Persons with Disability and Sport

Persons with Disability and Sport           
Prepared by  Prepared by: Dr Ralph Richards and Christine May, Senior Research Consultants, Clearinghouse for Sport, Sport Australia
evaluated by  Evaluation by: Australian Paralympic Committee (January 2016), and Peter Downs, Director, The Inclusion Club (November 2015)
Reviewed by  Reviewed by network: Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN)
Last updated  Last updated:  8 May 2019
Please refer to the Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer page for
more information concerning this content.

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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.

Persons with a disability include individuals with physical, sensory, intellectual, psychiatric, and/or other health related disabilities.

Key Messages 


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


Organisations dedicated to policy, advocacy, and program delivery to persons with disability have an established role within the sport sector.


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


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

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].

At the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England, Dr Ludwig Guttmann encouraged sport as a vehicle to assist in the rehabilitation of soldiers with spinal cord injuries. It wasn’t long before the desire for formalised competition led to the first annual Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948. The Stoke Mandeville Games grew to include international teams from 1952 onward, and in 1960 they were moved from England to Rome, Italy and held following the Olympic Games. These Games became recognised as the first Paralympic Games.

During a visit to Perth in 1956, Guttmann challenged the head of Australia’s first spinal unit, George Bedbrook, to bring an Australian team to the Stoke Mandeville Games. Bedbrook, who is credited as the father of Paralympic sport in Australia, accepted the challenge and in 1957 the first Australian Team of athletes with a disability competed overseas. All team members except one came from the Royal Perth Hospital’s spinal injuries unit.

Australian athletes attended the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960, establishing a tradition of unbroken Paralympic participation by Australia. The 1962 Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in Perth became the first multi-sport international disability games held in Australia. The event raised the profile of people with disabilities and their achievements through sport. A biennial Australian Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Games was established in 1960 as the first domestic multi-sport competition to provide opportunities for interstate competition and serve as a vehicle for selection onto teams for the Paralympic Games and the Commonwealth Paraplegic Games.

In 1975, the FESPIC Games for countries in Asia and the Pacific replaced the defunct Commonwealth Paraplegic Games for Australian athletes. In 1977 the Australian Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Sports Federation hosted the FESPIC Games in Sydney. This was the last major international multi-sport event for athletes with a disability held in Australia until the 2000 Paralympic Games.

The second Paralympic Games were held in Tokyo in 1964 following the Olympic Games, but the Paralympic Games were not conducted in the Olympic Games host city again until 1988 in Seoul. During this period the Paralympic Games grew from wheelchair athletes to include vision impaired athletes and amputees (1976), and athletes with cerebral palsy (1980). The Paralympic Winter Games were also introduced in 1976. 

By 2012 the Paralympic Games had grown to more than 4,000 athletes and the same organisational structure was being used for both the Olympics and the Paralympics. With the growth of the Paralympic Games, a range of Paralympic and non-Paralympic sports were adapted for people with disabilities and new events and sports developed.

Because sport for people with disabilities grew from a rehabilitation and disability-specific environment, few generic sporting organisations incorporated opportunities for people with disabilities until recent years. The upshot was the creation of a large number of organisations at national, state and local levels that catered for specific sports (such as riding for the disabled) or specific disabilities (such as the Australian Blind Sports Federation). Many of these organisations are very small and service niche populations.

In the 1960s, wheelchair sport organisations were established in each Australian state, generally evolving as sub-committees of the state paraplegic and quadriplegic associations established to assist the general welfare of people with spinal cord injuries. At the same time, competitions moved from hospital settings to sporting clubs.

The responsibility for selecting and organising international teams resided with the Australian Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Council, established in 1960, and then from 1971 with the Australian Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Sports Sub-Committee. This committee became the basis for the Australian Wheelchair Sports Federation, the first National Sporting Organisation for the Disabled (NSOD) in Australia.

The Australian Confederation of Sport for the Disabled was established in 1975 as a vehicle for co-operation between the various international and national sports organisations for the disabled. The role of the Confederation was to collate and disseminate information, act as a united lobbying voice, and assist in organising and funding Australian Teams to the summer and winter Paralympic Games. [Source: 1988 Paralympics Appeal Report published by the Australian Confederation of Sports for the Disabled Inc., (1989).]

The number of organisations formed to provide advocacy, delivery, and coordination of programs for persons with disability increased during the decades of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) were being encouraged by the Australian Sports Commission (now called Sport Australia) to include persons with a disability into their existing programs as well as planning and/or developing specific programs.

From a government perspective, there was very little involvement with disability sport until the 1980s. 1981 was declared the ‘International Year of Disabled Persons’ and a number of Government reviews were conducted to assess the needs of disabled persons. The Commonwealth Government established a National Committee on Sport and Recreation for the Handicapped which later became the National Committee on Sport and Recreation for the Disabled (NCSRD) to advise the federal Minister responsible for sport on the priority areas for development and allocation of funds for sport and recreation for persons with a disability.

In the lead-up to the Australian Bicentenary in 1988, the Australian Bicentennial Authority also provided $500,000 in funding through the NSODs to support programs for athletes with a disability. In the late 1980s the NCSRD’s advisory role was taken over by the Australian Sports Commission (now Sport Australia) through the Disability Sport Program.

In 1990 the Australian Confederation of Sport for the Disabled was disbanded and replaced by the Australian Paralympic Federation. Its founding members were the NSODs. In 1991 the ASC (now Sport Australia) established the Aussie Able Program to assist elite Australian athletes with a disability to compete in international events. Assistance included the appointment of a dedicated coach and the awarding of Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) scholarships.

The ASC (now Sport Australia) also introduced the Willing and Able program, aimed at helping teachers to integrate children with a disability into school sport programs. In 1999 Willing and Able was merged with Aussie Able to create a new Disability Education Program. [source: More than Sunshine and Vegemite, Jim Ferguson, Halstead Press, (2007).]

National Sporting Organisations for the Disabled (NSODs) were established to provide sporting opportunities for people with specific disabilities or to support a disabled component of a generic sport. They continue to play a role in the delivery of sport to persons with a disability.

  • Blind Sports Australia. Formerly known as the ‘Australian Blind Sports Federation’, this organisation was formed in 1980 and works with National Sporting Organisations to develop their sport specific programs to meet the needs of vision impaired Australians.
  • Deaf Sports Australia. Affiliated in 1955 as the ‘Australian Deaf Sports Federation’, this is the peak body dedicated to facilitating participation by deaf and hearing impaired Australians at all levels of sport.
  • Disability Sports Australia. Established in 2003 with three founding NSODs. Membership was expanded in 2012 to include many State Sporting Organisations serving persons with disability. The founding member organisations are: Australian Sports Organisation for the Disabled; Cerebral Palsy Australian Sports and Recreation Federation, and; Wheelchair Sports Australia.
  • Disabled WinterSport Australia. Established in 1979 as the ‘Australian Disabled Skiers Federation’, they promote opportunities for disabled Australians to enjoy winter sports.
  • Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia. Formed in 1979 by agreement among five state riding associations.
  • Special Olympics Australia. Established in 1976, provides opportunities for all intellectually disabled Australians, regardless of ability, to participate in sport as part of the global Special Olympics movement.
  • Sport Inclusion Australia. Established in 1986 as AUSRAPID, Sport Inclusion Australia is a national sporting organisation dedicated to the inclusion of people with an intellectual disability into the mainstream community, using sport as the medium. Sport Inclusion Australia works within the Australian sporting sector to assist sporting organisations and clubs with strategies that focus on ability and are based on social inclusion principles.
  • Transplant Australia. Works in areas of advocacy, awareness and support for persons experiencing organ and tissue transplantation.

The success of the Paralympic movement and its administrative strength has meant that Paralympics Australia (PA) has become the most effective and influential disability sport organisation in Australia.

PA was originally established in 1990 as the Australian Paralympic Federation to coordinate the Australian Paralympic Team. However, with the awarding of the 2000 Paralympic Games to Sydney the organisation accepted the role of preparing Paralympic athletes across all sports and changed their name to the Australian Paralympic Committee in 1998. In 2000 the APC managed the programs of all 18 sports in which Australia competed. In 2019 the organisation re-branded as Paralympics Australia. 

Over the years Paralympics Australia has also developed expertise which enabled it to identify and effectively address wider needs. After the Sydney Games, the organisation initiated and guided the process of ‘mainstreaming’, whereby the generic national sporting organisations (NSOs) take responsibility for integrating the disability side of their sport within their organisational structure. They also expanded their role in educating Australians about Paralympic sport, identifying and nurturing talented athletes, and advocating for sport for people with disabilities.

Paralympics Australia is a company limited by guarantee, with its shareholders being NSOs and NSODs. PA is a not-for profit business organisation and a registered charity, governed by a Board of Directors which may include elected and appointed members. The Board sets PA’s strategic direction and policies and oversees their implementation.

As the peak body for disability sport, PA is actively involved in delivering social good through their brand, assisting athletes and providing services. Sporting excellence, in all its dimensions, is an overarching goal of PA [source:Mission & Goals, Paralympics Australia, (accessed 15 February 2019)].

PA plays a lead role in assisting the Oceania Paralympic Committee, made up of member nations: Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, and Australia. Since 2000, the Australian Government has provided PA with financial assistance to service its Paralympic commitments in the Oceania region.

PA provides support to sporting organisations and individuals with a disability through:

  • Classification – This is the basis of fair competition in disability sport and tPA’s classification program is a world leader. PA works with sports to ensure that participants can be accurately classified as early as possible in their development pathway and given certainty as they progress on their sport pathway. Each Paralympic sport has sport-specific minimal disability criteria that athletes must meet in order to be eligible to compete and specific processes for athlete classification which are managed by PA in conjunction with the respective National Sporting Organisations.
  • Managed Sports. PA manages the Paralympic Preparation Program for three sports: boccia, goalball, and wheelchair rugby. The APC employs national head coaches and full-time support staff to handle the day-to-day operations of each program.
  • Select a Sport. This online tool allows input of disability characteristics and then suggests suitable sports programs. Paralympic sport presents a range of opportunities for people with various impairments to participate. As with any sport choice, some sports may be better suited to an athlete’s specific ability/disability or physical characteristics.
  • Get Involved in Para-sports. PA, in conjunction with its sport partners, provides a broad range of opportunities for people with disability to get involved in para-sport through special introductory events or trial programs, i.e. ‘Get Involved Days’. PA maintains contact officers within each state and territory to facilitate these programs. The Paralympic Talent Search Program was an extension of 'get involved' initiatives. The objective is to identify people with physical disabilities who have the athletic potential to progress to elite level competition. Since the program’s inception in March 2005, more than 1,000 athletes with potential have been identified and then encouraged to compete or offered opportunities as part of athlete development programs. At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, 43 athletes on the Australian Paralympic Team were products of the Paralympic Talent Search Program.
  • Paralympic Speakers Program. Paralympic athletes have powerful stories about how resilience, teamwork, and commitment can overcome adversity. This program allows Paralympic athletes to share their story and inspire others.
  • Paralympic Workplace Diversity Program. This PA initiative is designed to help place Paralympic Preparation Program (PPP) athletes into employment which provides a flexible work environment allowing for training and competition commitments and meaningful career opportunities.
  • Australian Paralympic History Project. PA established the Paralympic history project to capture, manage and preserve the history of the Paralympic movement in Australia. This multi-disciplinary project partners with specialist organisations in areas such as oral history and information gathering. Much of the History Project material is available in the 'Resources' section.

PA established the Australian Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2011 to recognise the achievements of individuals who have made a significant contribution to Australia's Paralympic success; enhanced the profile and understanding of Paralympic sport within the Australian community; and promote the role of the Paralympic movement.

As part of the history project, a partnership between PA and Wikimedia Australia, Australia’s involvement in the Summer and Winter Games [source: Australia at the Paralympics, Wikipedia] has been extensively documents, with links to Australian performances at specific games and profiles of Paralympians. More than 750 Wikipedia articles have been created through this project.

A chronology of milestones in the development of the Australian Paralympic movement is listed under, Paralympics Australia. [source: Wikipedia]

PA supports summer Paralympic sports through the delivery of the Paralympic Preparation Program (PPP). The PPP aims to provide Australia's elite Paralympic athletes with the guidance and support necessary to allow them to perform to their potential at the Paralympic Games.

PA directly manages three Summer Paralympic sports: Boccia, Goalball, and Wheelchair Rugby. Other sports are managed by their respective National Federations and receive funding through a mainstream agreement with PA, they include:

PA supports two Winter Paralympic disciplines: Alpine Skiing and Para-Snowboard. Other Winter Paralympic disciplines include: Biathlon, Cross Country Skiing, Ice Sledge Hockey, and Wheelchair Curling. 

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. In particular, the Australian Sports Commission (now Sport Australia) produced a number of resources that were widely used or adapted by NSOs and schools during the 1990’s. State Departments of Sport and Recreation also published guidelines and program materials, particularly contributing within the recreation sector.

The Aussie Sports program, launched in 1986 included resources for primary school teachers to assist them in delivering physical education and sport programs for children with disability. More information about the legacy of the Aussie Sport program can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport Aussie Sports topic.

In 1995 the ‘Willing and Able’ program was launched. The program was designed to provide training for sport providers and included a comprehensive set of resource materials.

The Australian Coaching Council (ACC) delivered the ‘Coaching Athletes with Disability Scheme’ containing coach education modules for working with disabled athletes. Many NSOs developed specific resources and specialist courses so that persons with a disability could receive appropriate coaching support. The ACC in cooperation with State and Territory Departments of Sport and Recreation and NSOs trained over 15,000 sports coaches as specialists in disability programs through 1999. 

Prior to the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games various support programs were consolidated into the Disability Education Program (DEP). Since 2000, DEP has trained approximately 35,000 people on inclusive practices in sport. The focus of sports programming has been on adapting core programs to meet the specific needs of people with disability. This includes rule modifications where required and specialist training for coaches, officials, and administrators.

  • Opening Doors: Getting people with a disability involved in sport and recreation (PDF  - 15.6 MB), Australian Sports Commission (2000). This report provides a compilation of case studies from sport and recreation providers, to showcase the way programs for persons with disability have been implemented and evaluated. The Active Australia (AA) program focused on two main themes: (1) encouraging all Australians to be more physically active, and (2) working to promote the ‘places and spaces’ were all Australians can be active. The Disability Education Program was a tool of AA that provides education, training, resources and support to teachers, coaches and community organisations to redress the barriers to participation among persons with a disability. The case studies outlined in this report show how this was done. 

Sports CONNECT was a project started in 2003 with six NSOs participating (athletics, swimming, basketball, yachting, tennis, and tenpin bowling). The central theme was the development of each sport’s ‘Disability Action Plan’ that would align with guidelines from the Australian Human Rights Commission.

In 2004/05 four more sports jointed the project (Baseball, Softball, Table Tennis, and Surfing) and were provided with case managers to assist them in developing their Action Plans. Several common themes emerged during the pilot phase of the project: (1) there was a strong case for integrating stand-alone disability competition structures under the control of the NSO (i.e. the ‘One Basketball’ philosophy, where Basketball Australia manages the Rollers and Gliders as well as the Boomers and the Opals); (2) there was a need for NSOs and state affiliates (i.e. SSOs) to train staff to increase their awareness and understanding of disability issues and inclusion practices; (3) the existing development and participation programs used by NSOs could be modified to be more inclusive; (4) there was a need to develop disability policies on a sport-by-sport basis; and (5) National Coaching Accreditation Scheme programs could be revised to be more inclusive.

The framework created by Sports CONNECT encourages participation in sport, skill development, and the social benefits of sports participation by developing athlete pathways and management strategies, as well as having elite sport programs for people with disability. The framework identifies the relationships and roles that NSOs have with disability organisations.

The number of NSOs, and in some cases SSOs, developing a ‘Disability Action Plan’ continues to grow. Completed plans are listed on the Disability Action Plans Register of the Australian Human Rights Commission as part of the public record. NSOs that have registered their plans include: Athletics Australia, Australian Amateur Ice Racing Council, Australian Football League, Australian Rugby League, Australian Rugby Union, Australian Sailing, Baseball Australia, Basketball Australia, Basketball Victoria, Bowls Australia, Cricket Australia, Cycling Australia, Football Federation Australia, Golf Australia, Gymnastics Australia and several of its State affiliates, Little Athletics, Netball Australia, Northern NSW Football, Rowing Australia, Shooting Australia, Softball Australia, Surfing Australia, Swimming Australia, Table Tennis Australia, Tennis Australia, Tenpin Bowling Australia, and Volleyball Australia.

Since 2010 the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, and South Australia Departments of Sport and Recreation still retain the Sports CONNECT branding. In the other States a disability framework is branded in a manner that suits their individual plans.

Australian Capital Territory

The ACT Government, Active Canberra, Disability Sport and Recreation Services, operates as the Sports CONNECT agency for the community. Active Canberra assists local sport and recreation providers and clubs to increase their capacity to provide participation opportunities for people with a disability. They help with the planning process, linking facilities with program partners, promoting good practices, identifying professional development opportunities, providing funding, and supporting grant recipients when required.

New South Wales

Don'tDISmyABILITY. This campaign has been run successfully for 14 years and aimed to foster inclusion of persons with a disability into every aspect of society is the aim of this campaign. From December 2017 the new See the Possibilities campaign, which aims to engage with employers to help them understand the value that people with disability bring to business, will be the focus of the NSW Family & Community Services department.

The Office of Sport also provides information and resources to help support clubs to develop opportunities for people with disability to be involved in an inclusive environment. 


Getting Active. The Queensland Government provides a range of programs and activities that encourage people with disability to get involved in sport and physical activity.  

South Australia

The Government of South Australia, Office of Recreation and Sport, believes that an inclusive environment is one where everyone feels welcome and supported to participate and make a valued contribution. The Office manages grant funding and provides a range of initiatives to increase opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in sport.


The Tasmanian Government, Department of Sport and Recreation, has a Framework for Action that includes people with disability. The signature program is Willing and Able.

The Tasmanian Government's Disability Framework was developed in 2009 to provide direction to a strategic and collaborative approach, ensuring an increasing number of opportunities become available to people with disability. Sport and Recreation Tasmania is implementing strategies in four priority areas of: (1) capacity building, (2) collaboration, (3) accessibility, and (4) information, awareness and promotion.

Sports Ability Hubs have been set up to help people with disability link to sport and active recreation programs. Three hubs have been developed in Tasmania: Unigym Hobart, Unigym Launceston and YMCA Glenorchy. A hub in the northwest will be developed in 2011-12.


Access for All Abilities is a Victorian Government initiative coordinated by Sport and Recreation Victoria. The program supports and develops inclusive sport and recreation opportunities for people with a disability throughout Victoria. The program funds organisations to work at a community level to develop inclusive sport and recreation opportunities for people of all abilities. Clubs working in partnership with the Program can increase membership numbers and participation, and sporting competitions can enjoy more diversity. This promotes greater levels of inclusiveness, livability, improved health outcomes and a stronger sense of belonging in local communities.

The Victorian Government has also developed a series of resources and guidelines promoting Universal Design principles. The concept of Universal Design is to simplify life for everyone by making the built environment more usable to as many users as possible. It is separate from accessible design as Universal Design is based on the equitable use of a facility and social inclusion and not the measurement of accessible design features and meeting minimum legislative requirements. Applied holistically to a building without an alternative for different groups, Universal Design addresses issues of having a different approach for different users, which not only improves and simplifies the way a facility is used but also eliminates user segregation to maximise participation by users of all abilities.

  •  Design for Everyone Guide, Sport & Recreation Victoria, (2017). A practical resource to assist the planning, design and development of inclusive sport and recreation facilities.

Be prepared! Sport and active recreation programs for people with a disability. La Trobe University has created a website containing free resources and information for volunteers and staff working in the sport and active recreation sector. Sport and active recreation programs provide unique opportunities for people with disabilities to explore their potential and focus on their ability. Funding for this project came from the Victorian Government’s Outdoor Sector Development Fund. 

  • Be Prepared! Sport and Active Recreation Programs for People with a Disability (PDF  - 6.8 MB), Kappelides P, La Trobe University (2014). This resource kit has been written for volunteers and staff who provide sport and active recreation programs for people with disabilities. It was developed with the support of Sport and Recreation Victoria, a division of the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure.

Western Australia

Sport and Recreation (WA) is a division of the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries. To ensure organisations can meet the needs of people with disability, their families and carers, Sport and Recreation (WA) provides funding and consultancy services to support the modification of programs so that everyone can participate. 

  • Review of the Disability Sport and Recreation Sector (PDF  - 513 KB). Sport & Recreation WA, (2012). The Department of Sport and Recreation (DSR) in partnership with the Disability Service Commission (DSC) enlisted a consultant to collect evidence and make recommendations relating to the importance of making community sport and recreation more inclusive for people with disabilities, their families and carers. In December 2011, a request for comment on the review was posted on the DSR website, with respondents given until February 3, 2012 to comment. The department received written submissions from 24 organisations/individuals with overwhelming support for all of the 19 recommendations. This document provides a summary of the industry comments on the recommendations. 
  • Fair Play: strategic framework for inclusive sport and recreation (PDF  - 690 KB), Government of Western Australia, Department of Sport and Recreation (2006). The Department of Sport and Recreation and the Disability Services Commission work together to facilitate the inclusion of people with disabilities in sporting and recreational activities throughout Western Australia. This framework has been developed through widespread consultation with a range of groups, including people with disabilities, state and local government agencies, state sporting associations, disability recreation providers, and mainstream sport and recreation providers. The Framework represents a shared vision for inclusive sport and recreation. The Framework focuses on inclusion, rather than ‘disability’, as disability intersects with gender, ethnicity, Aboriginality, cultural and linguistic diversity, and socioeconomic status.

Other disability resources

Nican (the National Information Communication Awareness Network)  was launched in March 1988 by the late Mrs. Hazel Hawke at the (then) Lakeside Hotel in Canberra after political recognition that people with a disability did not enjoy the same level of participation in recreation and leisure as people without disability and that one of the reasons was a lack of available information. The website provides information on recreation, tourism, sport and the arts for people with disAbilities and supports an Australian society where any recreational opportunity values diversity, supports freedom and choice and strengthens inclusive communities.

Sport Access Foundation. The Foundation raises money, which is distributed in the form of grants to children with disability, so they can participate in sporting activities.  

Two key pieces of legislation provide an underpinning for government policies affecting people with a disability.  The Disability Services Act 1986 and then the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 provide a legal framework.

Disability Services Act 1986

Objectives of the Disability Services Act 1986:

  • Services should have as their focus the achievement of positive outcomes for people with disabilities, such as increased independence, employment opportunities and integration into the community.
  • Services should contribute to ensuring that the conditions of the every-day life of people with disabilities are the same as, or as close as possible to, norms and patterns which are valued in the general community.
  • Services should be provided as part of local co-ordinated service systems and be integrated with services generally available to members of the community, wherever possible.
  • Services should be tailored to meet the individual needs and goals of the people with disabilities receiving those services.
  • Programs and services should be designed and administered so as to meet the needs of people with disabilities who experience a double disadvantage as a result of their sex, ethnic origin, or Aboriginality.
  • Programs and services should be designed and administered so as to promote recognition of the competence of, and enhance the image of, people with disabilities.
  • Programs and services should be designed and administered so as to promote the participation of people with disabilities in the life of the local community through maximum physical and social integration in that community.
  • Programs and services should be designed and administered so as to ensure that no single organisation providing services shall exercise control over all or most aspects of the life of a person with disabilities.
  • Organisations providing services, whether those services are provided specifically to people with disabilities or generally to members of the community, should be accountable to those people with disabilities who use their services, the advocates of such people, the Commonwealth and the community generally for the provision of information from which the quality of their services can be judged.
  • Programs and services should be designed and administered so as to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to reach goals and enjoy lifestyles which are valued by the community generally and are appropriate to their chronological age.
  • Services should be designed and administered so as to ensure that people with disabilities have access to advocacy support where necessary to ensure adequate participation in decision-making about the services they receive.
  • Programs and services should be designed and administered so as to ensure that appropriate avenues exist for people with disabilities to raise and have resolved any grievances about services.
  • Services should be designed and administered so as to provide people with disabilities with, and encourage them to make use of, avenues for participating in the planning and operation of services which they receive and the Commonwealth and organisations should provide opportunities for consultation in relation to the development of major policy and program changes.
  • Programs and services should be designed and administered so as to respect the rights of people with disabilities to privacy and confidentiality. 

Disability Discrimination Act 1992

This legislation provides protection for all Australians against discrimination based on disability. It enables everyone to share in the overall benefits to the community and economy that flow from participation by the widest range of people.
The Act ensures, as far as practicable, that persons with disabilities have the same rights to equality under the law as other members of the community. The broad objects of this Disability Discrimination Act are:

1. to eliminate, as far as possible, discrimination against persons on the ground of disability in the areas of:

  • work, accommodation, education, access to premises, clubs and sport; and
  • the provision of goods, facilities, services and land; and
  • existing laws; and
  • the administration of Commonwealth laws and programs;

2. to ensure, as far as practicable, that persons with disabilities have the same rights to equality before the law as the rest of the community;

3. to promote recognition and acceptance within the community of the principle that persons with disabilities have the same fundamental rights as the rest of the community.

A brief guide to the Disability Discrimination Act. Australian Human Rights Commission. The links from this page provide a brief outline of the Act as it applies to a number of areas of life (i.e. joining in ‘sport’). 

National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013

Legislation was passed by the Australian Parliament to enact the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). From July 2013 the NDIS has been rolled out in the States and Territories in stages, through the National Disability Insurance Agency.

  • National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013. The Act supports the independence and social and economic participation of people with disability; and provides reasonable and necessary supports to enable people with disability to exercise choice and control in the pursuit of their goals and the planning and delivery of their supports and to facilitate the development of a nationally consistent approach to the access to, and the planning and funding of, support for people with disability.  

A comparison of Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) surveys conducted in 2003 and 2009 do not show much change in the participation rate for persons with a disability. The overall participation rate in sport among adults (i.e. persons age 15 years and older) with a disability was 25% in 2003 and 24% in 2009. This compares to an overall participation rate among able bodied adults of 64%. Within the able bodied population the participation rate in sport is greatest at ages 15-17 years (74%) and declines with age to 48% for people over the age of 65 years. Although specific statistics are not available across all age groups for persons with disability, a similar trend of declining participation with age exists.

Comparative figures from the General Social Survey conducted by the ABS estimates that people with disability are 15% less likely to participate in sport and active recreation than the general population. It is reasonable to assume that this under-representation in sport participation among persons with disability exists and is due to disadvantages or barriers encountered.


The AusPlay Survey (AusPlay) also provides information relating to participation in sport and physical activity by people who have a disability of physical condition that restricts their life in some way. From late 2015, AusPlay became the single-source data currency for government and the sport sector that not only tracks Australian sport participation behaviours but also informs investment, policy, and sport delivery by National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) and the sports network. It is a large scale national population tracking survey funded and led by Sport Australia that aims to track the sporting behaviours and activities of the Australian population. Although AusPlay includes some similar questions to the ABS and other surveys (e.g. In the last 12 months did you participate in any physical activities for sport, for exercise, or for recreation?), the methodology is different and it should therefore be treated as a new time series.

AusPlay data indicates that a total of 77.8% (78.6% male; 77% female) of people surveyed who have a disability or physical condition that restricts their life in some way participated in sport of physical activity at least once in the previous 12 months. 68.9% (68.5% male; 69.3% female) participated at least once per week, and 51.9% (52.8% male; 51.1% female) participated at least three times per week. These figures were significantly lower than for those people surveyed who did not have a disability or physical condition that restricts their life in some way: At least once per year (total: 90.7%; male: 90.6%; female: 90.7%); at least once per week (total: 83.3%; male: 81.8%; female: 84.8%); at least three times per week (total: 63.7%; male: 61.6%; female: 66.1%). It is also interesting to note that for those without disability women are actually more likely to participate regularly, however, for those with disability men are slightly more active than women on an annual and minimum three times per week basis. [source: AusPlay survey results July 2016-June 2017, Australian Sports Commission, (released 16 November 2017).]

  • Examining the participation patterns of an ageing population with disabilities in Australia (PDF  - 476 KB), Sotiriadoua P and Wickera P, Sport Management Review, Volume 17, Issue 1 (2014). The purpose of this study is to fill this gap in the literature and examine the participation patterns of people with disabilities. This study advances the following three research questions: (1) what are the participation patterns of people with disabilities? (2) what factors constrain participation in physical activity by people with disabilities? and (3) what groups can participants and non-participants with disabilities be classified into?. The results indicate that 57.2% of the persons with disabilities participated in some form of physical activity at least once per week and 39.1% three times or more per week. The top five activities were walking, followed by swimming gymnasium workouts, cycling, aerobics exercises. The variables ‘restriction’ and ‘work hours’ had a negative impact on frequency of participation, while education had a positive impact. Once people made the decision to participate in physical activity, they participate quite frequently. The top five activities that were identified in the survey are all health and fitness related. With regard to constraints, it became evident that ‘intrapersonal’ and ‘structural’ constraints were the dominant ones. The identified constraints of the ageing population in Australia need to be considered in ways that would allow pathways (i.e., sport development outputs) for people with disabilities, both participants and non-participants, to progress from one level of sport development to another. Finally, the implications for programs and policy considerations must be cost effective, suitable to people's constraints, and sustainable over long periods of time. These pathways may vary from sport to sport (e.g., individual vs. team sports, high to low physically demanding sports, etc.).
  • Getting Involved in Sport: A report about people with disability taking part in sport (PDF  - 770 KB), Australian Sports Commission (2012). Over 1000 persons were surveyed during 2010-11 to determine their thoughts on sport for persons with disability. Key findings from this survey include: (1) taking part in community activities and interacting with other people are important motivations to participate in sport; (2) sport promoted a sense of achievement and self-esteem; (3) sport provided a simulating environment that promoted positive health outcomes, and; (4) sport was fun. The survey found that ‘disability’ was not the main reason for non-participation in sport. Cost factors; such as transport requirements, support personnel (when required), and club fees appear to be a major barrier to participation. 75% of people with disability (who already play sport) want to play more; this should give sporting organisations good reason to make their programs and venues more inclusive.

The social and cultural benefits of participating in sport and active recreation were reported by all disability types as being the most important benefits derived.

A number of reports recommend that matching the type of disability to the level of support needed is a critical factor influencing either participation or non-participation patterns. People with high support needs face additional constraints that serve as barriers to participation. 

Individuals surveyed did not necessarily regard their impairment as the major reason for their non-participation. Non-participants across a number of disability types expressed a desire to participate, particularly as a means of social interaction; but identified other constraints such as cost, transportation, venue access, and supervision.

Nearly 75% of those currently participating would like to participate more, but also identified the same constraints as non-participants. Generally, persons with a disability would like to see better access to information about local sport and active recreation opportunities.

Cost is often seen to be a major factor in many different ways, including its effect on participants in terms of transport and equipment, and on the disability organisation in terms of registration fees and the extra costs associated with providing services.

  • Enabling inclusive sport participation: Effects of disability and support needs on constraints to sport participation, Darcy S, Lock D and Taylor T, Leisure Sciences, Volume 39, Issue 1 (2017). Despite enabling legislation, studies in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have found that persons with disability participate in sport at lower rates than the general population. This paper presents the results of a national study examining the constraints to sport participation for people with disability. Liaising with over 100 disability organisations from across Australia; a total of 1046 surveys were completed – 53% from persons with disability and 47% from family/friends. Respondents engaged in 125 different sport and active recreation activities; with 50% of participation from organised sports, 32% from unorganised and 18% from partially organised activities. The findings showed that disability type and level of support needs explain significant variations in constraints to participation. The level of support needs was the most significant indicator of the likelihood of participation or nonparticipation.
  • Perceived barriers and facilitators to participation in physical activity for children with disability: a qualitative study, Nora Shields & Anneliese Synnot, BMC Pediatrics, (published online 19 January 2016). Children with disability engage in less physical activity compared to their typically developing peers. The aim of this research was to explore the barriers and facilitators to participation in physical activity for this group. Four themes were identified: (1) similarities and differences, (2) people make the difference, (3) one size does not fit all, and (4) communication and connections. Children with disability were thought to face additional barriers to participation compared to children with typical development including a lack of instructor skills and unwillingness to be inclusive, negative societal attitudes towards disability, and a lack of local opportunities. 
  • Participation and non-participation of people with disability in sport and active recreation (PDF  - 1.2 MB), Australian Sports Commission/University of Technology, Sydney (2011). This report presents the findings of a collaborative research project that used a combination of surveys and focus group interactions to collect data. The study looked at perceptions of health, fitness, and general wellbeing benefits received through sports participation. Disability groups included persons having physical, sensory, intellectual, psychiatric, and health related disabilities. A number of key findings from this research are presented in the report. 

Australian observations support a large collection of international research identifying factors that present barriers to participation. Generally, the research suggests that when barriers are reduced persons with a disability, who are able to engage in sports, are much more likely to experience improved health and better social connectivity with their community than those not engaged.

  • Barriers to and facilitators of sports participation for people with physical disabilities: A systematic review (PDF  - 181 KB), Jaarsma E, Dijkstra P, Geertzen J and Dekker R, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sport, Volume 24, Issue 6 (2014). Too few people with physical disabilities regularly participate in sports. Therefore, understanding what presents a barrier to participation, as well as what factors facilitate participation, should be helpful to program planners. This study provides an overview of the literature focusing on barriers to, and facilitators of, sports participation for people with various physical disabilities. The most common barrier was health status (personal factor); and lack of facilities, transportation, accessibility of facilities (environmental factors). Facilitating factors were fun, improved health and social contacts. Experiencing barriers to, and facilitators of, sports participation was dependent on age and type of disability. Regular sports participation was greatest when the selection of the sport was appropriate.
  • Overcoming barriers to participation (PDF  - 7.5 MB), British Blind Sport (2015). Sport and recreational activities can enhance the lives of people with visual impairments by improving their health and increasing social interaction. British Blind Sport conducted a survey to understand how blind and partially sighted people overcome barriers to participation in sport, and to understand the motivations of visually impaired people for taking up sport. Telephone interviews and focus groups were used to collect data. This report identifies a number of motivations as well as barriers. Practical solutions are offered to help visually impaired persons, and organisations providing services to them, overcome the barriers. Case studies are also provided.
  • A Way With Words: guidelines for the portrayal of people with a disability, Nican. “The way in which we speak and write about people with a disability is more than a cosmetic issue. Language is a powerful tool which can be used to change stereotypes and attitudes..." The time for portraying the experience of people with a disability as sensational and abnormal is over.”
  • Go Club inclusion and our clubs : review of Swimming Australia's Go Club PB inclusion checklist 2009-2011 (2011). Swimming Australia inclusion strategies represent an opportunity for club development. The inclusion checklist is a resource for swim clubs but also an important research tool for Swimming Australia Ltd (SAL) to assist in the area of club development for better inclusion of people with a disability. This report quantifies specific aspects of inclusive practice relating to demographics, accessibility, community, activities and communication by the participating swimming clubs.
  • Know before you go : a toolkit for people with disability and recreation service providers (PDF  - 17.0 MB), Nican/ACT Government, (2011). This resource was developed by Nican to help providers and people with disability alike. It includes a checklist for inclusive events covering issues ranging from accessible parking to inclusive communications. Section 3 provides information about barriers to participation by disabled persons and contains an audit tool for providers.
  • Making inclusion easy, Phillips, S, Sports Coach, Volume 31, Issue 1 (2010). Gymnastics Australia and the Australian Football League (AFL) have dismissed any notion that promoting a culture of inclusion in sport is difficult.
  • Managing disability sport: from athletes with disabilities to inclusive organisational perspectives (PDF  - 548 KB), Misener L, Sport Management Review, Volume 17, Issue 1 (2014). What has become evident is that managing disability sport also has implications for managing sport generally. People with disability are part of the sporting family and need to be considered across all organisational aspects, not just a historical focus on disability. While diversity management in sport more broadly has championed the inclusion of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, age, and religious issues across the sporting family, this has not been the case with people with disability. Organisations need to consider people with a disability as employees, volunteers, coaches, and as members or spectators depending on the sporting endeavour. This article contains a collection of papers focusing on management issues that centre on constraints to sport participation, supply side attributes, participant behaviours, consumption of disability sport, policy implementation, and sponsor congruence.
  • People with Disability resources. Play by the Rules, (accessed November 2017). Being inclusive is about providing a range of options to cater for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds in the most appropriate manner possible. Inclusion encompasses a broad range of options in many different settings. Sometimes this may mean modifying a sport to provide a more appropriate version for particular participants.
    • Disability Inclusion Interactive Scenario. The following scenario explores issues that can arise when including a child with disability in sport. As you read through the material think about what you would do in this situation.
    • 7 Pillars of Inclusion. The 7 Pillars of Inclusion is a broad framework to give your sport or recreation club a starting point to address inclusion and diversity. It's a framework that has been adopted by a number of national and state sports organisations but could equally be applied to your local club. A practical way to use the 7 Pillars is to get together with the key decision makers of your organisation and work through each Pillar and assess where your organisation fits. 
    • Disability discrimination fact sheet (PDF  - 224 KB). Play by the Rules, (December 2016). Disability discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably, or not given the same opportunities, as others in the same or a similar situation, because they have a disability. There are both federal laws and state/territory laws that make disability discrimination unlawful. 

Basketball Victoria

Basketball Victoria (BV) has significant experience, demonstrated capability, and a firm commitment to provide an opportunity for people of all abilities to be involved in basketball. BV utilises a structured and clearly defined approach to ensure inclusion is embedded internally, and that affiliated Associations, with assistance from BV, can confidently take ownership of programs and activities and enhance localised community access.

Karen Pearce, BV's Manager Strategic Operations is adamant "that inclusion at a state, association, and club level must be embedded in work plans and the entire basketball community must be holistic in their approach to inclusion to ensure greater access, opportunity and sustainability: it must become part of everyday business."

As BV's inclusion programs continue to expand and develop, the need to grow the wheelchair basketball base was placed high on the agenda. Previously, apart from a trickle of wheelchair basketball programs in Victoria that BV had established, there hasn't been the dedicated reserves to build and develop this area of the sport to the degree it requires. Finally, after a long period of negotiation, BV and Disability Sport and Recreation have formed a partnership which will see the State Sporting Association become the custodian of wheelchair basketball in Victoria. BV will foster the development of wheelchair basketball in regional areas including Bendigo, Ballarat, Shepparton, and Traralgon, in addition to a number of programs in metropolitan Melbourne. Planning is also underway for a revamped State Wheelchair Basketball Competition and development opportunities for players, coaches, and referees.

BV will continue to coordinate the men’s and women’s Victorian State Wheelchair Basketball Teams, providing pathways to National and International representation. Disability Sport and Recreation CEO, Rob Anderson, said “It is our strong belief that Basketball Victoria’s technical expertise, resources and networks will maximise opportunities for Victorians with disability. We are delighted to work in partnership with Basketball Victoria, ensuring the sport is managed by the State Sporting Association.”

Through this partnership, Disability Sport and Recreation will continue to invest financial and equipment resources to support Victorians with disability in accessing the sport of basketball. Associations will be targeted to ascertain their interest and ongoing support towards Association-based wheelchair basketball development programs and competitions. BV CEO, Nick Honey said; “The agreement reinforces Basketball Victoria’s commitment to community participation across all levels of involvement. We see this program as a natural extension to further expand our capacity in developing and supporting people with disability. With 144 affiliated Associations state-wide, this agreement will help create sustainable inclusion within basketball for the wider community, making Basketball a sport for all. [source: Basketball Victoria]

Golf Australia

Golf Australia started their involvement in Sports CONNECT in July 2005. Following an audit of the sport’s process, seven areas were identified for inclusion within a Disability Action Plan: policy and administration, coach education, administrator education, development opportunities, research, partnerships, and promotion.

Golf Australia adopted policies for inclusion and inclusive practice guidelines and incorporated them into their Junior Golf Framework by examining existing practices and starting the process of integrating inclusive elements on a systematic basis. This included an approach labelled ‘Golf for All’ that influenced coaching programs, web site content, and administrator education programs. The Disability Action Plan was embedded within the plans of affiliated State and Territory Associations.

Similar to Gymnastics Australia, Golf Australia recognised that improving relationships with other organisations would facilitate better delivery of their sport. Steps were taken to develop a strong relationship with Deaf Golf Australia – an established provider of golf for people with disability, a memorandum between the two organisations was signed in 2008. Golf Australia was also able to develop productive partnerships with the Professional Golfers Association and various state organisations to effectively deliver grass roots programs through special schools. [source: Sports CONNECT, Disability Sector Education Resource Project (PDF  - 3.4 MB), consultation phase report, Ken Black, Australian Sports Commission, (2010).]

Gymnastics Australia

Gymnastics Australia’s Policy Statement on disability commits the sport to ensuring gymnastics practice is inclusive at all levels. This is a significant undertaking, given the multi discipline structure within the sport. The Disability Action Plan captures their commitment and outlines the strategies to achieve these goals.

Gymnastics Australia recognised two important factors early during the process of developing their Disability Action Plan. First, that previously the most active provider of gymnastics programs in Australia for people with disabilities was Special Olympics. Special Olympics runs many excellent sports programs across a range of sports for people with an intellectual disability. While this was not a problem per se, Gymnastics Australia recognised that they needed to assume more responsibility for these programs and create a more productive relationship with Special Olympics. A Memorandum of Understanding was developed between Gymnastics Australia and Special Olympics to address a number of issues affecting participation, including duel membership. Second, GA could see that its Disability Action Plan should, over time, integrate fully into the strategic and operational plans of the organisation. This was a major objective of Sports CONNECT from the outset.

Gymnastics Australia has developed an online education package for administrators, coaches and judges that aims to build awareness of ways in which people with a disability can be included in the sport. ‘Managing Inclusion in Gymnastics’ is just one of a number of strategies that Gymnastics Australia employs to improve its service delivery.

Gymnastics Australia’s Education Manager, Linda Pettit, commented that managing inclusion in gymnastics is one of their sport’s more promising disability-related strategies. “Just from the coaching perspective, this has the potential to reach up to 3500 coaches and judges,’ she said. ‘It’s not about the technical aspects of coaching a potential participant with a disability because coaches, through their accreditation processes, already have that. This is about raising awareness, changing attitudes and getting a social message across on inclusion.” [source: Sports CONNECT Review 2010, unpublished report, Australian Sports Commission, 2010).]  

In developing the package Pettit said the organisation first asked itself where the problem areas existed in servicing people with a disability. “At least once a month I would get a call from a coach or an administrator saying they had turned away an interested participant with Down Syndrome, for example, because they don’t have the technical capacity or specialised classes to coach someone with Down Syndrome. Obviously we needed to get the message out that coaches do have the technical capabilities, and ‘special’ classes are not always needed or even wanted to coach participants with a disability.”

Pettit said using an online platform to deliver the training is innovative, but might require the gymnastics community to embrace change. However, Gymnastics Australia felt confident it would work. “We’d previously delivered a risk management resource online that was mandated training across the whole [gymnastics] community. We worried that it might affect our membership, but the entire community embraced it and there was then the option to expand online work into other areas. The support from the ASC (now Sport Australia) definitely made the difference in getting this [online training] off the ground”, Pettit said. “We run seven sports under the gymnastics umbrella and it’s a challenge to resource. What we wanted through Sports CONNECT, initially, was for gymnastics to be an option for participants with a disability. We’re already getting phone calls. We want the doors of our clubs to be open to everyone and that means getting the inclusion message across to our administrators, judges, and coaches.”

Among other Gymnastics Australia strategies is the Club 10 Quality Assurance Program that provides gymnastics clubs with resources to consider why and how their service is accessible to people with disabilities. Gymnastics Australia has also begun a review of all National Coaching Accreditation Scheme and National Officiating Accreditation Scheme competencies to include working with participants with disabilities. The working relationship between Gymnastics Australia and Special Olympics Australia also helps to avoid membership duplication and confusion. [source: Sports CONNECT, Disability Sector Education Resource Project (PDF  - 3.4 MB), consultation phase report, Ken Black, Australian Sports Commission, (2010).]

  • Understanding the benefits of gymnastics for children with a disability (PDF  - 358 KB), Campain R, Gymnastics Victoria, VicHealth, and Scope (2014). The Understanding the benefits of gymnastics for children with disability project was a joint research effort by Scope (a Victorian disability service provider) and Gymnastics Victoria. The project aimed to identify key issues in relation to the experiences of children with a disability, aged 2-17 years, who participated in gymnastics. The responses from participants indicated that both parents and instructors noticed the physical benefits of gymnastics, including: strength, flexibility, balance and coordination. They also stated there were benefits for the child’s confidence and self-esteem, while gymnastics participation also aided social development. Parents and instructors valued the fact that gymnastics was fun for children and not overly competitive. Children with disability were able to advance and achieve according to their personal abilities. Parents observed pride and satisfaction of their child’s involvement and achievement, and most parents valued the social interaction with the club and other parents. Many instructors expressed the need for further understanding of a child’s disability and how to best work with a particular child. Key areas for improvement were identified and four recommendations made: (1) increase disability awareness training for gymnastics instructors; (2) increase funding to clubs for resources; (3) increase open and ongoing communication between instructors and parents, and; (4) foster an inclusive gymnastics club culture that welcomes and supports all participants.

Swimming Australia

Swimming Australia Ltd (SAL) is committed to a swimming for all philosophy. Swimming Australia incorporates inclusion strategies in all aspects of the sport, creating opportunities for people of all abilities to participate. Whether participants choose to swim for fun, health, or fitness; aspire to be a world champion; or choose to be involved in a non-swimming role such as a coach, official, or volunteer, a policy of inclusion helps to create opportunities.

SAL has developed an Inclusion Framework that is designed to become an essential tool to assist state organisations and clubs in their planning and operations, as well as provide a practical tool for learn to swim centres and other aquatic organisations to ensure the sport of swimming reflects community values. The first step in launching the Framework was the hosting of a seven part webinar series focussing on SAL’s pillars of inclusion, to address these questions: (1) How to get there and get in? (2) How willing are you to make it happen? (3) What can you do? (4) Who will you work with? (5) Who will you tell? (6) How are you responsible? (7) What do you want to do? 

The Framework draws on lessons from existing models and research and addresses both participation and athlete development objectives. Swimming Australia has partnered with the University of the Sunshine Coast to establish a three year research project examining the barriers, motivations, and outcomes of participation in swimming for people with physical disability. This research will add to the evidence base and help inform future decision making.

SAL has these resources and documents:

  • National Inclusive Swimming Framework, Swimming Australia Ltd., (2015). The Inclusive Swimming Framework (ISF) is a blueprint to guide Swimming Australia, its stakeholders and aquatic partners toward achieving full inclusion of people from a diverse array of circumstances and backgrounds in swimming and aquatic activities. The ISF incorporates the direction, thoughts and opinions of the swimming and aquatic community and aims to establish a consistent approach to planning and policy development for the swimming and aquatics sector.


  • Policy on Sport for Persons with a Disability, Government of Canada, Sport Canada (2006). This Policy provides a framework for engaging partners and stakeholders in initiating changes that aim to reduce and ultimately eliminate sport-specific barriers that prevent persons with a disability from participating in sport. At the same time, the Policy addresses some of the environmental, structural, systemic, social and personal barriers that keep many persons with a disability from being full participants in Canadian society. The Policy envisions the full and active participation of persons with a disability in Canadian sport at all levels and in all forms, to the extent of their abilities and interests.
  • Canadian Paralympic Committee. The Canadian Paralympic Committee operates as a private, not-for-profit organisations with 25 member sports. By supporting Canadian high performance athletes with a disability and promoting their success, the Canadian Paralympic Committee inspires all Canadians with a disability to get involved in sport through programs delivered by its member organisations.


  • Fragmented, complex and cumbersome: A study of disability sport policy and provision in Europe, Thomas N and Guett M, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, published online 3 October 2013. This article examines the provision of disability sport in 19 European countries. The authors conclude that the organisation and structure of disability sport in many European countries is fragmented, complex and cumbersome and exists within a policy climate characterised by a largely uncoordinated commitment to disability sport. In many countries, mainstreaming was a dominant (though largely rhetorical) policy objective. Only limited progress has been made towards achieving this objective because of the reluctance of various sports organisations to relinquish their existing roles and accept new responsibilities for disability sport.


  • Promoting the Participation of People with Disabilities in Physical Activity and Sport in Ireland, Hannon F, Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Ireland (2005). This report highlights issues that need to be addressed if everyone is to attain their potential in and through physical activity and sport. It outlines how participation can be increased and how to ensure that people with disabilities experience quality physical activity and sport. The report highlights the need for all stakeholders to work across structures and organisations in order to formulate and implement strategies that will ensure quality experiences in sport and physical activity for people with disabilities.

New Zealand

  • Paralympics New Zealand. New Zealand’s first participation in international sports events for people with disabilities was in 1962. The New Zealand Paraplegic & Physically Disabled Federation was formed in 1968. The organisation became ParaFed New Zealand in the early1990’s and then became Paralympics New Zealand in 1998.  The organisation manages elite and development programs as part of the Paralympic movement.

United Kingdom

  • British Paralympic Association. As the National Paralympic Committee for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the British Paralympic Association has as its membership the National Governing Bodies for sports; the National Disability Sport Organisations; and the home country Elite Disability Sport Organisations.
  • English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS). The EFDS strives to increase participation by providing advice and guidance to a number of partners and stakeholders.
  • Scottish Disability Sport (SDS). Scottish Disability Sport (formerly known as the Scottish Sports Association for Disabled People) was formed in 1962 to encourage the development of sport and physical recreation for disabled people throughout Scotland. During its early years the organisation was a branch of the British Sports Association for the Disabled. SDS became a company limited by guarantee in 2003. SDS is Scotland‘s governing and coordinating body for sports that service persons with a physical, sensory or learning disability.

United Nations

  • Article 30 - Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport, United Nations (2006).
  • Sport and persons with disabilities: Fostering inclusion and well-being (PDF  - 1.7 MB), United Nations (2008). Sport works to improve the inclusion and wellbeing of persons with disabilities in two ways — by changing what communities think and feel about persons with disabilities and by changing what persons with disabilities think and feel about themselves. The first is necessary to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with disability. The second empowers persons with disabilities so that they may recognise their own potential and advocate for changes in society to enable them to fully realise it. The community impact and individual impact of sport help reduce the isolation of persons with disabilities and integrate them more fully into community life. Sport changes community perceptions of persons with disabilities by focusing attention on their abilities and moving their disability into the background. Sport changes the person with a disability in an equally profound way. For some, it enables them to make choices and take risks on their own; for others, the gradual acquisition of skills and accomplishments builds the self-confidence needed to take on other life challenges.
  • Social rights and the relational value of the rights to participate in sport, recreation, and play (PDF  - 174 KB), Lord J and Stein M, Boston University International Law Journal, Volume 27 (2009). In 2006 the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) that lays out a human rights framework engaging the full spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. This article considers the contributions of the CRPD to the development of social rights to participate in sport, recreation and play. The article begins by charting the shift from a medical model of disability to a social model. It analyses the conceptual framework for social rights in the CRPD and the connection between State obligations to eliminate disability discrimination and social rights’ guarantees for equal participation in sport, recreation, leisure and play.

United States

  • Disabled Sports USA. Established in 1967, Disabled Sports USA’s mission is to provide national leadership and opportunities for individuals with disabilities to develop independence, confidence, and fitness through participation in community sports, recreation and educational programs.  The organisation serves over 60,000 youth and adults through a nationwide network of over 100 community-based chapters located in 37 states nationwide.
  • US Paralympics. The organisation manages Paralympic Teams and sports in the United States. It also manages extensive outreach initiatives, connecting with youth and adults who have a disability.

Other international organisations

  • International Federation of Adapted Physical Activity (IFAPA). The IFAPA is a cross-disciplinary professional organisation of individuals, institutions, and agencies that supports and promotes adapted physical activity, disability sport, and all aspects of movement and exercise science for individuals with disability.
  • International Paralympic Committee (IPC). The International Paralympic Committee is the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement. Its purpose is to organise the summer and winter Paralympic Games and act as the International Federation for ten sports, supervising and coordinating World Championships and other competitions. The vision of the IPC is ‘To enable Para athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world.’
  • Invictus Games Foundation. The Invictus Games use the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and generate a wider understanding and respect for wounded, injured and sick Servicemen and women.
  • Special Olympics International. Special Olympics is a global movement of people creating a new world of inclusion and community for person with intellectual disability, where every single person is accepted and welcomed. Intellectual disabilities happen in all cultures, races and countries. The goal of Special Olympics is to reach out to the almost 200 million people in the world with intellectual disability through sports.

Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.


  • Attitudes of Australian swimming coaches towards inclusion of swimmers with an intellectual disability: An exploratory analysis (PDF  - 30 KB), Hammond A, Young J and Konjarski L, International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, Volume 9, Number 6 (2014). The purpose of this study was to examine coaches’ attitudes towards athletes with an intellectual disability (ID) within the Australian context. Coaches were grouped by their past association (having coached an ID athlete within the past 5 years) as always, sometimes, or never. Coaches who have always included ID athletes had the most favourable attitudes about the benefits. The findings highlight the need for improved coach education regarding the needs of all participants.
  • 'Coach education in Australia in relation to athletes with a disability', Goodman S, Vista Conference 1998, published 1999.
  • 'Coaching athletes with an intellectual disability', Holland B, Goodman S and Walkley J, Australian Sports Commission (1997).
  • Coaching athletes with disability: Preconceptions and reality, Wareham Y, Burkett B, Innes P an Lovell G, Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics, abstract published online ahead of print (4 January 2017). It is widely recognised that athletes with disability compete at an elite level that parallels elite abled-bodied athletes. The importance of quality coaching to develop an athlete’s full potential is similarly recognised. However, there is little research in the field of coaching elite athletes with disability, compared to other athletes. This research explored the holistic experience of coaching elite athletes with disability; assessing the coaches’ preconceptions, rewards and challenges within their coaching experience. Semi-structured interviews were held with 12 coaches of elite athletes from sports that included swimming, athletics, cycling, canoeing, triathlon, equestrian and wheelchair basketball. The results of the study identified that, although the coaches reported their experience as being overwhelmingly positive, they were also regularly confronted with difficulties not generally faced by coaches of non-disabled athletes.
  • The Coaching chain: Reflections of disabled athletes and coaches (PDF  - 360 KB), A report for sports coach UK, prepared by the Research Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure, Leeds Metropolitan University (2013). Studies suggest that actively engaging in sport improves physical health and psychological wellbeing and has positive social dimensions, and it should be acknowledged that some of the benefits to participation specifically support the quality of life of disabled people. Over the past ten years, the number and scale of research projects that focus on patterns of participation, experiences and attitudes to sport by disabled people has steadily increased and two key findings from this body of research are (1) Qualitative research that explores the experiences of young disabled people in physical education (PE) and sport is limited. Those small-scale qualitative studies that exist reveal that young disabled people have both positive and negative experiences of PE and school sport. A number of factors influence these experiences, including the attitudes that PE teachers, support staff, and classmates have toward disability and the knowledge and confidence of PE teachers to adapt lessons for disabled pupils; and (2) Sports participation survey data show that disabled adults participate less in sport and have a reduced breadth of experiences within sport. Athletes interviewed in this research identified a number of characteristics associated with a good coach and then added a number of characteristics they thought would make the coach better. 
  • 'Coaching children with a disability or medical condition', Goodman S, Aussie Sport Action (Autumn issue 1994).
  • 'Coaching methods when working with swimmers with a disability' (second edition), published by Swimming Australia (1992).
  • 'Coaching swimmers with a disability', Speirs J, proceedings of the Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Conference (2001).
  • 'Error free learning with athletes with a disability: an ideal coaching method for all sports', Longden, M, Australian Coaching Council, National Conference (1995).
  • 'Give it a go: coaching athletes with disabilities', Coffey D and Goodman S, Australian Sports Commission (1992). ‘Give it a go’ was developed by the Aussie Able program in consultation with the Australian Coaching Council as part of the Coaching Athletes with Disabilities (CAD) scheme.
  • Inclusive coaching (PDF  - 95 KB, Australian Sports Commission (2010). Information on how modifying coaching practices and activities can ensure that every participant, regardless of age, gender, ability level, disability and ethnic background has the opportunity to participate if they choose to.
  • 'Integration of elite athletes with a disability into high performance programs', Lee K, Australian Coaching Council, National Conference (1995).
  • 'Let's do it together: coaching tennis players with disabilities', Clydesdale K, published by Tennis Australia (1993). This manual gives background information and coaching hints for coaches of tennis players with disabilities.
  • 'Serve tennis up to everyone: a resource on coaching tennis players with a disability', Tessier K and Cunningham D, published by Tennis Australia (2004). Information contained in this resource is adapted from the Australian Sports Commission's Disability Education Program course materials and resources.
  • 'Swimming against the current: a practical teaching and coaching manual for swimmers with disabilities', Green A, self published (2010).
  • 'Will you be my coach? Coaching a swimmer with a disability', Keough B, Swimming in Australia, Volume 25, Number 6 (2005).

Disability education and awareness

  • 7 Pillars of Inclusion: Helping sport with inclusion and diversity (Swimming and Netball). The 7 Pillars of Inclusion is a unique web-based tool to help individuals and sport organisations identify their strengths and weaknesses around the inclusion of disadvantaged populations, and what can be done. The Pillars represent the common areas of Inclusion, giving a framework that can be used as a starting point. It will educate, inform and give practical direction so that sport becomes more inclusive and diverse.
  • Access for All Abilities. Information about this Victorian Government initiative designed to link local sporting clubs, State Sporting Associations, sport and recreation organisations, and community health groups.
  • Advocacy for All: A quick guide to including disability in development policy (PDF - 1.1 MB), Australian Disability Development Consortium (2013). 
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder and youth sports: The role of the sports manager and coach(abstract), Ohrberg N, JOPERD: The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, Volume 84, Number 9 (2013). This paper from the U.S. examines the roles of sports managers and coaches in delivering sport programs to young people with autism. Although there are specific programs designated as therapeutic recreation programs, with the specific structure and resources to support and provide activities for children with special needs; most private and municipal sport and recreation programs focus on serving the general public, without the resources to address the needs of children affected by ASD. This article contends that in the majority of community sport settings, there is little attention to special needs groups. The author highlights the desperate need for programs that meet the specific needs of youth with ASD.
  • Doing Sport Differently: A guide to exercise and fitness for people living with disability or health conditions (PDF  - 1.3 MB), published by Disability Rights UK (2012).
  • Elite athletes or superstars? Media representation of para-athletes at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games (abstract), McPherson G, O’Donnell H, McGillivray D and Misener L, Disability and Society, Volume 31, Issue 5 (2016). This paper analyses media representations of para-athletes before, during and after the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014. The authors consider the importance of the media-sport cultural complex in influencing public attitudes towards disability. They conclude that whilst the importance of media exposure cannot be underestimated, change at the level of lived experience will only flow from carefully designed and executed political and policy initiatives rather than directly from changes in the media presentation or visibility of individual athletes.
  • How to develop disability awareness using the sport education model (PDF  - 122 KB), Foley J, Tindall D, Lieberman L and So-Yeun K, JOPERD: The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, Volume 78, Number 9 (2007). The authors examine how sport can be used in the school setting to affect positive change in terms of disability awareness and acceptance. They discuss the development of disability awareness for students using the sport education model (SEM) in the United States. The primary goal of the SEM is for students to become competent, literate and enthusiastic sportspersons. The authors assert that disability simulation exercises in inclusive settings can promote the acceptance of students with disabilities. To ensure a successful awareness program, physical education teachers need to provide an environment of acceptance that will give such students the opportunity to be physically active. It is also important for educators to fully explain the process to students without disabilities to develop positive attitudes towards physically and mentally-challenged students. 
  • The mainstreaming of disability cricket in England and Wales: Integration ‘One Game’ at a time (PDF  - 254 KB), Kitchin P and Howe P, Sport Management Review, Volume 17, Number 1 (2014). This article examines British disability sport policy, highlighting the case of integration within sport by examining the process of mainstreaming disability cricket within England and Wales. The authors examine the impact of the implementation of policy on the management of issues of disability participation in mainstream cricket. The authors found that, despite an overarching policy of mainstreaming disability cricket, competitive values remained the dominant underpinnings of the approach used. The authors argue that this undermines the intent of mainstreaming disability cricket. While competitive values dominate cricket, other values such as inclusivity will remain marginalised. The authors argue that at this stage, the policy of mainstreaming simply reflects a rationalisation of sporting structures and systems rather than any systematic approach to achieve true integration. The study found little evidence of any critical examination of what mainstreaming intended to accomplish. The authors suggest that there is work to be done to achieve the original goals of inclusivity through mainstreaming and advocate the adoption of a relational approach.
  • 'Making Inclusion Easy', Phillips S, Sports Coach, Volume 31, Number 1 (2010).
  • Participation-performance tension and gender affect recreational sports clubs’ engagement with children and young people with diverse backgrounds and abilities, Spaaij R, Lusher D, Jeanes R, Farquharson K, Gorman S, Magee J, PLoS ONE, 14(4): e0214537, (2019). This mixed methods study investigated how diversity is understood, experienced and managed in junior sport. The study combined in-depth interviews (n = 101), surveys (n = 450) and observations over a three-year period. The results revealed that a focus on performance and competitiveness negatively affected junior sports clubs’ commitment to diversity and inclusive participation. Gender and a range of attitudes about diversity were also strongly related. On average, we found that those who identified as men were more likely to support a pro-performance stance, be homophobic, endorse stricter gender roles, and endorse violence as a natural masculine trait. In addition, those who identified as men were less likely to hold pro-disability attitudes. These findings suggest that the participation-performance tension and gender affect to what extent, and how, sports clubs engage children and young people with diverse backgrounds and abilities.
  • Perceptions of a disability sport unit in general physical education (abstract), Grenier M, Collins K, Wright S and Kearns C, Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, Volume 31, Number 1 (2014). This US study examined the use of sport to affect change in perceptions of disability in schoolchildren and assess the effectiveness of a disability sport unit in shaping perceptions of disability. Data from interviews, observations, and documents were collected on 87 elementary-aged students, one physical education teacher, and one teaching intern. The results showed differences in the way fourth and fifth grade students viewed individuals with disabilities. The results support the view that children undertaking the disability sport unit positively changed their perceptions of disability as a result. The authors recommend the use of disability sports in physical education as an effective strategy for educating students in game play, knowledge of the Paralympics, and the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in a variety of sporting contexts.
  • Promoting the health and human rights of individuals with a disability through the Paralympic movement (PDF  - 470 KB), Blauet C, International Paralympic Committee (2005). Several United Nations agencies have promoted an agenda of ‘Sport for Development’, using sport as a tool to stimulate international development and promote human rights within developing nations. In addition, sports and recreation have been proven to have a positive health impact on participants by increasing physical activity and mitigating the effects of many chronic health problems. The Paralympic Movement is attempting to harness the potential of these positive impacts and provide both grassroots and elite sporting opportunities to individuals with a disability, worldwide. This paper has been developed to outline the ways in which Paralympic sport can promote the concepts of health and human rights for people with a disability.
  • Public attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities after viewing Olympic or Paralympic performance (PDF  - 150 KB), Ferrara K, Burns J and Mills, H, Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, Volume 32, Issue 1 (2015). One of the aspirations of the 2012 Paralympic Games was to influence the public’s attitudes toward people with disabilities. The aim of this study was to investigate whether stimuli depicting people with intellectual disability performing at Paralympic level would change public attitudes. A mixed randomised comparison design was employed, comparing two groups; one group who viewed Paralympic-level sport footage of athletes with intellectually disability and another group who viewed Olympic footage of athletes. This study found that implicit (subconscious) attitudes significantly changed in a positive direction for both groups. Despite some limitations to this study, it seems that media coverage of the Paralympic and Olympic Games has the potential to change attitudes toward people with intellectual disability and disabilities in general in a positive direction.
  • Tool Kit for people with disability and recreation service providers (PDF  - 17.0 MB), 'Know Before You Go' NICAN and ACT Government publication (2011). This document provides self-assessment tools, fact sheets, promotional posters and check lists.

Disability and human rights

  • Federal Government Involvement in Australian Disability Sport, 1981–2015, Andrew Hammond & Ruth Jeanes, International Journal of the History of Sport, (2017). This paper profiles the history of the Commonwealth government involvement in disability sport and explores how the policy of ‘mainstreaming’ has emerged through partnerships led by the Australian Paralympic Committee with National Sporting Originations (NSOs) and government. It argues that while these changes have arguably made mainstream NSOs more aware of their legal obligations and have led to positive changes in the provision of opportunities for people with a disability through the development of ‘Paralympic pathways’, there are some potential caveats of ‘mainstreaming’. Specifically, an emerging body of evidence which suggests that despite these policy measures, people with disabilities still report being marginalized and excluded from ‘mainstream’ sporting programmes. The authors question if less governmental leadership is the right path given the limitations of the present policy framework. Additionally, they highlight how performance-based funding mechanisms such as ‘Winning Edge’ are narrowing who is eligible for funding and thus curtailing finite resources for only the most ‘abled’ of the disabled.
  • Sport and human rights (abstract), Donnelly P, Sport in Society, Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics, Volume 11, Number 4 (2008). In this essay the author discusses sport and human rights in a variety of contexts to illuminate areas that have benefited from sport related policies aimed at addressing human rights. Following a brief introduction to current problems and concerns with regard to international human rights, this essay is structured around three overlapping themes: (1) the right to participate in sports; (2) the achievement of human rights through sport, and; (3) sport and the human rights of specific classes of persons. The paper shows how sport has been used to affect change and offers examples of sport interventions aimed at specific target groups. The paper also discusses policy initiatives aimed at improving gender equality and women’s experiences through sport. Overall, sport has been used to further human rights, with some instances of great success and some areas where there is still a way to go.
  • Access for all: The rise of the Paralympic Games (PDF  - 290 KB), Gold J and Gold M,Journal of The Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, Volume 127, Number 3 (2007). This article provides an in-depth examination of the Paralympic Games, its development, its mission and its impact on the disability sector. The Paralympic, or Parallel, Games for athletes with disabilities have played a major role over the past half century in changing attitudes towards disability and accelerating the agenda for inclusion. This article charts their development from small beginnings as a competition for disabled ex-servicemen and women in England founded shortly after the Second World War to the present day ambulatory international festival of Summer and Winter Games organised in conjunction with the Olympic Games. Despite initial success in staging the 1960 Games in Rome and the 1964 Games in Tokyo, subsequent host cities refused to host the competitions and alternative locations were found where a package of official support, finance and suitable venues could be assembled. In 1976, the scope of the Games was widened to accept more disabilities. From 1988 onwards, a process of convergence took place that saw the Paralympics brought into the central arena of the Olympics, both literally and figuratively. In the process they have embraced new sports, have encompassed a wider range of disabilities, and helped give credence to the belief that access to sport is available to all.
  • Promoting social inclusion through unified sports for youth with intellectual disabilities: A five-nation study (PDF  - 221 KB), McConkey R, Dowling S, hassan D and Menke S, Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, Volume 57, Number 10 (2013). This study examined social inclusion for young athletes with intellectual disabilities. Although the promotion of social inclusion through sports has received increased attention with physical disability groups, this is not the case for children and adults with intellectual disability who experience marked social isolation. The study evaluated the outcomes from the Youth Unified Sports Program, paying particular attention to the processes that were perceived to enhance social inclusion. The Youth Unified Sports program of Special Olympics combines athletes  with intellectual disabilities and those without intellectual disabilities (called partners) of similar skill level in the same sports teams for training and competition. Alongside the development of sporting skills, the program offers athletes a platform to socialise with peers and to take part in similar experiences within their community. Unified football and basketball teams from five countries—Germany, Hungary, Poland, Serbia and Ukraine—participated in this study. Analysis revealed that across all countries and both sports there were four processes that were perceived to facilitate social inclusion for athletes with an intellectual disability: (1) the personal development of athletes and partners; (2) the creation of inclusive and equal bonds; (3) the promotion of positive perceptions of athletes, and; (4) building alliances within local communities. The study found that Unified Sports provides a vehicle for promoting the social inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities that is theoretically credible in terms of social capital scholarship and which contains lessons for advancing social inclusion in other contexts.
  • The use of public sports facilities by the disabled in England, Kung S and Taylor P, Sport Management Review, Volume 17, Number 1 (2014). This study examined usage patterns of sports facilities by persons with a disability. It investigated whether there were statistical differences between the disabled sports participants and the non-disabled sports participants in terms of: (1) social demographics; (2) patterns of participation; (3) travel; (4) sports activities, and; (5) customer satisfaction. The data collected through the National Benchmarking Service, for 458 sports centres from 2005 to 2011. Swimming, using fitness equipment and fitness related activities were the top three preferences among persons with disability. They were more likely to participate in organised activities than non-disabled participants. The disabled were also more likely than the non-disabled to travel to venues by public transport and experienced longer travel time. Measures that can be taken to increase sports participation by the disabled include competent support at sports centres, promotions through discount schemes or leisure cards, and free transportation to sport centres in catchment areas where high proportions of disabled persons reside.

Disability, sport and health benefits

  • Cerebral palsy: Physical activity and sport (abstract), Carroll K, Leiser J and Paisley T,Current Sports Medicine Reports (American College of Sports Medicine), Volume 5, Number 6 (2006). This article discusses the health benefits of physical activity and sports to people with cerebral palsy (CP). Many organisations recommend 30 minutes of moderate physical activity for persons with CP on most days of the week. Inactivity increases the risk factor of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The difficulties faced by CP patients in becoming and remaining physically active are noted. The paper discusses various kinds of physical activity and sport participation that have been shown to be effective. The authors point out that for many people with CP, therapy is an ongoing aspect of their lives that begins in childhood  and practitioners should be aware of alternatives to physical therapy, such as sport and physical activity (exercise). Benefits include improved health, improved functioning and independence, and enhanced enjoyment of life.
  • In praise of sport: Promoting sport participation as a mechanism of health among persons with a disability (abstract), Wilhite B and Shank J, Disability and Health Journal, Volume 2, Number 3 (2009). The authors explore sport as a mechanism of health for people with a disability. Achieving and maintaining health are no less important to people with a disability than to anyone else; however, it may be more challenging. The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) is used to frame the analysis and discussion of the narratives of 12 persons with a disability who participate in sport. The authors describe how participating in sport, broadly defined, helps persons with a disability achieve and maintain health and health-related components of well-being. Results revealed that sport benefits included enhanced functional capacity, health promotion, relationship development, increased optimism and inclusion in meaningful life activities and roles. Sport is a valuable and promising mechanism for fostering physical and emotional health and building valuable social connections.
  • Physical activity, exercise, and sport, Nankervis K, Cousins W, Valkova H and Macintyre T, Chapter 16 in: ‘Health Promotion for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’,  McGraw Hill and Open University Press, pp. 174-182. ISBN 9780335246946 (2013). Substantial empirical evidence confirms that regular participation in physical activity contributes to health in individuals of all ages, gender, and ability. Yet numerous studies have also found that people with disabilities are less likely to engage in physical activity, are more sedentary, and tend to be less physically fit than their peers. This chapter provides an overview of the evidence supporting the value of exercise and sport participation by people with an intellectual disability and, where available, the cascading benefits for families. For people with intellectual disabilities, physical activity and sport participation offer opportunities to engage in experiences that provide physical, psychological, and social benefits. 
  • Promotion of physical activity in individuals with intellectual disability (PDF  - 141 KB), Standish H and Frey G, Salud Publica de Mexico (published in English), Volume 50, Supplement 2 (2008). Researchers have continued to examine the effects of exercise on outcomes of health-related fitness for persons with intellectual disability (ID). It is clear that individuals with ID adapt to increased levels of physical activity in much the same way as individuals without disabilities. Although it is important to note that individuals with Downs Syndrome may respond differently to exercise training. This paper reviews the effects of various intervention programs designed to increase physical activity among persons with an intellectual disability.

Social skills development

  • Adolescent girls' involvement in disability sport: Implications for identity development(abstract), Anderson D, Journal of Sport & Social Issues, Volume 33, Number 4 (2009). This study examined the role of sport in identity development for young women with a physical disability. The author concluded that there is evidence of the power of sports to stimulate confidence, self- efficacy, and a self-perceived high quality of life for individuals with disabilities above and beyond the basic benefits to physical fitness. When taken together, the promotion of health, disability rights, and social integration through sports has the power to transform the lives of those who participate by providing opportunities.
  • An Evaluation of the Wheelchair Tennis Development Fund (PDF  - 889 KB), Richardson E and Papathomas A, Loughborough University (2013). This report evaluates the social and personal development impact of the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) Wheelchair Tennis Development Fund (WTDF). This is one of the first scientific studies of its kind to investigate how participation in wheelchair tennis through this program affects the lives of those individuals involved. The program operates in 39 countries. The study found that involvement in wheelchair tennis led to numerous psychological and social benefits, which transferred into other domains of life. The psychological benefits included increased self-confidence and empowerment (particularly for women), increased opportunities for independence, and improved perceptions of persons with a disability.  The program also created opportunities, such as sports scholarships for competitors and career pathways in coaching. Wheelchair tennis was also shown to have the potential to improve an individual’s self-perception.  “I had a negative mentality” said one participant, “But, as time goes, I grow up and I realise that I don’t have to be ashamed of myself or who I am”. Players involved in the WTDF experience reported an improved social life, both through making friends and as a result of greater self-confidence.  Participants felt wanted, supported, and worthy of someone else’s time. The program also helps to challenge the view society takes on disability.
  • Determinants of social participation - with friends and others who are not family members - for youths with cerebral palsy, Kang L, Palisano R, Orlin M, Chiarello L, King G and Polansky M, Physical Therapy, Volume 90, Number 12 (2010). This study examined what factors determined the extent to which youths with cerebral palsy (CP) engage in social physical activities with people outside their family. Social participation provides youths with opportunities to develop their self-concept, friendships, and meaning in life. Youths with cerebral palsy (CP) have been reported to participate more in home-based leisure activities and to have fewer social experiences with friends and others than youths without disabilities. The participants were 209 youths who were 13 to 21 years old (52% male) with CP; parents also completed a questionnaire. The results suggest that physical therapists should address the goals and wishes for social participation of adolescents and young adults with CP through collaborative and meaningful goal setting as well as service planning and provision. Services and interventions that promote sports and communication abilities may enhance social opportunities with friends. Organised sports and physical activities provide a social context in which youths can experience team cooperation and build supportive networks. With appropriate instruction and practice, youths may improve their sports and physical activity skills, enabling greater participation.
  • Developing the social skills of young adult Special Olympics athletes (PDF  - 340 KB),  Alexander M, Smeltzer A, Dummer G and Denton, Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, Volume 46, Number 2(2011). This study aimed to determine whether young adult Special Olympics participants could develop, generalise and then maintain key social skills through a short Social Skills & Sports program that combined classroom activities and sport (soccer). The skills under examination were eye contact, contributing relevant information and turn taking. Using qualitative methods that included observation, interviews and questionnaires, the researchers found that all participants had successfully increased their ability to demonstrate at least one of the targeted skills and had generalised those skills to other settings. Participants were able to maintained these skills some five weeks following the termination of the program. Furthermore, some participants developed additional social skills, including standing at an appropriate distance and maintaining conversation.
  • The effect of social skill instruction on sport and game related behaviors of children and adolescents with emotional or behavioral disorders (PhD dissertation), Samalot-Rivera A, Ohio State University (2007). This research examined children’s experiences in a sport program designed for young people with emotional and behavioural disorders. Many educators assume that students develop appropriate social skills as a by-product of participation in physical education and sports. This research demonstrates that appropriate social behaviours improve when sports interventions are used. The study specifically examines the instruction's influence on appropriate and inappropriate behaviours within both physical education and other settings. Examples of appropriate behaviours included – consisted of respecting one's own equipment and that of others, congratulating the winner, avoiding blaming teammates, following rules, working cooperatively, and avoiding criticism of the loser.  Results showed that five of the six participants were able to increase appropriate sports/games behaviours and decrease inappropriate behaviours in a physical education setting, and three of the six participants were also able to do this in a more general setting.
  • Personal development of participants in special Olympics unified sports teams, Wilski M, Nadolska A, Dowling S, Mcconkey R and Hassan D, Human Movement, Volume 13, Number 3 (2012). This study, conducted in Serbia, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and Germany, identifies the impact of the Special Olympics' Unified Sports program on the personal development of its participants. Interviews collected personal histories from 221 participants. Athletes reported improvements in their abilities on the field as well as increased fitness and technical ability. They emphasised the importance of team-work and trust between athletes, including increased confidence, self-esteem and communication skills. Friendships were a central and vital aspect of taking part in the teams. The evaluation suggests that the benefits of participation transcend national boundaries and cultures at least within a European context.
  • Sports and Disability (abstract), Wilson P and Clayton G, PM and R, Volume 2, Number 3 (2010). In this paper the authors describe the various ways that children with a disability can be engaged in sport in order to benefit from the same health and wellbeing outcomes available to non-disabled children. The authors argue that participation in recreational and competitive sports at an early age has long been touted as a positive influence on growth and development, and for fostering lifelong habits. The benefits of an active lifestyle include not only fitness, but the promotion of a sense of inclusion and improved self-esteem. These benefits are well documented in all populations. The American Academy of Paediatrics has recently produced a summary statement on the benefits of activity for disabled children. For disabled youth, participation in sports programs can be an effective means to promote personal and social benefits. Changes in societal attitudes and technology over the decades have greatly improved access to the benefits of sport for the disabled child. The paper lists the many and varied ways in which sports program practitioners and designers can include disability sports into a variety of settings, including school and community programs.
  • Sport in the lives of young people with intellectual disabilities: Negotiating disability, identity and belonging, Smith L, Wedgwood N, Llewellyn G and Shuttleworth R, Journal of Sport for Development, Volume 3, Issue 5 (2015). Research on the role of sport in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities primarily focuses on improving fitness, health and social interactions. Yet sport is not only a form of physical exercise, competition or leisure pursuit — it’s also a powerful social institution within which social structures and power relations are reproduced and, less frequently, challenged. This paper provides insights into the role of sport and physical activity in the lives of four young Australians with intellectual disabilities or cognitive limitations from their own perspectives. Data from life history interviews elicits rich and in-depth insights, revealing the meanings these young people give to their sporting experiences, which include (but also go beyond) concerns with fitness, health and social interactions. Although not representative of all young people with intellectual disabilities, these four young people use sport to negotiate complex emotional worlds around disability, identity, and belonging — much like their physically impaired counterparts.

Government reports

  • Fair Play: strategic framework for inclusive sport and recreation (PDF  - 690 KB) Government of Western Australia, Department of Sport and Recreation. This document from the WA Department of Sport and Recreations, in conjunction with the WA Disability Commission, provides a framework for inclusion of persons with a disability in sport and recreational activities to ensure that social and health benefits are available to everyone in WA.
  • Getting involved in sport: Participation and non-participation of people with disability in sport and active recreation (PDF  - 1.2 MB), Australian Sports Commission/University of Technologies, Sydney (2011). Increasing the number of Australians participating in sport and active recreation through an integrated, whole-of-sport approach is an essential element of the government’s new direction for sport. It is critical that we increase community participation and social inclusion by minimising disadvantages to people with disability. This report examines the factors that influence the participation (and non-participation) of people with disability, and investigates the potential benefits of sport and active recreation. Summary of the Report (PDF  - 770 KB).
  • 'Junior Sports Development for People with Disabilities' Proceedings of a National Consultation conducted by the National Committee on Sport and Recreation for the Disabled 1987, published by the Cumberland College of Health Sciences and the Commonwealth of Australia (1988). Print copy held by the NSIC.
  • 'Kids – Disabled Integration and Clubs' AUSSIE Sports publication, Australian Sports Commission (1990). This booklet answers general questions posed by clubs and coaches regarding the integration of children with mild-to-moderate physical or intellectual disability into an Aussie Sport program. This publication contains a list of resources, organisations for the disabled, and contacts within the ASC and State Departments of Sport & Recreation. Print copy held by the NSIC.
  • 'Participation in sport by people with disabilities, a national perspective' Lockwood R, Research Report, project funded by the Applied Sports Research Program of the National Sports Research Centre, Australian Sports Commission (1996). Print copy held by the Clearinghouse for Sport.
  • Sport and Physical Recreation Participation Among Persons with a Disability: Some Data from the 2002 General Social Survey (PDF  - 308 KB), Australian Bureau of Statistics prepared for the Standing Committee on Recreation & Sport, (July 2006). This paper reports on the participation and non-participation levels of people with a disability or LTC in sport and physical recreation. Data for the paper were sourced from the ABS General Social Survey in 2002.
  • Sports CONNECT, Disability Sector Education Resource Project (PDF  - 3.4 MB), consultation phase Report, Australian Sports Commission (2010). This report provides information on consultation with the disability services sector regarding the potential development of sport-based educational resource materials to assist practitioners and service users in physical recreation and sport.
  • 'Sports CONNECT Research Update' – survey by the Australian Sports Commission and University of Technology Sydney (2010).
  • Sports CONNECT Review 2010 (PDF  - 1.2 MB), Australian Sports Commission, (2010). This report provides a review of Sports CONNECT at the completion of the pilot and development phase.
  • Teachers Talk About experiences of inclusive physical activity (PDF  - 10.6 MB), Australian Sports Commission (1998). This report is part of the ‘Willing and Able’ physical education and sport for young people with disabilities project of the ASC.
  • Understanding barriers to sport participation (PDF  - 451 KB), Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, VicHealth report (2010).


  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The act ensures, as far as practicable, that persons with disabilities have the same rights to equality under the law as the rest of the community.
  • Disability Services Act 1986.The act relates to the provision of services for persons with disability.
  • Guide to the Disability Discrimination Act. Australian Human Rights Commission – The links from this page provide a brief outline of the Act as it applies to a number of areas of life (i.e. joining in ‘sport’).
  • National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013. The Act supports the independence and social and economic participation of people with disability; and provides reasonable and necessary supports to enable people with disability to exercise choice and control in the pursuit of their goals and the planning and delivery of their supports and to facilitate the development of a nationally consistent approach to the access to, and the planning and funding of, support for people with disability.


  • The Autism Fitness Handbook, Geslak D, Jessica Kingsley Publishers (2014). This book provides an exercise program to boost body image, motor skills, cardiovascular fitness, posture, and confidence in children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • Culture of competition discourages some kids from sport, Victoria University media release, (6 May 2019). A study of Aussie sports clubs finds that a culture of competitiveness is preventing kids from diverse backgrounds and abilities from participating in junior sport. The research also showed that many clubs were uncertain about the concept and how it related to them, or how to actively promote diversity and social inclusion. Some other key findings included: Diversity was often viewed as diverting resources from a club’s core business, which revolved around organising teams and improving playing skills; Clubs that actively promoted diversity were generally regarded by coaches and parents from outside clubs as not serious clubs, and suitable only for children who were ‘no good’ at sport; Men at clubs that focused on competition above participation were, on average, more likely to be homophobic, endorse stricter gender roles, enforce violence as a natural masculine trait, and were less likely to hold pro-disability attitudes.
  • From Trauma to Rehabilitation and Elite Sport: The foundation years of disability sport in Victoria (PDF  - 428 KB), Hess R and Klugman M, Victoria University (2014). The peak association responsible for providing sport and recreation opportunities for people with disabilities in Victoria is now known as Disability Sport & Recreation (DSR). Since its formation in 1962, primarily as a volunteer association, as the Victorian Paraplegic Sports Club, DSR has undergone a number of name changes. The story of disability sport in Victoria is not only the collective memory of the organisation, but the stories of the people involved, the care and support provided, as well as the opportunity to rehabilitate through participation in sport and recreation. This work establishes an authoritative narrative that draws on the oral history of those surviving individuals who played important roles in the establishment of the Victorian Paraplegic Sports Club just over 50 years ago.
  • Game, Set, Match: An exploration of congruence in Australian disability sport sponsorship (PDF  - 448 KB), Macdougall H, Nguyen S and Karg A, Sport Management Review, Volume 17, Issue 1 (2014). While there are non-profit disability sporting organisations that provide opportunities for sport participation to persons with disability; the sustainability of disability sporting organisations, associated sports, and athletes themselves, is contingent on greater commercialisation. The consideration of disability sport as an attractive sport property is the ultimate goal. In 2012 it was found that 70% of Australians followed the Paralympic Games and 74% were more likely to support a brand if it was a Paralympic sponsor. With these statistics in mind, Paralympic sport (and possibly disability sport) may leverage the commercial interest of brands that see sponsorship as a worthy opportunity. The general aim of this study was to provide greater understanding of how sponsorship management occurs in the context of disability sport and to better understand the role of shared values in that process. The authors examined sponsorships of ten Australian disability sport properties. Sponsors capitalised on shared values through broad communication and brand objectives such as community involvement, increasing corporate image, and leveraging employee morale. Brand objectives were related to the creation of emotional connections with target audiences and image enhancement given the credibility that sponsorship relationships created. ‘Standing for similar things’ formed the basis for half of the individual sponsorship relationships. The data suggested that the sponsor’s mission and philosophy were of greater importance in organisational sponsorship selection. Disability sport relationships illustrated a number of similarities to more traditional sport settings, a strong emphasis is placed by sponsors upon value and mission alignment to health objectives, rather than sales objectives. Disability sport sponsorship offers an opportunity for organisations to reinforce their involvement in corporate citizenship. Further, disability sport sponsorship provides a platform to unite staff and customers under a common cause and create a genuine sponsorship relationship that can inspire and motivate key stakeholders.

Online resources

  • Australian Centre for Paralympic Studies, Oral History Project. The National Library of Australia holds a collection of audio recordings that trace the history of Paralympic sport in Australia.
  • Play By The Rules. Free online education, information, training and resources about keeping your sport and club inclusive, safe and fair for everyone.
  • Beyond the boundary resource kit (2009). Cricket Victoria. Beyond the Boundary aims to assist clubs and associations by providing them with a resource containing ideas, identification of potential barriers, success stories, other programs, and contacts for further assistance.
  • The Catalogue of Australian Sport Sector Libraries holds the library collection records of the Australian Paprlympic Comittee and other major sports collection institutions.

Other Videos

  • ‘Yes I Can’ – Paralympics Rio 2016 – We’re the Superhumans! (YouTube) Talented athletes and musicians come together in this video, produced by Channel 4 in the United Kingdom (UK broadcaster for the 2016 Paralympics).
  • Are You On Board? The Are You On Board campaign was launched in 2014 to stimulate conversations around diversity issues – gender, disability and cultural diversity. As part of the campaign Vicsport has released several videos with the theme of inclusion for persons with disability; including Why should your club be inclusive? and What’s in it for Me?
  • Changing lives through sport, Australian Disability and Development Consortium. Aidah Katushabe (Uganda) talks about how sport and learning about the Paralympic Movement has changed her outlook on life and given her more confidence.
  • Inspirational porn and the objectification of disability - Stella Young, Australian disability rights advocate, delivered a thought provoking (and funny) talk as part of the TEDxSydney lecture series; The Inclusion Club. 
  • Saints Play - making AFL accessible for allVicHealth/YouTube, (4 December 2018). VicHealth Innovation Challenge: Sport helps sports orgs get more Victorians off the couch and playing more sport more often, with a focus on those with low physical activity levels. The funding for Saints Play helped AFL and St Kilda Football Club develop inclusive environments for children with autism and their families.
  • What's in it for me? Sport and people with a disability (YouTube). The VicSport campaign Are You On Board? Includes this video that discusses what persons with disability can gain from sport participation

Sports CONNECT Webinars

Clearinghouse Videos 

Please note a number of the resources below (as indicated) are restricted to ‘GOLD' AIS Advantage small AIS Advantage members only.
Please see the Clearinghouse membership categories for further information.

  • Towards Evidence-Based Classification in Paralympic Sport, Emma Beckman, University of Queensland, Smart Talk Seminar Series (26 October 2017) 
  • Seven Pillars of Inclusion, Peter Downs, Manager, Play by the Rules, Smart Talk Seminar Series (24 February 2014). In 2013 Play by the Rules embarked on a project to look at the commonalities of inclusion. The idea was to take a helicopter view of the inclusion of different population groups into sport and identify the common elements within a framework. Since the launch of the 7 Pillars, Swimming Australia has been working with Play by the Rules on a planning tool to help the aquatic community identify their strengths and weaknesses across the 7 Pillars - with the idea that this would provide an excellent starting point for organisations to tackle inclusion issues more globally. This work continues. In this presentation we will look at the development of the project and consider how the 7 Pillars can be used to identify the cultural 'habits' that facilitate inclusion across targeted populations. 
  • All in the Game - Creating an inclusive sporting environment for people with a disability, Sports Talks, Sydney Olympic Park, NSW (24 October 2013) 
  • Inclusion case study - Capital Football, Pat McCann, Capital Football, ACT Participation Workshop (17 May 2012) Capital Football mentor a coach with a disability and have subsequently placed the coach into a club.
  • Discrimination and Inclusion, Alex Bright, Cycling Australia, Play By The Rules Forum for National Sports Organistations (18 April 2012)

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