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Although there are limitless organizations making a difference for those with impairment or disability, we have identified the following five organizations as having made phenomenal strides in the world of adapted sports.
The American Association of Adapted Sports Program
The American Association of Adapted Sports Program, an organization that sets the standard for consistency in interscholastic adaptive sports in the United States, strives to ensure all children – no matter their abilities – can take part in the rewards and satisfaction of competitive sports.
Founded in 1996 in Atlanta, AAASP works with high schools to develop adaptive sports programs at a local community level. This allows young people with disabilities to join a sport they enjoy. Chances are, if there is a local adaptive sports program in a given neighborhood, it is influenced by AAASP’s guidelines. Because the AAASP-organized sports are designed to focus on a child’s ability as opposed to disabilities, a child has a chance to realize a boost in self-confidence, physical well-being, and sense of achievement and inclusion.
Programs include wheelchair basketball, wheelchair football, track and field and wheelchair handball. All programs, designed for students in grades one through 12, begin by teaching students the fundamentals of the sport. The AAASP implements programs at schools through partnerships it forges with administrators and coaches. Most programs are designed to fit into a school’s existing sports curriculum. They also recruit sponsors and partnerships to assist schools in raising funds for equipment and to run the program.
The goal of their programs is to closely mirror sports offerings available to students without disabilities.
AAASP sports also follow the established pattern of traditional sports; different seasons mean different sports, and students can compete for pennants and championships.
To a student with disabilities, AAASP-sponsored programs offer many opportunities beyond the sport. A student who participates in adaptive sports is seen as an athlete, and one that has all of the potential to participate in this important part of the educational process. Participating students have the opportunity to strategize and plan plays. More importantly, they learn the fundamentals of teamwork and sportsmanship.
For more information, visit AAASP.
Disabled Sports USA
The mission of Disabled Sports USA is to provide children and adults with disabilities a chance to develop the confidence, independence and fitness that taking part in organized sports offers. With a wide range of programs, Disabled Sports USA organizes adaptive sporting events for veterans with disabilities, and children and young people with physical and intellectual challenges.
Equal access to sports activities is the main focus of this organization; volunteers believe that there is no disability that should be excluded from sports. People who participate in Disable Sport USA programs have visual impairments, spinal cord injuries, amputations, autism, neuromuscular conditions, Cerebral Palsy and intellectual disabilities.
One of the unique features of Disabled Sports USA is its chapter-based network, which operates 100 community-based programs in 37 states. To date, more than 60,000 athletes with a disability are served through this network, which includes 30 different sports. This provides parents with an opportunity to consider a sport their child will enjoy.
Disabled Sports USA also offers opportunities for athletes to travel to events across the country for competition.
Among the most popular sports are alpine “sit” skiing, snowboarding, biathlons, kayaking, water skiing, sailing, rafting, hiking, fishing, canoeing, golf, cycling and rock climbing, among others. Sports are offered in the winter and in the summer, which gives kids a chance to be involved in an activity in which they feel confident, year-round.
Athletes are offered a myriad of adaptations for different sports; visually impaired skiers receive audio instructions from a trainer, and modified hockey includes a sled where athletes can sit and still control their stick.
The organization also offers awards for outstanding athletic performance. The National Disabled Ski Hall of Fame award is given to an outstanding Alpine or Nordic skier who has demonstrated skill in recreational and competitive skiing. The Jim Withers Memorial Award recognizes an outstanding athlete that has contributed 10 years of service on behalf of other athletes with disabilities.
From the rough and tumble world of hockey to a serene canoe ride, parents are likely to find an activity their child will enjoy.
For more information, visit a Disabled Sports USA.
One of two well-known organizations for disabled athletes that are modeled on the Olympic Games, the Paralympics is a multi-national athletic event held every four years in tandem with the Olympic Games. The goal of the Paralympics is to bring the spirit of athletic competition to all people – no matter what their physical condition is.
Like the Olympic Games, the Paralympics has summer and winter games. The event and the International Paralympic Committee are recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Since 1992, Paralympic athletes used the same state-of-the-art facilities as Olympic athletes.
But from a practical standpoint, the Paralympics offer more than just elite competition once every four years. Budding Paralympians have an opportunity to take part in events and coaching through the National Governing Bodies, which can provide financial support athletes need when they are training.
Field play and programming are also provided to athletes with disabilities to help make sports more palatable and enjoyable for young people who may not have participated in sports otherwise.
Paralympians are a varied group of young people, they have a wide variety of conditions including intellectual disabilities, blindness, Cerebral Palsy, and mobility issues.
Because of the range of issues Paralympians face, they compete in six main categories – amputee, Cerebral Palsy, intellectual disabilities, wheelchair, visually impaired and others who do not fit into those categories. Within those categories, athletes are again divided by a condition, which maintains the integrity of the competition.
For more information, visit US Paralympic Team.
One of the largest and most well-known sports organizations in the world, the Special Olympics is a beloved organization that has made an indelible impression on the world of organized athletic competition.
The Special Olympics provides year-round sports training competition in several sports. The organization is dedicated to providing athletic opportunity to children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them the opportunity to develop physically, demonstrate courage and sports acumen, and have fun.
The Special Olympics was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in the 1960s. Shriver felt that children with intellectual disabilities did not have enough opportunities to socialize and participate in activities.
For parents that have a son or daughter with a disability, involvement in the Special Olympics is likely to mean more than an occasional athletic competition. The organization’s athletes receive free health screenings in more than 100 countries; health service programs are provided so frequently that the Special Olympics has become the largest global health care provider to people with intellectual disabilities.
Health screenings include podiatry, physical therapy, health promotion and wellness, audiology, sports medicine, vision and dentistry.
Children who participate in the Special Olympics can take part in more than 35 sports; everything from traditional Olympic sports like Alpine skiing and figure skating to non-traditional games like badminton and handball. The varied nature of Special Olympic offerings means there is something for every child, no matter what his or her physical abilities or interests are.
For more information, visit Special Olympics.
Wheelchair Sports Federation
The Wheelchair Sports Federation is a non-profit group that provides children and adults that use a wheelchair as their primary mode of mobility the chance to play adapted, recreational sports. It is one of the first organizations in the United States to advocate for access to sports and recreation programs for people with disabilities.
Founded by Al Youakim, whose brother was paralyzed during World War II, the Federation has since evolved from offering a handful of wheelchair sports to offering every sort of sport imaginable. The Federation offers team and individual sports. There should be a sport to interest any child.
Some of the adapted sports include archery, bowling, boxing, fencing, fishing, rugby, mountain biking, powerlifting, table tennis, water skiing, swimming, tennis, basketball and football, among others.
For more information, visit Wheelchair Sports Federation.