Sport and adapted physical activity (APA) for people with disabilities involves considering: classifying individuals according to their abilities, the kinds of equipment needed to participate and so on. Find out more in the sections below on these technical aspects.

Eligibility and classification

At the grassroots level, people with a disability can participate together with limited emphasis on rules and regulations. As elements of competition are introduced, it becomes more important to group people together according to their abilities in order to ensure fair competition.


For an athlete with a disability to participate in international disability sport competitions such as the Paralympic Games, Deaflympics and Special Olympics World Games, they must first meet minimum eligibility criteria and be a member of an affiliated national association.

In the Paralympic Games, the eligibility criteria differ across sports and disability groups. The Paralympic Games also have qualification criteria that athletes need to meet in order to compete at a Paralympic Games.

To be eligible to compete in the Deaflympics, athletes must have a hearing loss of at least 55 decibels in the better ear. Athletes are forbidden to use any kind of hearing amplifications during competition to avoid taking an unfair advantage over those not using these devices.  

In the Special Olympics, an athlete must be at least eight years of age and be identified by an agency or professional as having an intellectual disability to be eligible to participate. A unique system of ‘divisioning’ groups athletes together for competition based on age, gender and ability.


Once eligible for a sport or event, an athlete is then classified according to their level of functional ability. The concept of classification is similar to the way athletes compete in different weight categories in wrestling, boxing and weightlifting. The classification system varies for each sport but is simply a system of grouping athletes of similar abilities for sport competition.

For more detailed information regarding athlete classification in the Paralympic Games, see the website of the International Paralympic Committee

Equipment and technology

Sports equipment and technology is an issue for developing countries and will continue to restrict participation and performance in sport.


Some adaptive equipment is required for some athletes to participate in sport and include things like throwing frames for athletes, crutches, sport-specific wheelchairs (such as those used in basketball, tennis and rugby)

In developing countries athletes, often lack access to things such as crutches, everyday wheelchairs and additional limited basic sporting equipment. A lack of facilities or limited access to existing facilities is often problematic in developing countries and with limited means to host large sporting events, the onus is on local and national governments to maintain and develop sporting facilities.

Some organisations focus on providing much needed equipment to people with disabilities in developing countries and prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs and crutches are sometimes the focus of equipment donations.


The introduction of new materials for prosthetic devices such as carbon flex-fibre, along with new developments in wheelchair technology is impacting on the performance of many sports.  

An example involved South African Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius's ambitions to compete in the Olympic Games. In January 2008, research conducted by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled that his ‘cheetah’ blades gave him mechanical advantage and led to controversy on his eligibility to participate in the Beijing Olympic Games.

As technology and assistive devices continue to advance, the gap between participation and performance of developed and developing countries is likely to continue. One innovative project is underway to provide a low-cost universal sports wheelchair for developing countries. The Motivation Trust in the United Kingdom is pioneering and testing a new design that is hoped to fill a much needed gap in the provision of  affordable sports wheelchairs in developing countries.  

At the grassroots level, expensive equipment and technology is not required in order for people with a disability to participate and through inclusive coaching everyone can be encouraged to actively participate in sport. Many games and activities can be designed or adapted to require minimal or no equipment. If individuals require assistive devices (prosthetics, orthotics, wheelchairs), the ideal situation is to have these items made and maintained locally. There have been many innovative solutions, such as crutches made from bamboo in remote village communities.  

Image by Brunhild Strauss