Since the 1970s, the number of international organisations and associations serving athletes with disabilities has increased dramatically. In some countries there are increased opportunities for people with a disability to participate in school-based physical education, clubs and community associations and casual recreation.
Opportunities for athletes with a disability range from sport and disability specific world championships, regional multi-sport tournaments such as the Parapan American Games, selected events for athletes with a disability in Olympic and Commonwealth Games and some athletes with a disability also compete in mainstream competitions against able-bodied athletes. There are now more than 17 international games for athletes with disabilities.
Special Olympics, Paralympic Games and Deaflympics
The three largest international disability sport competitions are the Special Olympics, Paralympic Games and Deaflympics. Special Olympics provide year-round training and competition opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities at all levels. The Paralympic Games provide international competition for six different disability groups including amputee, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries, intellectual disability and les autres (those that do not fit into the other groups). The Deaflympics provide competition for athletes who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The Paralympic Games cater for elite athletes with intellectual disabilities while Special Olympics offer sporting opportunities to all persons with intellectual disabilities from elite to those with severe and profound challenges. Since 2001 athletes with an intellectual disability have been unable to participate in the Paralympic Games. This is due to the suspension of their representative body, the International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID), from the International Paralympic Committee while the classification system is reviewed.
Participation from developing countries
Recent research conducted in 2007 highlights the lack of participation from developing countries in international disability sport competition. In total, 23% of developing countries have not participated in either Deaflympic, Paralympic or Special Olympics World Games competition. Oceania is the region with the least participation historically, followed by Africa and Asia. Participation in winter games from developing countries is very low, whilst the participation of women in winter sport is even lower and declining with time.
At the grassroots level, programme development from key organisations, such as Handicap International, have enabled thousands of people with a disability in developing countries to become active in sport and physical activity.