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Who is able to participate in adaptive recreation programs?

Anyone with a physical or cognitive disability is able to participate in an adaptive recreation program. We encourage family members to participate with the person who has the disability, because the disability does not just happen to the person, it happens to the entire family, and part of the healing process has to happen together.
During my undergraduate studies I completed some internship hours at a residential care facility for adolescent sex offenders. Although they did not have any physical disabilities, there was tremendous care put into designing and facilitating recreational activities because of the unique needs of these individuals. I created an extensive "game" for them to play that required no physical contact, yet included running, throwing, teamwork, creativity, strategy and physical exertion. This experience highlighted the need for a commitment to movement, recreation and physical exertion in any population regardless of the challenges they face. I have worked with many other people who had physical, cognitive and developmental challenges and have found the only thing that kept them from successful participation in an adaptive recreation program was a lack of commitment, creativity or caring. There are wonderful professionals, from occupational therapists to recreational therapists and beyond, true experts in this field that perform small miracles every day with patients of every level of disability. I agree with Challenge America, everyone can do it and it is a critical part of healing, rehabilitation and recovery. 

Adapted physical activity programs are made available to anyone a disability (physical or intellectual). Adapted physical activity programs are programs of developmental activities, exercises, games, rhythms, and sport designed to meet the unique needs and ability levels of individuals with disabilities.

Anyone with a physical or cognitive disability can participate in an adaptive recreation program, provided they have an evaluation to see exactly what adaptations will be necessary and what limitations they may have. When I work with paraplegic clients I have to use hooks as hands since most quads have little use of their grip muscles. With paraplegics you can do other things because most paraplegics have use of their hands so conventional exercise machines will work for them. Truly anyone can participate in an adaptive program considering all the options available, such as machines, cables or even manual resistance exercises.


Joanne Duncan-Carnesciali, CPT,NASM Elite Trainer
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
Provided that the individual has clearance from his physician, anyone who falls under the umbrella of needing a modification in order for him/her to participate in recreation or physical activity can participate in adapted recreation. 

It is important, though, to understand what adapted recreation entails. According to the fourth edition of Adapted Physical Education and Sport, "Adapted physical education is an individualized program involving physical and motor fitness, fundamental motor skills and patterns skills in aquatics and dance, and individual and group games and sports designed to meet the "unique" needs of individuals."

It becomes paramount that the individuals teaching or supervising those who require the adaptations have the appropriate experience and credentials in order to meet the "unique" needs of those who require adaptations. It is also important for the health and fitness professionals supervising/teaching these individuals understand how the participant's condition responds to exercise. What is okay for someone without physical, cognitive or sensory challenges may elicit a different exercise response with someone with physical, cognitive or sensory challenges.

Whether the individual has a physical, sensory or cognitive disability, it is important that he/she have clearance from their physician to participate in adapted physical activity and that venue and/or individual have the proper knowledge, skills, abilities and credentials to properly prescribe an adapted recreation/exercise program for the participant.

Organizations such as the National Center of Physical Activity and Disability www.ncpad.org can put you in contact with fitness centers and individuals who have the knowledge, skills and credentials to meet your particular needs.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.