Adaptive Sports

Canadian Clinical Blog by Sheilagh Sherman, BA, BHScOT, MHM, OT Reg. (Ont.) - Sunrise Medical

Last month’s Clinical Corner article addressed parasport and focused in particular on Wheelchair Basketball. See Wheelchair Basketball for the full article. This month, let’s continue our look at adaptive sports for individuals who use wheelchairs.

There are a multitude of sports that can be played in wheelchairs. Some examples are archery, boccia, table tennis, target shooting, fencing, and tennis. (Please see the Clinical Corner article on Wheelchair Tennis for more on this sport.) These sports are all represented at the Paralympic level. Other adaptive sports and activities include bowling and soccer. There are many recreational clubs in communities throughout Canada offering the ability for individuals to trial various adapted sports.

Clinicians may not necessarily work with clients who are Paralympic athletes, but rather individuals who would like to engage in sports or other activities on a recreational level. Therefore, it is important for clinicians to understand some of the options that may be available for clients when it comes to sports. Depending upon the clinical setting, a clinician either may be facilitating active participation in sports or may refer clients to other community resources for engagement in leisure and sports pursuits. In either case, a therapist should understand all of the ways in which an individual would like to use their wheelchair when looking at a new prescription, whether working with children or adults.

Let’s look at some of the parasports that can be participated in while using a wheelchair.

Para Archery

In general, archery competitions can be held indoors or outdoors, with the size of the target and the distance from the target varying, depending upon the competition. While some sports, such as wheelchair tennis, have adapted rules to allow for accessibility and fairness in the sport, adaptation to the rules is not required for archery at the Paralympic level. For Paralympic and Olympic competition, the format is the same. “Archers shoot 72 arrows from a distance of 70 metres at a target of 122 cm. A perfect score is 720.”1

The classification of individuals allows for fairness in completion by ensuring that individuals competing against one another have similar functional abilities. In para-archery, classification of functional abilities may be grouped based on amputation/limb deficiency/leg length difference, reduced muscle power (e.g., spinal cord injury, spina bifida), or neurological impairment (e.g., cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury).2

Wheelchair Fencing

In wheelchair fencing, the individual’s wheelchair is affixed to the ground and the individual must remain seated with the feet remaining on the footrest. While one hand holds the fencing weapon, the other hand is on the wheelchair, using it to assist with trunk control for lunging and recovering.3

Classification in fencing is similar to that of para archery in that groupings are based on amputation/limb deficiency/leg length difference, reduced muscle power or neurological impairment.2

Para Table Tennis

Para table tennis can be played sitting or standing, depending upon one’s abilities. There are five classes for individuals competing in wheelchairs, which are based on range of movement, muscle strength, sitting balance, and ability to handle the racket.4

Wheelchair Bowling

Wheelchair bowling can be played in either a manual or a power wheelchair.5 No special equipment is required for wheelchair bowling, however, assistive devices exist to facilitate game play for individuals who require them. For example, bowling ramps allow for an individual with limited ability to hold or roll a ball to release the ball from the top of the ramp to roll onto the bowling alley. There are also bowling ball pushers, which look similar to shuffle board cues in that they are long sticks with grips to contact the ball, which are used to push the bowling ball. For individuals who are able to lift the weight of the ball and swing their arm, yet have difficulty placing their fingers into the holes on the ball, there are retractable handles for the bowling ball to allow the ball to roll down the alley after its release.6

Power Soccer (Powerchair Football)

Wheelchair soccer is for individuals who use power wheelchairs. Footguards, which look like cages, are attached to the individual’s wheelchair at the level of the footplate. The footguard is used to manoeuvre the ball, while offering protection to the player’s feet.7 Power soccer is played indoors in a gymnasium. Each team is allowed to have four players on the court at one time, including the goalkeeper.


There are many sports that can be played while using a wheelchair. Community organizations across Canada allow individuals of varying abilities to play different sports, including individual and team sports. Many of these sports are represented at the Paralympic level, with classification of abilities facilitating fairness in competition.


  1. Canadian Paralympic Committee. (2013). Para-Archery. Retrieved from
  2. Canadian Paralympic Committee. (2013). Classification. Retrieved from
  3. Canadian Paralympic Committee. (2013). Wheelchair Fencing. Retrieved from
  4. Canadian Paralympic Committee. (2013). Table Tennis. Retrieved from
  5. American Wheelchair Bowling Association. (2015). Questions and Answers. Retrieved from
  6. (2013). Adaptive bowling. Retrieved from
  7. Power Football Canada. (n.d.). Power Football Canada. Retrieved from

As always, please provide your comments, questions, and suggestions regarding Clinical Corner. Please email me at I look forward to hearing from you!

Sheilagh Sherman BA, BHScOT, MHM, OT Reg. (Ont.) - Clinical Education Manager, Canada

Sheilagh Sherman, BA, BHScOT, MHM, OT Reg. (Ont.)

Sheilagh Sherman joined Sunrise Medical Canada in 2010 as a Clinical Educator. Prior to joining Sunrise, Sheilagh gained extensive clinical experience working in a variety of settings, including neurological rehabilitation, complex continuing care, and community rehabilitation. As the Clinical Education Manager, Sheilagh is a clinical resource for therapists across Canada involved in seating and mobility. She leads workshops, seminars, and webinars on the clinical aspects of seating and mobility. In addition, Sheilagh has presented at national and international conferences on seating and mobility.

Sheilagh also has an educational background that makes her well suited to the role of Clinical Education Manager. Sheilagh earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Toronto in 1988, which enables her to understand healthcare policy and policy changes. Sheilagh graduated with a Bachelor of Health Sciences (Occupational Therapy) degree from McMaster University in 1994. In 2012, Sheilagh earned a Certificate in Adult Education/Staff Training from Seneca College. She applies adult learning principles to the workshops she leads. Finally, she also has a Master of Health Management (MHM) degree from McMaster University after graduating in 2015. Courses that Sheilagh completed during the MHM degree, such as Knowledge Translation, Evaluating Sources of Evidence, and Quality & Safety in Healthcare, assist Sheilagh in using an evidence-based approach in her work.

In her free time, Sheilagh enjoys running, in addition to practicing yoga.

Date: 2017-11-21

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