All-Access Athletics

There’s a difference between a camp with facilities that are ADA-compliant, and those that are truly welcoming to individuals with physical challenges.

An accessible athletic field means everyone can have fun playing sports.

Make no mistake–ADA was groundbreaking. But when it comes to including athletes of all abilities, it takes an all-out effort. And sometimes that effort starts with reaching out to athletes who might not even know they can be athletes.

“The number of people with disabilities in the United States is in the millions,” says Jeremiah Yolkut of the United States Tennis Association’s Competitive Play and Technical Programs division.

“The number-one challenge–what we really want to do–is get those people involved at the grassroots level.”

A large number of sports are open to those with physical disabilities; the International Paralympic Committee, which organizes the Summer Paralympic Games and the Winter Paralympic Games, can provide official information on rules, athlete classifications, and more.

This article will focus on a few of the athletic facilities common to many local camps, and the way those facilities–and the sports played on them–can be and have been adapted for recreational use by athletes with mobility restrictions.

Court Sports

Some facilities don’t necessarily need to be changed to accommodate athletes who use wheelchairs. For example, wheelchair tennis uses the standard 60-foot x 120-foot court that all players use. Wheelchair basketball courts have the same dimensions as those for regulation play, and the hoop is the same height as for able-bodied players. (In both tennis and basketball for wheelchair play, there are changes to the rules that allow for the limitations of players.)

Opening up tennis courts, basketball courts, or other facilities to wheelchair-bound players, says Yolkut, starts with opening up the gates themselves.

“While it’s standard for many facilities to have 42-inch-wide gates, you want to have a wider opening for wheelchair players because of what we call the ‘camber,’ or the angle in the wheels that you’ll see in an athletic wheelchair. You’re much more likely to go to a 48-inch-wide opening because that means you don’t have to take a wheel off the chair to get it through the gate.”

The new trend in teaching tennis to ages 10 and under (both able-bodied and physically challenged) is the QuickStart Tennis Format, which uses shorter courts and softer, low-compression foam balls. Those who are not only learning the game of tennis, but getting familiar with being in a wheelchair, tend to find the sport a rewarding and fun experience, and have an easier time mastering the skills.

Wheelchair tennis and basketball are far from the only youth sports for those with physical challenges, however. The National Federation for State High School Associations High School Athletics Participation Survey lists several adapted sports, including bowling, floor hockey, softball, and track.

Several park-and-rec districts have noted an increase in “beep baseball,” a game for the visually impaired, which uses a noise-emitting ball.

Level Playing Fields

Field sports for children with mobility limitations are not the exception but the rule at Cotting School in Lexington, Mass. The school is designed specifically for students with special needs. Of its approximately 120 students, 40 percent have wheelchairs or walkers, according to President David Manzo.

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