Skip to content

Persons with Disability and Sport

Prepared by: Dr Ralph Richards, Senior Research Consultant, Clearinghouse for Sport
Updated by: Christine May, Senior Research Consultant, Clearinghouse for Sport
Reviewed by: Australasian Sport Information Network
Last updated: 03 December 2021
Content disclaimer: See Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer

Disability is something which can affect anyone in the community. It can be caused by disease, illness, hereditary conditions, or accident/injury and may include individuals with physical, sensory, intellectual, psychiatric, and/or other health related disabilities. Approximately 1 in 6 (18%, or 4.4 million) people in Australia have disability [source: People with disability in Australia, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, (October 2020)].

People with a disability receive the same physical, mental, and social benefits from participating in sport and physical activity as those not having a disability. Legally, Australians of all abilities should have access to sport and physical activity opportunities.

Key messages


Disability should not exclude someone from participation in appropriate sports and physical activity.


Stakeholder organisations use needs-based and inclusive strategies to engage persons with disability, encouraging them to be physically active.

High performance

Persons with disability have access to a high performance sport pathway through the Paralympic movement and other sport specific programs.

State of play

While sports clubs for the deaf existed in the 19th century, and some sport activities were established for soldiers blinded in the First World War, the systematic promotion and delivery of sporting opportunities for people with a disability was a legacy of the rehabilitation of soldiers after the Second World War.

In Australia and internationally, the early years of sport for people with a disability were characterised by a medical-therapeutic approach. Sport and training were seen as an extension of treatment and normally conducted by paramedical staff [source: Participation in sport by people with disabilities, a national perspective, Lockwood R, Australian Sports Commission, (1996), p.9].

Current state

Statistics and trends relating to sport and physical activity participation by people with disability.

Factors influencing participation

There are hundreds of factors that can influence sports participation or non-participation.

Benefits of sport

The benefits of regular sport and physical activity are numerous and supported by a broad body of research and evidence.

Legislation, policies, programs, and supporting structures

A number of resources have been produced to educate the public about the need for programs meeting the needs of persons with disability and to assist practitioners with the delivery of these programs.

Further information

International practice
International strategies, policies, programs, reports and research.

Good practice models and tools
Inclusion is about providing options to cater for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

Case studies
Examples of inclusive practices and programs in Australian sporting organisations.

Resources and reading
Additional resources and reading.

Is this information complete?

The Clearinghouse for Sport is a sector-wide knowledge sharing initiative, and as such your contributions are encouraged and appreciated. If you would like to suggest a resource, submit a publication, or provide feedback on this topic, please contact us.

Alternatively, if you would like to be kept up to date with research and information published about this topic, please request a research profile setup.

Return to top