Sports for Intellectually Impaired

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Having an Intellectual Impairment does not mean that you cannot take part in activities like Sport. In-fact Disabled Sports in South Africa are both very popular & successful.
Sportsman with impairments in South Africa have in-fact outperformed their able bodied teams by some distance.

Whatever your age, disability, experience level, or gender, there's a place for you in Impaired sports. Whether you prefer team or individual sports, Winter or Summer sports, high action or something a bit slower, If you've got the enthusiasm & the drive, you can find something in this section that will suit you.

Intellectual Disability

Athletes with a significant impairment in intellectual functioning and associated limitations in adaptive behavior. The IPC primarily serves athletes with physical disabilities, but the disability group Intellectual Disability has been added to some Paralympic Games. This includes only elite athletes with intellectual disabilities diagnosed before the age of 18. However, the IOC- recognized Special Olympics World Games are open to all people with intellectual disabilities.

Adapted sports help society learn about disability. They also can help remove some of the stigma associated with having a disability. A wide range of sports have been adapted to be played by people with various disabilities, as well as several that are unique to disabled athletes.

Paralympics GamesInternational Paralympic Committee

For a time, athletes with intellectual disabilities were included in the Paralympic Games. After a cheating scandal at the 2000 Summer Paralympics, where a number of athletes participating in intellectual disability events were revealed to not be disabled, INAS-FID athletes were banned from Paralympics competition, but the ban on intellectually disabled athletes has since been lifted, but the number of events for people with intellectual disabilities are far less than other disabilities.

The disability category determines who athletes compete against and which sports they participate in. Events in the Paralympics are commonly labelled with the relevant disability category, S14 such as Swimming for Intellectually Impaired , or Ladies Table Tennis 11, indicating athletes with an intellectual disability.

Competiors at elite level competitions, are classified by disability, to arrange athletes with a similar disability in the same event. T/F20 Athletes who have a recognised intellectual impairment according to international standards as recognised by the World Health Organisation i.e. IQ testing of 75 and below.

Globally, the International Paralympic Committee is recognized as the leading organization, with direct governance of nine sports, and responsibility over the Paralympic Games and other multi-sport, multi-disability events. Other international organizations, notably the International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability (INAS) and the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CP-ISRA) govern some sports that are specific to certain disability groups.

In addition, certain single-sport federations govern sports for athletes with a disability, either as part of an able-bodied sports federation such as the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI).

At the national level, there are a wide range of organizations that take responsibility for Paralympic sport, including National Paralympic Committees, which are members of the IPC, and many others.

International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID)

In 1986, the International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID) was formed to support elite competition for athletes with intellectual disabilities. This was established in contrast to the more participative, "sport for all" approach of Special Olympics.

Special Olympics2015 Special Olympics World Games

Special Olympics World Games are held every two years, alternating with Summer and Winter Games. The last Special Olympics World Games was on the 25th July to 2nd August 2015 in Los Angeles, California, USA. 

In addition to the World Games, Special Olympics holds competitions at the local, state/province, country, region and world level every year. In all, more than 70,000 Special Olympics competitions are held every year. South Africa takes part in this.

To be eligible to participate in Special Olympics, you must be at least 8 years old and identified by an agency or professional as having one of the following conditions:

  • intellectual disabilities
  • cognitive delays as measured by formal assessment
  • significant learning or vocational problems due to cognitive delay that require or have required specially designed instruction

The Special Olympics Young Athletes™ program was created for children with intellectual disabilities ages 2 through 7.

Since 1968, Special Olympics has been spreading the message: people with intellectual disabilities can – and will – succeed when given the opportunity. Special Olympics is the leading voice in raising awareness about the abilities of people with intellectual disabilities. Through the power of sports, people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities, skills and success. Athletes find joy, confidence and fulfillment on the playing field and in life. They also inspire people in their communities and elsewhere to open their hearts to a wider world of human talents and potential. There are up to 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world. Special Olympics attempts to reach out to every one of them, as well as their families and communities. They do this through a wide range of trainings, competitions, health screenings and fund-raising events. They also create opportunities for families, community members, local leaders, businesses, law enforcement, celebrities, dignitaries and others to band together to change attitudes and support athletes.Special Olympics logo

Special Olympics is also the world's largest public health organization for people with intellectual disabilities. They offer a wide range of free health exams and care to athletes with neglected health problems. Their goal is to bring better fitness, nutrition and healthier lifestyles to everyone involved in Special Olympics -- from athletes and their families, to coaches and volunteers.  
Special Olympics attitude research shows that the majority of people worldwide underestimate the abilities of people with intellectual disabilities. There research also shows that their capabilities far exceed their expectations. With this knowledge in hand, we are opening doors for greater opportunities for them in education, health care and employment.

Special Olympics leads the world in researching and addressing the concerns of people with intellectual disabilities. We identify the pressing issues facing this group, and reach out to the highest leaders in government, health care, education, the nonprofit sector and business to influence policy and to bring valuable services to those in need.

Sports is a powerful force. It can shift the focus from disability to ability, from isolation to involvement, they offer the highest quality Olympic-style sports training and competition for people with intellectual disabilities all around the world. This changes attitudes and changes lives. The transformative power of sports to instill confidence, improve health and inspire a sense of competition is at the core of what Special Olympics does. From the detailed coaching guides we provide in many languages to the sharp-eyed officials at our international games, the focus is on real sports, real competition, real achievements.


Beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s, work began within several countries and organizations to include athletes with disabilities in the able-bodied sport system. This included adding events for athletes with disabilities to major games such as the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games, and integration of these athletes into able-bodied sports organizations. Since 1984, the Olympics have included exhibition events for Paralympic athletes, recently disabled athletes have competed in full medal events.

Unified sports

"Unified sports" involve teams made up of athletes with and without disabilities. Since the 1990s, Special Olympics Unified Sports have been promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition. This initiative has expanded globally and now involves more than 700,000 players in 127 countries worldwide. The principle behind Unified Sports is simple: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. An example of this is "The NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game" during the NBA All-Star Weekend.

The Walt Disney Company, ESPN and Special Olympics are also working on a two-year global initiative that will leverage the power of sports to promote an environment of social inclusion and acceptance.


A major component of Paralympic sport is classification. Classification provides a structure for competition which allows athletes to compete against others with similar disabilities or similar levels of physical function. It is similar in aim to the weight classes or age categories used in some non-disabled sports.

Athletes are classified through a variety of processes that depend on their disability group and the sport they are participating in. Evaluation may include a physical or medical examination, a technical evaluation of how the athlete performs certain sport-related physical functions, and observation in and out of competition. Each sport has its own specific classification system which forms part of the rules of the sport.

Types of Sport

Many disabled sports are based on existing able bodied sports, modified to meet the needs of persons with a disability, they are sometimes referred to as adapted sports. Not all disabled sports are adapted, several sports have been specifically created for persons with a disability & have no equivalent in able-bodied sports. Within each movement, different sports are practised at different levels; for example, not all sports in the Paralympic movement are part of the Paralympic Games. In addition, many sports are practiced by persons with a disability outside the formal sports movements.

People with disabilities benefit from physical activity, and the barriers to being active are starting to come down. A wide variety of activities have been adapted so people of all abilities can participate. The Self-Determination Theory has been one of the most proven theories on how athletes participate in competitions of this level. Studies have supported this theory especially in intellectually or developmentally disabled athletes.

Sports appropriate for my disability

Below are a list of a few sports that are available to individuals with Intellectually Impairments in South Africa. These sports are available at social, club & Provincial level, while some are available at the Paralympics & Special Olympics, where the classification process is used. To view all the sports listed, view the buttons on the left.

Athletics & Swimming

Both Athletics & Swimming are available to individuals with Intellectually Impairments in South Africa. These sports are competed in at social, club & Provincial level, as well as at the Paralympics & Special Olympics, where the classification process is used. Athletes who compete in these sports are classified thanks to the classification system.


Basketball & Netball

Basketball & Netball are both sports which are played by individuals in teams on courts, which are especially mapped out to the specific sizes & dimensions that the sport requires. They also both use hoops and ball. sport. These sports are played at social, club & Provincial level, as well as at the Special Olympics, where the classification process is used.


Cricket & Soccer

Both Cricket & Soccer are both played by individuals who make up a team. These team sports are both played on fields & have been adapted so that individuals with Intellectually Impairment's can participate.

International Learning Disability Sport is overseen by the world governing body of Learning Disability Sport, INAS-FID. INAS rules state that to play sport as an athlete with a Learning Disability you must be able to demonstrate that you have an IQ of 75 or less.


Golf & Ten-Pin Bowling

Golf & Ten-pin Bowling or "Bowling" are both competitive sports, which can be played by individuals against each other or in teams despite an Intellectual Impairment.
Although Bowling & Golf do not belong to the Paralympics Games, they are among the most popular sports in the Special Olympics. They are both particularly beneficial sports irrespective of your age or sports abilities, as they both ensure physical exercise and at the same time participation and social integration. Plus, they great fun! Both sports are played at social, club & Provincial level, as well as at International level.


Martial Arts & Judo

Both Martial Arts and Judo are available for individuals with Intellectually Impairment's. Both sports are competed in at social, club & Provincial level, as well as at International level. These sports are not only  a source of fun, but great exercise, a challenge, teachers discipline, & is a great way to meet new people.



Paragliding is the recreational and competitive adventure sport of flying paragliders. The pilot sits in a harness suspended below a fabric wing comprising a large number of interconnected baffled cells. Wing shape is maintained by the suspension lines, the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing, and the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over the outside.

Despite not using an engine, a paragliders flight can last many hours and cover many hundreds of kilometers, though flights of one to two hours and covering some tens of kilometers are more the norm. By skillful exploitation of sources of lift, the pilot may gain height, often climbing to altitudes of a few thousand meters. Paragliding takes allot of skill and hours of practice, but this does not mean that you can't enjoy the thrill of paragliding even if you have a disability.

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Tennis & Table Tennis

Tennis & Table Tennis are both sports that have been adapted from their original sports. Both sports can be played by people with nearly every disability including Intellectual disabilities. Athletes receive classifications, so that they can be grouped for competition purposes according to their impairment. Both sports are played at social, club & Provincial level, as well as at International level.


Scuba Diving

If you love the weightless feeling you get when swimming, then scuba diving may be a great hobby for you. The Handicapped Scuba Association promotes scuba diving around the world. Each year they also plan scuba trips to exotic locations led by specially trained scuba divers and individuals who are wheelchair users so that you are ensured a safe and comfortable scuba experience.

"The HSA was founded in 1981 by Jim Gatacre and is now the world's leading authority on recreational diving for people with disabilities which includes the Intellectually Impaired. Headquartered in California, HSA INTERNATIONAL extends its underwater educational programs worldwide.

Scuba Diving is a very popular recreational activity for disabled & able people all across the world, not to mention in our beautiful waters & climate of South Africa.

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