Research and Information Services

Disability Sports

Brief history:

It is generally considered that sport for disabled people developed largely this century after the Second World War when Sir Ludwig Guttman, a neurosurgeon at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, introduced sport for wheelchair users as part of their rehabilitation. Sir Ludwig Guttman organised the first International Wheelchair Games at Stoke Mandeville in 1948 to coincide with the London Olympics.

Sport for disabled people is now as competitive and taken as seriously as sport for non-disabled people with athletes training, being coached and requiring sports science support and equipment to help them reach the highest levels.

People who are visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, have a physical impairment or learning disability, can, and do, participate in sport from grass roots to elite levels and for the same reasons as non-disabled people.

Development of sport for people with disabilities:

Development has historically been based on impairment groups, with organisations being formed to provide for the needs of specific groups of people. These are called the national disability sports organisations (NDSOs), e.g. the Welsh Paraplegic and Tetraplegic Sports Association, Paratets for short. There is now a move towards national sports governing bodies developing their sports for disabled people but it is generally considered that there is a need for cooperation between the NDSOs and the governing bodies to work together to make use of their respective expertise.

The Federation of Disability Sport Wales is a national sports organisation for disabled people in Wales which includes representatives of all the NDSOs. They work with various partners such as local authorities, education, social services and of course sports governing bodies to develop sport for disabled people in Wales.


The international governing bodies of sport for disabled people are continually refining classification systems which ensure fair competition. A good parallel is to look at boxing where participants are matched according to weight, ensuring that competition is fair. Disabled participants are classified according to their functional ability, which ensures that athletes of similar ability compete against each other. For example, visually impaired athletes are classified into three groups according to their level of sight so that athletes with similar ranges of vision compete against each other.

Classification is a difficult and complex subject and is continually being developed in order to ensure fair competition.

Which sports?

Disabled people take part in many sports. Sometimes rules or equipment may need to be adapted but, generally speaking, any sport is possible. If, however, a disabled athlete wanted to compete at the highest level, for example, at the Paralympics, they would need to be involved in a paralympic sport. Disabled athletes also train as coaches and officials.

Further information

There are many organisations which run competitions or provide opportunities in sport for disabled people. It is sometimes difficult to make contact with the most appropriate organisation for information. The people listed below should be able to provide an initial source of information.

  1. For information about the Federation of Disability Sport Wales (FDSW), contact the FDSW Office, Welsh Institute of Sport, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, CF11 9SW. Tel:
    For information about a specific national disability sports organisation, contact FDSW and request the relevant contact name and address.

  2. For information about specific sports, contact the national governing body in the first instance, then FDSW.

  3. For information about the British Paralympic Association, contact the BPA, 40 Bernard Street, London, WC1N 1ST. Tel:

  4. For information about generic coach education courses, including "Working with Disabled Sportspeople", contact the Coaching Development Officer, The Sports Council for Wales, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, CF11 9SW.

  5. For information about sports specific awards contact the appropriate national governing body of sport.

  6. For information on becoming a teacher for people with disabilities, or training as a Sports Development Officer, contact your local Careers Adviser.

  7. Generally, people wishing to work with disabled people in sport undertake sports specific coaching qualifications then attend, for example, the sports coach UK "Working with Disabled Sportspeople" course. It is also useful to work alongside an experienced Coach and assist with training sessions or work with a disability sports club to gain more experience. Local Disability Sport Coordinators can provide information on local sports clubs. A list of coordinators is available at: