In a world largely built for able-bodied people, many conventional sports and leisure activities are inaccessible if you live with a disability. Not only is it discriminatory to exclude the disabled community from sports, but it’s also counterintuitive to progress. Sport is proven to help folks with disabilities develop vital social and teamwork skills, as well as become more independent and empowered. Thankfully, there are plenty of accessible sports that have been created or modified for those with disabilities.
We’ve highlighted some of the most popular accessible sports in the U.S., including team and individual options, so you can fall in love with the activity that suits you best.
Individual accessible sports
Prefer to go solo with your sporting endeavors? These activities are great for building strength and keeping your mental health in check. Individual adaptive sports are super varied, with some requiring specialist equipment and others needing nothing at all.
Adaptive swimming is a goldmine for fitness, form, and building respiratory strength. The sport includes all strokes and distances, requires little to no modifications, and is easy on your joints and muscles — a recipe for a great accessible sport.
Thanks to some ingenious and inclusive design work, para-cycling lets people of varying mobility levels enjoy the sport. Adaptive bikes and trikes cater to people with mobility restrictions, limb loss, balance impairments, and other issues that may exclude them from conventional cycling.
Bonding with horses combined with fitness and the outdoors — what’s not to love about adaptive equestrian activities? Trail riding and horseback riding are both easily adaptable for people with certain disabilities, with the added benefit that horses are well-known for being excellent companions. Equine-assisted therapy is another option that combines physical activity with psychological healing, thanks to the proven power of horses to improve quality of life for disabled folks.
The adaptive golf community in the U.S. is huge — we’re talking 40 member organizations teaching 20 million people of all levels how to play. Through the use of modified equipment and rules, adaptive golf allows people from all realms of disabled life to play. The U.S. Adaptive Golf Alliance has collaborated closely with adaptive folks to create ways for everyone to enjoy the game.
There is a wide variety of paddle sports for disabled folk to enjoy. Depending on your mobility level, things like paddleboarding (stand-up or seated), canoeing, or kayaking are all great sports to try. Your upper body will get a serious workout, and you get the added bonus of getting out and about in nature.
Why not channel your inner Robin Hood with a spot of archery? This is one sport that is easily made accessible with trained instructors. Whether you have low vision, are in a wheelchair, or use your teeth to shoot the bow, there are plenty of ways for archery to work for you.
Team accessible sports
Team sports are a great way to keep fit while also adding some spice to your social life. Here are some of the most popular accessible team sports to try. Note that many wheelchair sports require a modified version of your chair to participate. Don’t stress if you’re not keen to shell out for a special chair — many accessible sports foundations and teams have chairs that you can loan or try out.
Accessible basketball is a thriving sport all across North America! There are two types of adaptive basketball games — wheelchair basketball and deaf basketball. Wheelchair basketball is super popular and closely follows the rules of conventional basketball, while deaf basketballers use sign language to communicate during the game.
Who said accessible sports had to be gentle? If you’re looking for something high-impact and competitive with contact involved, wheelchair rugby is the sport for you. Help your team evade the opposition and carry the ball across the try line to score points for victory, all while (literally) clashing with the other players.
If pucks are appealing, there are two adaptive hockey options for people with disabilities to play. Power hockey uses electric-powered wheelchairs on the court, while sledge hockey is the adaptive equivalent of ice hockey. Power hockey is played on a basketball court with rules similar to conventional field hockey. Sledge hockey uses double-blade sledges for players to get around the ice rink, as well as two sticks — one for pushing and one for shooting.
You can still serve and slam up a storm in a wheelchair. Wheelchair tennis is a slightly modified version of the traditional game where players are allowed an extra bounce of the ball on the court to allow for travel time. It’s one of the most popular accessible sports due to players not needing special equipment — all that’s required is a racquet and your own chair.
Get ready to work that core! As the name suggests, sit volleyball is a variation of the classic sport that involves players positioned on the ground. The court is smaller, and the net is lower than a traditional volleyball court, allowing players to pass and spike without having to chase the ball.
Explore more adaptive sports
These sports are just the tip of the iceberg! As an affiliate of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Move United is a fantastic organization that connects disabled folks with quality sports and recreation opportunities. The website has a comprehensive list of more than 70 adaptive sports to try, including some more niche selections for those who like to try something different. You can also search for locations to try or participate in adaptive sports.
You deserve to live with dignity
Disability should not sentence you to a life of being othered. At Atticus, it’s our mission to connect disabled folks with the legal resources they need to achieve financial security and independence. We provide free advice on complex processes like applying for disability benefits, as well as comprehensive answers for some of the most common questions people ask about benefits. Our aim is to always cut through the jargon, because you shouldn’t need a law degree to understand your rights as a disabled person. If you’re looking for free, straightforward legal advice, we’re here to help.