Understanding Reasons for Participation and Barriers within Adaptive Sports for Individuals with Physical Disabilities




Kim, Makenna

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Research has shown support for engaging in physical activity, exercise, and sports for years, but has not always included individuals with physical disabilities. Adaptive sports have shown a wide variety of benefits for individuals with disabilities, including mental health improvement, physical, and psychosocial aspects. Additionally, individuals with physical disabilities have numerous barriers preventing participation in adaptive sports that have been identified, including financial limitations, physical limitations, and various environmental barriers. Previous research has inquired about the benefits of adaptive sport engagement for individuals with physical disabilities and the barriers they face, but few researchers focus specifically on the perspectives of the participants who engage in adaptive sports. Facilitators of adaptive sports programs must take into consideration the opinions of the participants they serve in order to enhance and maintain engagement. Therefore, the purposes of the current investigation were to explore (1) motivators for individuals with physical disabilities to engage in adaptive sports and (2) barriers to participation in adaptive sports for individuals with physical disabilities. The current investigation employed a retrospective design utilizing an ethnographic qualitative research approach. Reasons for participation in adaptive sports and barriers faced were identified and coded into themes. Results revealed that common reasons for participation in adaptive sports are due to the enjoyment of recreation, the physical and mental health benefits, the positive peer interactions, and other reasons, which align with previous research. Common barriers reported included medical complications, being busy with schedule conflicts, issues surrounding transportation, equipment issues, and other barriers, which also align with previous research. Implications for practice include adaptive sports programs evaluating the efficacy of providing transportation options and increasing the number of programs across more geographic locations. Furthermore, programs need to consider the cost of adaptive sports equipment, and that individuals may not be able to afford the appropriate equipment. Lastly, the need for standardized assessments regarding the adaptive sports skill level is needed in order to avoid the issue of feeling that sports are too rough, being scared to participate because of a wide skill gap, or not knowing which sport would be the most applicable to participate in. Having a standardized assessment that can funnel an individual into the most applicable and beneficial adaptive sport will vastly increase the benefits of participating in adaptive sports, and may assist in decreasing many of the barriers. Opportunities for future research include developing assessments to determine appropriate sport(s) for individuals based on the facility’s goals, and more importantly, the individual’s personal goals and ability level. Other opportunities for future research include looking into trends between specific diagnoses and reasons for participation in adaptive sports to better facilitate programs. Intentional programming can then in turn assist in minimizing barriers to participation in adaptive sports for individuals with physical disabilities. Lastly, future research should also explore the difference in benefits between individuals with physical disabilities participating in individual adaptive sports to those participating in team adaptive sports.



adaptive sports, barriers, participation, physical disabilities, recreational therapy


Kim, M. (2023). Understanding reasons for participation and barriers within adaptive sports for individuals with physical disabilities (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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