Disability-friendly Sports: Be Inspired!

The NHS is encouraging people who have a disability to get active: participating in sporting activities will improve muscle and heart strength and benefit health in general.

It is recommended that people should do a minimum of 150 minutes’ activity per week, with additional strength exercises on at least two days a week. There’s no need to hit these targets right away, as even a small amount of exercise helps. Ease yourself into it gradually!

Pick an activity you enjoy, as you’ll be more inclined to continue with it. There are multiple disability-friendly sports that can be played – the Paralympic athletes are a testament to how far you can go. Sports can be adapted to fit individual disabilities.

Disability-friendly Sports: Be Inspired!

© marino / Adobe Stock


Run side-by-side with the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games gives disabled athletes the opportunity to compete on the world stage against their contemporaries from different nations.

Disabled athletes compete in 22 different sports in the Summer Paralympics and more events in the winter games:

In the summer games sports include sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, men’s football, archery, athletics, cycling, equestrian, para-badminton, judo, wheelchair tennis, swimming and many more.

The winter Paralympic sports include Alpine skiing, ice sledge hockey, snowboarding, wheelchair curling and cross-country skiing.

The sports are adapted so that people with all kinds of disabilities can participate. For example, people who use wheelchairs have a wide choice of sports, including football, rugby, tennis, basketball, volleyball and track races, using specially-adapted sports wheelchairs.

Athletes with prosthetic limbs take part in multiple track and field events. In particular, the high-tech prosthetic “blades” for the lower leg have made it possible for their sprint speeds to be on a par with athletes who do not have prosthetic limbs.

With their coach as a guide to help them navigate the track effectively, visually-impaired athletes are able to take part in track events.


Paralympians put in as much training as the athletes who take part in the Olympic Games. Sports halls and leisure centres across the UK welcome the disabled athletes, who complete rigorous training regimes to get in peak condition in time for the games.

There are many inclusive gyms across the country and the Activity Alliance lists them on its website. The charity aims to make sure disabled people can live active lives by having the best sports facilities available.

Numerous gyms and training facilities across the UK have been awarded the Inclusive Fitness Initiative Mark accreditation, confirming that they are welcoming and accessible for disabled customers.

The facilities enable Paralympic athletes to train to the best of their technical abilities. To maintain their dynamic balance and posture control, training requires high levels of concentration, with attention to technique.

Periodic evaluations are carried out and the results assessed, with the feedback being used to hone the athletes’ physical efficiency. Regular analysis is used to optimise the training sessions and achievable goals are established.

With all sports, a good level of general fitness is required through strength and resistance training, which can be achieved at a gym, as well as learning and practicing the bespoke skills needed for each individual sport.

According to a survey carried out in 2019/20 by the Activity Alliance, 70% of disabled people feel motivated to be active, with the goal of maintaining or improving their physical health. Around 67% of them would take the advice of a health and sports professional to work out an appropriate training regime.

Inspirational Paralympians

Research by Virgin Media in 2018 revealed people believed Paralympians were the most inspirational athletes for children. In conjunction with the British Paralympic Association, the research was aimed at gauging people’s perception of disabilities.

Around one-third of respondents said Paralympians were most inspirational, compared with 9% who chose footballers and 2% who said cricketers. The research concluded that people saw Paralympic athletes as the “most fearless” and willing to take risks to unleash their full potential.

The most inspirational UK Paralympic athletes include David Weir, who has dominated the world of track events. Born with a congenital spinal cord condition, this has meant he needs to use a wheelchair. This has never held him back: he started out as a wheelchair athlete as a child and was a seven-time winner of the junior London Marathon!

As an adult, he followed a career in wheelchair racing and has won an Olympic gold medal in the 800 metres, after training and competing at the highest level for 12 years. He has been awarded the CBE.

Mark Colbourne broke his back in a paragliding accident in 2009, which left him unable to walk. He didn’t let his disability hold him back, going on to become one of the best Para cyclists ever to compete for Team GB. After cycling for Disability Support Wales, he won his first world title in 2012 and was awarded the MBE in 2013.

Mental benefits

While the physical benefits of sport for disabled people are obvious, in terms of improving their fitness and general health, it has emotional and mental benefits too.

Sport creates an environment that teaches disabled people life skills. Participating in sporting disciplines can teach people about cooperation, communication, teamwork, working towards goals and handling the disappointment of defeat.

Team sports encourage leadership and organisational skills. On a psychological level, disabled people find sport can help them to have greater self-esteem and a sense of worth. This can alleviate anxiety and depression. Health professionals agree that sport at any level can enhance the life of a disabled person, encouraging them to become more productive and helping them to feel more fulfilled.

An estimated 1.69 million disabled people in the UK take part in sporting activities at some level. The number grew rapidly after the London Olympics in 2012, according to Sport England.

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