We all know that exercise and sport are great ways of getting fit and staying healthy, but too often we let barriers get in the way. If you aren’t getting enough exercise, it might help to try something new. Sport can help you learn new skills and improve balance, strength and co-ordination. The hormones released during exercise can also help to reduce stress and improve mood. Exercise can also contribute to a greater feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day and help you sleep better. Doing exercise regularly might also help with weight loss or weight maintenance. Plus, if you do team sports, it’s a fun way to meet and socialise with others. And with a growing number of – and opportunities to participate in – accessible sports, there’s no need to sit on the sidelines anymore…

Types of Accessible Sports

There are lots of sporting options available to try. You could take up a sport as a recreation or you may want to train seriously and compete. You might want to participate in a mainstream sport, in a mixed team that includes both able bodied and disabled people or with others who have similar disabilities to you.

1. Sports for the Blind and Vision Impaired

If you have a vision impairment, you can participate in sports that use noise (such as bells) to help you locate the ball or to follow a sighted person on a course. Examples include showdown (similar to air hockey and table tennis), goalball (similar to soccer) and torball (played with a ball similar to soccer). Spectators are asked to be quiet during play so you can hear clearly. You can compete against sighted players since all players wear eye masks to level the playing field. Padding is worn to prevent you from being injured if you are stuck by the ball.

2. Sports for people with physical disabilities

If you have a physical disability, there are lots of sports that allow you to use a wheelchair or specialised equipment, such as blow darts. Wheelchair sports are often fast paced and exciting. If you want something more relaxing, consider wheelchair dancing which can be enjoyed with your partner. You can dance with a standing partner, with someone else in a wheelchair or with a carer pushing you. There are lots of dance alternatives including waltz, tango, quick step, rumba or cha cha cha. You can use a manual or electronic wheelchair. If you are the creative type and like to feel the music, you can even do freestyle dancing alone. Other sports you might enjoy include ice sledge hockey, power football, tennis and table tennis (ping pong).

3. Deaf Sports

If you have a hearing impairment, you may want to participate in deaf sports that use visual cues, such as starting lights, to replace auditory cues. Specialised deaf sports allow you to meet other deaf people and communicate using sign language. Examples include athletics, swimming and cricket.

4. Sports for people with intellectual disabilities

If you have an intellectual disability, specialised sporting activities will focus on your individual ability, ensuring you have fun and experience a sense of achievement. Support can be provided to help you learn new skills, including having a buddy to undertake the activities with you. Clear visual cues and instructions ensure you will know how to play. Rules and equipment may also be adapted to meet your needs. Ideas include snowshoeing, athletics and horse riding.

Accessible Sports Opportunities

For inspiration, here are some sporting organisations you might like to read about further…

Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association 
Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association is a Queensland not-for-profit organisation that supports people with a range of physical disabilities or vision impairment to get involved in sport, fitness and recreation at the level of their choice. They regularly organise “Come and Try Days”, which are a great way to try new sports and find out what you like. Their website lists 36 different sports including archery, boccia, canoeing, cue sports (such as billiards, fencing and table tennis), cycling, handcycling, fencing, martial arts, powerlifting, sailing, softball, swimming, wheelchair rugby and more. They also hire out specialised sporting equipment.

Blind Sports Australia
There are national and state competitions for blind and visually impaired people in cricket, golf, athletics and triathalon, dressage, karate, rowing and sailing, swimming, skiing, tandem cycling, goalball, lawn and ten pin bowling, and powerlifting. Or if you aren’t the competitive type, there are recreational activities that may interest you, such as aerobics, canoeing, gymnastics, judo, riding, water skiing and surfing.

Deaf Sports Australia
There are lots of sports activities for deaf people, including basketball, lawn bowls, cricket, eight ball, tennis, squash, golf, netball, volleyball, darts, rugby and swimming and the Deaflympics. The Deaf Sports Association also aims to promote inclusion of deaf people in mainstream sports activities. They can help you to participate in mainstream sports activities by providing the organisers of the sports club with information about how to make their club more accessible and inclusive.

Riding for the Disabled
Riding for the Disabled can support your interest in all types of horse riding, whether recreational or competitive. Hippotherapy is the therapeutic use of horse riding to improve your balance, strength and co-ordination. You can learn to ride a horse or if you are an experienced rider, you may want to try dressage or vaulting. This association provides horses, coaches and equipment.

Disabled Surfers Association of Australia
Have you always wanted to experience the exhilaration of catching a wave? The Disabled Surfers Association defines their target group as “anyone willing to have a go” – you can’t get more inclusive than that. They pride themselves of providing safe and supportive supervision and training.

NDIS Funding for sports

If you are developing a plan under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), you may want to think about what type of exercise you would like to do and what support you need to get you going. You could try something new or return to a sport you have enjoyed in the past. Talk to your planner about your goals because you may be able to get funding under the NDIS to help you pay for training, transport to the sporting venue, equipment hire a coach and/or a support person to help you. It can’t hurt to ask.