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The benefits of exercise, physical activity, and sport participation are the same for ALL youth regardless of ability. Proper training, disability awareness, and an understanding of inclusion will pave the way for equal access to physical activity for youth-and it starts with the coach. An inclusive physical activity setting is crucial in shaping the minds of all students, as the perspective of students on kids with a disability all starts with the act of playing. How an athlete is treated during structured activity can significantly impact how they are treated off the field, into the classroom and beyond. If an athlete with a disability is included equally in all activities, then the other athletes will see that they can play with them in other areas as well. It will also help the athlete with the disability realize their potential. Physical activity is key in addressing the obesity epidemic that is especially problematic for individuals with disabilities. Therefore it is obvious physical activity can play a major role in their life both presently and in the future. Coaches can help shape their life now in helping them becoming active and independent and this can translate into active independent adults.

Person-First Language

Full inclusion starts with the coach and a basic understanding of disability. A basic understanding of disability has to start with person first language. Using out of date or offensive language can make any instructor seem uneducated. The proper terminology can go a long way with your athletes and their parents. Always put the person first! A person who has a disability is not wheelchair-bound or handicapped they are simply: a person who uses a wheelchair or a person with a disability. Here's a list of person first terminology for individuals with a disability.

Words to Avoid
Words to Say
  • Brain-damaged
  • Person with brain injury
  • Crippled; wheelchair-bound; wheelchair-confined
  • Person who is deaf, or person with a hearing impairment
  • Disabled; handicapped; physically challenged
  • Person who uses a wheelchair
  • Able-bodied
  • Person without a disability
  • Mentally retarded
  • Person with an intellectual disability
  • Epileptic; diabetic
  • Person with epilepsy/diabetes

Tips on Communication with Individuals with a Disability

  • Always treat the athlete with the same respect as others.
  • Allow extra time if necessary to perform a task or exercise.
  • Establish open communication about abilities and limitations.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions, respectfully.
  • Do not mistake a person's disability for a serious disease or illness.
  • Consult with others when needing additional information on a specific condition. Information sharing is key!
  • Do not assume additional disabilities due to the presence of one. For example, a person using a wheelchair does not necessarily have a cognitive impairment.
  • Offer athletes choices when appropriate.
  • Speak directly to athletes rather than adults or peers accompanying them.

For more information and resources for the community of athletes with a disability, please visit NCHPAD at