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Inclusive Physical Education: Disability Awareness

Individuals with Physical Disability

There are a wide range of causes and degrees of physical disability. As such, it is critically important to always consider the ability level of each individual. One child who has Spina Bifida may have none of the same characteristics as another child who has Spina Bifida. Consider first that each individual is unique, independent of similar disabilities.

Inquire directly with an athlete before moving his or her mobility device out of reach. Additionally, ensure others do not play with the device. As his or her sole means of ambulation, it is important that it is accessible for whenever it is needed.

Certain disabilities predispose some individuals to latex allergies, some of which can be very serious. Some activity equipment may contain latex, and care needs to be taken to provide latex free options. Examples of such equipment include exercise bands, gripping tape (for tennis racks, baseball bats, etc.) balloons, and many more.

Regardless of age, you may need to consider using the basic concepts of progression with different sports. For example, if your athlete is unsuccessful connecting a bat with the ball, you may want to consider using a larger bat, putting the ball on a tee or using a larger ball that travels more slowly, like a beach ball. 

Individuals with Intellectual Disability

Be aware that an intellectual disability may not be apparent. Before you place unrealistic expectations on an athlete, check his or her paperwork or ask his or her parents if you have concerns.

Consider how your information is presented on a daily basis. If it is only spoken once to a crowd of athletes it may be challenging for some athletes to comprehend. Be sure to provide directions in alternative formats, such as in a step-by-step format using words and pictures.

Along those same lines you want to make sure that athletes fully understand the task you have asked them to complete. They may have a desire to please you and therefore say yes or not acknowledge that they do not understand the activity.

When learning a new task, be sure to provide all athletes sufficient time to learn it. Some athletes may be significantly slower learners than others. Multiple repetitions may be required. Additionally, some athletes may demonstrate a poor kinesthetic sense, which could create problems with their balance and gait, particularly when performing new, more detailed tasks.

Individuals with Sensory or Communication Disability

If an athlete has difficulty speaking, do not assume he or she has an intellectual disability, too. Do not alter your own speech or attitude when speaking with this athlete.

Be sure to allow sufficient time for communication with you. Do not attempt to finish his or her sentences or provide words before he or she can say them. If you do not understand the athlete ask him or her to repeat the question or statement. He or she is most likely just as frustrated as you with the breakdown in communication. Again, be patient and allow as much communication time as is needed.

An athlete with vision loss can have any varying degrees of sight, and may or may not use an assistive device. Help the athlete become familiar with the environment. Be very descriptive to help orient him or her to the new surroundings. Be sure the environment is safe by removing any unnecessary cones, signs, or other obstacles.

An athlete with hearing loss may require an interpreter. If not, be sure to provide a clear view of the mouth of any speaking individual so the athlete can read lips. Be sure to keep your hands or other objects away from your face and speak in a normal speed and tone.

If communication is difficult, regardless of the disability, consider writing out your message or asking the athlete to write out or otherwise present what he or she is trying to communicate.

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