want to be Denisia. Oh yeah, and I want to run." -- Denisia Miner, who suffers from Osteogenesis Imperfecta -- also known as brittle bone disease -- in an article in "Audacity", December 1, 2003.


Original Article:

Ten Years Later: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Sports Programs

by Barbara Martin,
with contributions by Barry Sugarman, B.S.ENGR., President,
The Cure Our Children Foundation, and
Dr. Lainie Shapiro, Vice President, The Cure Our Children Foundation

"Three weeks ago we celebrated our nation's Independence Day. Today we're here to rejoice in and celebrate another 'independence day,' one that is long overdue. With today's signing of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom."  -- President George Bush on signing the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act 1 was passed by the House and Senate, and President George Bush signed it into law.

The writers of the law included these observations about disabled people in American society: 2
* Historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities, and, despite some improvements, 
such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem;
* Unlike individuals who have experienced discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, or age, 
individuals who have experienced discrimination on the basis of disability have often had no legal recourse to redress such 
* Individuals with disabilities continually encounter various forms of discrimination, including outright intentional exclusion, 
the discriminatory effects of architectural, transportation, and communication barriers, overprotective rules and policies, 
failure to make modifications to existing facilities and practices, exclusionary qualification standards and criteria, segregation, 
and relegation to lesser services, programs, activities, benefits, jobs, or other opportunities.

"The ADA is a dramatic renewal not only for those with disabilities but for all of us, because along with the precious privilege of being an American comes a sacred duty to ensure that every other American's rights are also guaranteed," President Bush declared. "Together, we must remove the physical barriers we have created and the social barriers that we have accepted." 3

The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, the private sector, mass transit, and state and local government services, and telecommunications. Title III 4 of the ADA deals, in part, with public accommodations, which includes recreation and exercise facilities. An online government publication explains public accommodations this way: 5

A place of public accommodation is a private establishment (for-profit or nonprofit) that fits one of twelve categories specified by the Department of Justice in the ADA regulations. Hotels, restaurants, theaters, museums, retail stores, private schools, banks, doctors' offices, and health clubs are all places of public accommodation.

Under Title III of the ADA, any private entity that owns, leases, leases to, or operates an existing public accommodation has four specific requirements:

  1. Remove barriers to make their goods and services available to and usable by people with disabilities, to the extent that it is readily achievable to do so—in other words, to the extent that needed changes can be accomplished without much difficulty or expense.
  2. Provide auxiliary aids and services so that people with sensory or cognitive disabilities have access to effective means of communication, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the operation or result in undue burdens.
  3. Modify any policies, practices, or procedures that may be discriminatory or have a discriminatory effect, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations.
  4. Ensure that there are no unnecessary eligibility criteria that tend to screen out or segregate individuals with disabilities or limit their full and equal enjoyment of the place of public accommodation.

 The U.S. Department of Justice6 , in a summary of the ADA, clarifies further:7

Places of public accommodation include over five million private establishments, such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, convention centers, retail stores, shopping centers, dry cleaners, laundromats, pharmacies, doctors' offices, hospitals, museums, libraries, parks, zoos, amusement parks, private schools, day care centers, health spas, and bowling alleys.

The same document gives examples of disabilities:

Examples of physical or mental impairments include, but are not limited to, such contagious and noncontagious diseases and conditions as orthopedic, visual, speech, and hearing impairments; cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental retardation, emotional illness, specific learning disabilities, HIV disease (whether symptomatic or asymptomatic), tuberculosis, drug addiction, and alcoholism.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census 8, 49.7 million Americans over the age of four have a physical or mental disability; 2.2 million reported that they use a wheelchair.  Since the year 2000 populations was 281.4 million, this means that 17.7 percent of the entire United States population have a physical or mental disability.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 9 and the ADA itself also define a disabled person as one who: 

The ADA requires that a disabled person be allowed to participate in public sports programs unless that person is a "direct threat" to the safety of others. 10  Even then, organizers and administrators are required to assess each disabled individual to see if that threat can be eliminated by modifying policies, practices or procedures, or by providing help in the form of special equipment or services. The assessment must ascertain the "...nature, duration, and severity of the risk; the probability that the potential injury will actually occur; and whether reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures will mitigate the risk."

Dr. William J. Schiller, associate director and technology coordinator for the National Center of Physical Activity and Disability11, said in a telephone interview that there is a mistaken tendency to look at handicapped-accessible parks and other facilities or sports programs for the disabled as  “a charitable thing or a nice thing.”

"In a lot of cases, civil rights are not being met," he said.

Tip Ray 12, an author, advocate, and inclusive recreation specialist, reiterated the point in an e-mail interview. "Equal access and opportunity is a civil rights issue," he said. "Including children with disabilities in recreation experiences typical for peers without disabilities is legally mandated in state and federal school and other civil rights legislation. Using cost of safety as an excuse to exclude them is discriminatory. A recreation program that is well organized and run should have recognized the diversity and 'special needs' of every child enrolled, as well as taken into account issues of cost and safety for all participants. Agencies must budget for the eventuality that a sign language interpreter or an extra staff to act as an aide may be needed on occasion. As for safety, if it's a concern for one child, it's a concern for all and must be anticipated and dealt with during the program planning phase."

One of Ray's duties as an inclusive recreation specialist is to train program administrators and others on how to comply with the law. He says he prefers persuasion to threats, but he will take a complaint to the Justice Department, if persuasion fails.

"I don't try to use the law as a club to get people with disabilities included in recreation settings and programs," he said. "I try, first, to appeal to one's sense of fairness and morality. Generally, in defense of most providers out there, it's not that they don't want to include people with disabilities -- they don't know how. My job is to teach them how. ... My approach has been to advocate for system change (i.e. if agencies are not recognizing the potential for people with disabilities to be in their programs, then they need to organize themselves differently -- change mission statements, survey residents to determine who lives in their community and what their leisure needs and desires are, etc.), then provide individual advocacy as needed to assure that programs are inclusive."

Training is available for people who want to learn how to comply with the law, he pointed out, and some communities have come up with innovative ways to include the disabled.

"I have seen professional workshops on summer camp programming infuse disability-related issues and innovations into discussions of how to lead various camp activities; before, disability issues were always a 'stand alone' session with attendees having to figure out how to apply the knowledge. I have seen recreation agencies develop comprehensive training and policy manuals to assure inclusion takes place with budgets reflecting this change to assure support, if needed, is there, and cost is not an issue. I have seen smaller communities team together to develop joint agreements to hire recreation staff who, as itinerant employees, move from community to community to assist with inclusion efforts."

Another way for people with disabilities and their families to make sure their interests are represented in local government and that sports and recreation programs comply with the ADA is to get involved, Ray said. He encourages community leaders and government officials to actively recruit them "to serve on planning boards and committees where decisions about recreation opportunities are made so that their voice is heard and myths dispelled."

The late Justin Dart Jr. 13 a leader of the international disability rights movement who was often called the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act, sat in a wheelchair beside President Bush in 1990 when the president signed the ADA into law. Like Ray, Dart advocated that the disabled and their advocates make their voices heard. "Get into politics as if your lives depended on it," he once said, "because they do."

It is important to note that President Bush mentioned children's sports in his 1990 speech, and he touched on the importance of able-bodied children and disabled children playing together.  3 "Now, let me just tell you a wonderful story, a story about children already working in the spirit of the ADA -- a story that really touched me," Bush said. "Across the nation, some 10,000 youngsters with disabilities are part of Little League's Challenger Division. Their teams play just like others, but -- and this is the most remarkable part -- as they play, at their sides are volunteer buddies from conventional Little League teams. All of these players work together. They team up to wheel around the bases and to field grounders together and, most of all, just to play and become friends. We must let these children be our guides and inspiration. "

Since the ADA became law, there have been several high-profile court cases involving sports:

* In 1992, a federal court judge in Arizona ruled that Little League Baseball could not restrict a coach who uses a wheelchair from going on the field. Little League rules restricted coaches in wheelchairs to the dugout. 14

* In 1999, a federal court ruled that nine-year-old Ryan Taylor, who has cerebral palsy, could play in the Lawton, Oklahoma, Optimist Soccer Association league using a padded walker instead of a metal one and with an adult standing nearby.. The court ruled that allowing the child to play with a padded walker was a reasonable accommodation. (A link that includes a video of Ryan playing soccer is listed in the references below.) 15

* In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that golfer Casey Martin, who suffers from a degenerative leg ailment, could ride in a cart in PGA tournments. 16

The Little League coach's case in particular, since it was one of the first ADA lawsuits filed that had to do with sports,  caught the attention of public recreation departments around the country and prompted changes on the local level. John N. McGovern 17, a lawyer and the executive director of the Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association in Northfield, Illinois 18, wrote the decision "has implications for every Illinois leisure service agency which permits Little League and similar organizations to use public playing fields."

Little League's rules included a ban on coaches in wheelchairs being allowed on the field. The local affiliate ignored the rule for three years, then enforced the ban.  "... Little League believes that when a coach who uses a wheelchair is on the field a safety hazard is created for the players," McGovern wrote in the November/December 1992 issue of "Illinois Parks and Recreation" 19 magazine. "However, this blunt assumption is exactly where the court found fault."

He noted that few leisure service agencies did not follow Little League rules for their own programs or allow Little League affiliates to use public fields. If a private organization, such as Little League Baseball, uses public facilities, the government entity in charge of those facilities must ensure that the private organization does not discriminate against the disabled. Federal law, he added, "prohibits discrimination by units of state and local government in the delivery of all services, including baseball games."

In an article on sports and the disabled in "U.S. Society & Values", an electronic journal of the U.S. State Department, the impact of the ADA and two other pieces of federal legislation was explained this way: 20

Three pieces of federal legislation have opened doors in all aspects of life for people with disabilities in the United States. The Rehabilitation Act, adopted in 1973, was the first major initiative in this regard. The main purpose of the Act was to prevent discrimination in employment, transportation, and education programs that received federal funding. Sports programs were not the focus of the Act, but the law says that colleges and universities that receive federal funding for their physical education programs, including intramural and interscholastic sports, must make them accessible to disabled persons.

The most recent pieces of federal legislation aimed at ending discrimination against persons with disabilities were enacted in 1990. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) governs the education of students with disabilities in the public schools. IDEA states that physical education is a required educational service; thus the law facilitates participation of students with disabilities in public school and interscholastic sports programs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive law that bans discrimination against persons with disabilities, specifically in 'places of exercise.' The ADA goes further than the previous laws and says that school, university, and community sports programs all must comply with ADA provisions.

The bottom line on the ADA is this, Ray said: "The onus of responsibility is on community recreation providers (schools, parks and recreation departments, community education, Y's [YWCAs], etc.) to have an inclusive system in place, not place the burden on families and caregivers, as arguments about cost and safety do."

Dart, who suffered from post-polio syndrome, admitted years after the ADA was signed that it had not accomplished all he had hoped, but he still had faith. "To the critics who complain that ADA has not achieved total justice ... I say what about the Bill of Rights and the Ten Commandments? Have they achieved total justice? The vision of justice is an eternal long march to the Promised Land of the good life for all," he said.

How to file a complaint:

If all else fails, parents can file lawsuits on their children's behalf to force an agency, organization, or other entity to comply with the ADA. They can also lodge a complaint with the Department of Justice.

The law states that:

* Private parties may bring lawsuits to obtain court orders to stop discrimination. No monetary damages will be available in such suits. A reasonable attorney's fee, however, may be awarded.

* Individuals may also file complaints with the Attorney General who is authorized to bring lawsuits in cases of general public importance or where a "pattern or practice" of discrimination is alleged.

* In suits brought by the Attorney General, monetary damages (not including punitive damages) and civil penalties may be awarded. Civil penalties may not exceed $50,000 for a first violation or $100,000 for any subsequent violation.

Complaints should be sent to:

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Disability Rights Section - NYAV
Washington, DC 20530

For general information, answers to specific questions, free materials, or information about filing a complaint, call 1-800-514-0301. ADA specialists are available Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. eastern time, except on Thursday when hours are 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

You may also file a complaint online. The Justice Department's Web site includes a complaint form. You will find it at

(Please note: This article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney.)

References and Contact Information:

1. Americans With Disabilities Act, Phone: 800-514-0301 (voice) 800-514-0383 (TDD)

2. The Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II, Public Services, Section 2, Findings and Purposes

3. Remarks of President George Bush Sr. at the Signing of the ADA, Bender Consulting Services Inc., Penn Center West III, Suite 223, Pittsburgh, PA 15276; Phone: (412) 787-8567; Fax: (412) 787-7178

4. The Americans with Disabilities Act, Title III, Public Accommodations and Services Operated by Public Entities

5. Fact Sheet I: Who Has Obligations Under Title III?, New England ADA and Accessible IT Center, ADA Publications, April 12, 1996

6. The U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20530; Toll-free phone: 800-514-0301 or  800-514 9391

7. U.S. Department of Justice, Title III summary

8. U.S. Census Bureau, Disability section

9. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,  1801 L Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20507, Phone: (202) 663-4900; To be automatically connected to your nearest field office, call toll-free: 1-800-669-4000

10. Americans with Disabilities Act, Sections 36.202(b) and 36.204 of the title III rule

11. National Center of Physical Activity and Disability, 1640 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, Ill. 60608-6904; Toll-free phone: 1-800-900-8086; Fax: 1-312-355-4058

12.  Tip Ray, inclusive recreation specialist, conducts accessibility audits for outdoor developed areas and trails, assists parks and recreation managers to develop specific inclusion strategies, and provides training on outdoor recreation. A book that he co-authored, "Community Recreation and People with Disabilities," is out of print but is available used at He can be reached via e-mail at

13. A Tribute to Justin Dart Jr., Diversity World, June 22, 2002

14. League Policy Banning Coach in Wheelchair from Sidelines Violated ADA, NRPA Law Review, James C. Kozlowski, June 1994

15. Ryan's Not Relaxing, Enabled, by Keith Landry, June 2000, Disabled child playing soccor

16.  Ruling Gives Martin Relief, USA Today, May 30, 2001

17. Legal/Legislative Scene, ADA Says Little League Decision is Unlawful;  John N. McGovern, Executive Director, Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association, 3105 MacArthur, Northbrook, Ill. 60062, Phone: (847) 509-9400 ; Fax: (847) 509-1177;

18. Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association in Northfield, Illinois, 7 Happ Road, Northfield, Illinois 60093; Phone: (847) 501-4332

19. Illinois Parks and Recreation Magazine, Illinois Association of Park Districts, 211 E. Monroe Street, Springfield, IL 62701-1186;
Phone: (217) 523-4554; Fax (217) 523-4273

20. Victories By and For the Disabled, U.S. Society & Values, Susan Greenwald


"I have seen ... young adults who benefited from recreation inclusions become more self-determined, leading not only to more self-satisfying leisure lifestyles, but confidence in jobs, school, and the community. They have gained respect and value because of their presence in the community. They no longer operate on the fringe of society; they truly belong. This is the essence of inclusion." -- Tip Ray, inclusive recreation specialist


Model Sports and Recreation Policy for Accommodating Children with Disabilities:

Developed by The Cure Our Children Foundation

Click Here for a Printer Friendly Model Plan to Print, Sign and Adopt

The Cure Our Children Foundation has developed the following Model Sports and Recreation Policy for Accommodating Children with Disabilities to promote integration of those with disabilities into the main stream of sports teams wherever and whenever possible:

I.  Individualized accommodation and adaptation:  The coach or administrator should individually determine the best combination of accommodations of equipment, team member assistance, or other suitable accommodation so that the child with disabilities can participate in the sport.

II.  Access: Ingress and Egress:  Each child with disabilities should be able to enter and exit easily into the sports arena or playing field where the activity is being played.  All barriers to entry and exit should be addressed.

III.  Full Appropriate Participation: All accommodation should be designed to achieve the maximum appropriate participation of the disabled child considering all factors including the child's abilities and the type of sports activity.

IV.  Bathrooms, water, medication delivery devices, walking equipment, wheelchairs and other equipment: Children with disabilities will have access as needed to bathrooms and water at any time, and all equipment, devices, or facilities needed for accommodation will be welcomed.

V.  Training and discussion with team members and parents:  The coach or administrator will discuss the accommodation and encourage team members and parents to support the child with disabilities with the aim of maintaining the disabled child's privacy, self-confidence and full participation.  Making fun of or otherwise disturbing the disabled child will not be allowed.  All team members will be made aware of any physical contact restrictions or other restrictions.

VI.  Annual Review: Each year, the coach or administrator will review the disability accommodation plan.

"Our biggest concern is that people treat Ryan as an individual and not a condition. He must learn to ignore limits that others place on him -- that being different isn't something he should feel bad about." -- JoAnne Taylor, mother who fought for her disabled son to be included in a soccer league.

To Request Assistance:
send an e-mail to Barry Sugarman at

or Phone: 310-355-6046 (8AM to 8PM only, please)

Warmest Regards and Best Wishes...  Barry Sugarman
The Cure Our Children Foundation

"The thing I have learned from these kids is that when you give a kid a ball, no matter what their abilities or disabilities, they will play with it, they will play together with other kids and they will try to do things they have never tried before. Sports are important for kids of all ages and abilities, and we have kids who are doing things at a level that doctors have said was impossible for them." -- Dean Alford, Rotary Club member who led the effort to build McMiracle Field in Conyers, Georgia.

World Wide Web Links and Phone Numbers:

Individual Sports:

Sports specific links, organizations, and articles of interest


Wheelchair Archery:


Horseback Riding:

Water Sports:

Winter Sports:

Wheelchair Dancing:

Baseball, Softball:

"Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean."
-- Christopher Reeve


Organizations & Associations:


Articles, Magazines & Publications:

"I seriously don't understand it when people say I am
confined to a wheelchair.  The only thing that holds you back is yourself and your imagination. The  human spirit cannot be paralyzed.  If you can breathe you can dream."
-- Lisa Marie Franks, teenaged Paralympics champion


Americans with Disabilities Act:

"One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar." -- Helen Keller

Important Books:

Please use our link below to search Also, we have listed individual title recommendations below the search link. Our non-profit foundation will receive a commission on each purchase initiated from these links.



Warmest Regards....Barry Sugarman, B.S.ENGR., President
The Cure Our Children Foundation
Phone: 310-355-6046
Fax: 310-454-9592


This site last updated on February 10, 2004