Wheelchair Inclusion Tips for Children’s Athletics: Adapting to Special Needs

 In Adapting to Special Needs, Education, Volunteer Tips, Youth Sports and Athletics

There are an estimated 3.3 Million wheelchair users in the United States. Adapting to the special needs of students may include learning and discovering new ways to modify your activities so that young people of all abilities can play. In this post, we’ll be looking at wheelchair inclusion tips for athletic activities.

Why It’s Important

Inclusion practices benefit young people with disabilities AND their same-aged peers. Children who grow up interacting with individuals with disabilities and chronic illness come to view these differences as a normal part of life.

Communication Tips for Wheelchair Inclusion

  • Whenever possible, put yourself at eye level to facilitate conversation by sitting in a chair or crouching down.
  • Do not speak loudly and/or slowly to an individual using a wheelchair unless you know that doing so is necessary to communicate.
  • Always ask permission before pushing somebody’s wheelchair.
  • Make conversation with students when you push their wheelchairs, just as you would if you were walking with a student who does not use a wheelchair.


Sports Modification for Wheelchair Inclusion

  • Always let your students try–never assume they can’t do something.
  • Work with students to adapt to their abilities (ie: Players may hold the ball in their lap for periods of movement).
  • Create new rules if you recognize a limitation (ie: if a child cannot bounce a ball, allow them to instead have to touch their wheels before having to pass the ball).
  • Limit amount of quick wheelchair movements to prevent exhaustion and blisters.
  • Practice sports indoors or on dirt ground for easier maneuvering (avoid grass).
  • Utilize the STEPS principle (Space, Task, Equipment, People, and Safety), to ensure that you are thinking through all the different ways of how to adapt lessons to integrate children with disabilities.


Tips for Wheelchair Inclusion

wheelchair-inclusion-tips-for-athleticsGroup Work

  • If possible, offer a volunteer buddy to push a student’s chair when needed
  • Discuss with the group what modifications are going to be made to the game
    field questions

Offer Options

  • Baseball Example: Offer a pitched ball, rolled ball, or a t-ball.
  • Basketball Example: Widen/lower baskets as needed.

Checking In

  • Ask the student for their thoughts on how they would like to modify an activity
  • Check in with the student after practice to see what went well and what we can try next time

Resource: CoachArt Inclusion Training Guide

1 in 5 people has a physical disability. Understanding ways to adapt to special needs is an important part of ensuring that every child is able to play and have fun! CoachArt encourages an open dialogue about differences. Children have a natural curiosity to try and understand the world around them. Children learn to view differences with acceptance when adults model respectful behavior and acknowledge curiosity with honest explanations that children can understand.

Want to learn more inclusion tips? Find 10 Fun Outdoor Activities for Kids Who Need Different Accommodations here. Have inclusion tips you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! Please share your experience with us in the comments.


10 Local Resources for Parents of Kids with Chronic Illnesses in Los Angeles | CoachArt CoachArt offers free art and athletic lessons to chronically ill children and their siblings between the ages of 5-18 in Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, and San Diego. If your child has been diagnosed with a chronic condition, we invite you to fill out a student eligibility form or get in touch to learn if CoachArt is right for your child.

CoachArt creates a transformative arts and athletics community for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Since 2001, CoachArt has matched volunteer coaches with kids for free one-on-one or group lessons in arts and athletics. We invite you to get involved!

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