Types of Disability

What is a disability?

To make ‘Every Sport for Everyone’ a reality, it is important that you are fully aware of the different types of disability. If you are more familiar with the range of disabilities, then you will be better equipped to include all players, with and without a disability. This section details the most common types of disabilities and the potential barriers these disabilities may cause for those taking part in sport.

What is a disability?

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 states that a person has a disability if they have ‘a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on [their] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. Disability refers to individual functioning, including:

  • physical impairment;
  • sensory impairment;
  • learning impairment;
  • mental illness; and
  • various types of chronic disease.

This section highlights the different types of disabilities and provides tips on how to include a pupil with a disability in sport.

This website is intended to assist teachers in making sport more accessible for all the children they teach, irrespective of disabilities or conditions that the pupils may have.

Physical disabilities

Physical disabilities

Due to injury

A disability due to an injury is an acquired disability that has happened after birth as a result of a particular incident; for example, an accident that has affected a limb or an impact that has damaged the brain. A person who has a physical disability due to an injury to their body will have difficulty moving that particular part of the body. If a person has an injury to their brain then they are often slower at processing information and their co-ordination and/or balance may be affected. This will affect their ability to take part in sports, as they may find it difficult to process information, have limited mobility and/or have much slower reaction speeds.

Cerebral palsy

This condition affects muscle tone and movement. Cerebral palsy is caused by a problem in the part of the brain responsible for controlling muscles. The condition can cause muscle stiffness or floppiness, muscle weakness and also uncontrollable muscle movements. The severity of the condition can range from person to person, but it will always have an impact on mobility.

Muscular dystrophy

This condition causes a progressive and irreversible weakness in muscles. This can affect a person gradually over time and result in difficulties with movement, breathing etc.

Spina bifida

This is a birth defect that occurs when the baby’s vertebrae does not form properly around the spinal cord. A person with the condition can experience a range of difficulties. It can cause weakness or total paralysis of the legs, bowel and bladder incontinence and/or learning difficulties.

Multiple sclerosis (MS)

This is a disease that affects the nervous system. It is an autoimmune condition that causes the immune system to attack healthy parts of the body, such as the brain or spinal cord. It is a lifelong condition and the symptoms range from person to person. It can cause severe difficulties with vision, movement of the limbs, balance and co-ordination. It can also cause learning difficulties.

Cystic fibrosis

This is a genetic condition affecting a person from birth. It causes a build-up of thick mucus in the lungs, digestive system and other organs. This causes difficulties with breathing and digestion; however, exercise can help the lung function and allow for easier breathing.

How can I support a pupil with a physical disability in sport?

  • Ensure that you are fully aware of the pupil’s disability.
  • Ensure the size and surface of the area is appropriate for users with mobility difficulties.
  • Ensure the length of time is appropriate for the players.
  • Adapt sports to make sure all players are included.
  • Increase the number of adults who are in the area supporting the players.
  • Make changes to the rules to allow play to flow.
  • Ensure all players with a disability have the correct equipment.
  • Ensure the playing area is safe for all users, with and without a disability.
  • For players with hearing or sight difficulties, use visual symbols or a form of sign language to communicate and give instructions, for example Makaton.

Other Conditions

Other Conditions

Learning difficulties

A learning difficulty occurs when a person’s brain development is hindered before they are born or during/shortly after birth. A learning disability affects the way a person processes information and how they communicate. It can be mild, moderate or severe. Communication difficulties can range from person to person with a learning difficulty, for example some may have impaired speech, some may not be able to speak at all and others may show no obvious difficulties.

Profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD)

This occurs when a person has more than one disability along with learning difficulties. These difficulties could include sensory difficulties, complex health or medical needs or a physical disability. The combination of this along with learning difficulties results in the person needing a lot of support and care at all times.

Down’s syndrome

This is a genetic condition that affects the person from birth. It causes some form of learning difficulty and distinct physical features, for example floppiness in the limbs due to reduced muscle tone. The condition can also affect a person’s ability to communicate and can cause other medical issues, such as recurrent infections.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

As this a spectrum disorder, the symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. It is a condition that affects behaviour, communication and social interaction. A person with ASD will have difficulties in communicating appropriately and may find it difficult to make eye contact, use and interpret facial expressions etc. They may find it difficult to make friends and often prefer playing on their own. Their language development is also often delayed. People with ASD may rely heavily on routine and find it difficult to cope when there is a change in routine. They often have other learning difficulties alongside the condition.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

This condition causes a person to have certain characteristics in their behaviour such as hyperactivity, inattentiveness and impulsiveness. People who have this condition may find it difficult to control their behaviour, follow instructions and can find it difficult to sleep.

Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD)

This refers to a condition where the person has social, emotional and behavioural difficulties that are so different from the norms that they affect the person’s daily life. It can cause them to have difficulties in learning, poor concentration and cause them to display persistent challenging behaviour. It can also affect their ability to form relationships with peers and family.

Specific learning difficulties (SpLD)

This affects a person’s ability to process and learn information. These difficulties occur independently of intelligence and cause a severe impact on the person’s ability to learn in one particular area only. The types include the following:

  • dyslexia – causes difficulties in literacy, for example in spelling and reading;
  • dyscalculia – causes difficulties understanding mathematical concepts; and
  • dyspraxia – affects the fine and/or gross motor skills, which can cause difficulties with balance and co-ordination.

How can I support a pupil with additional needs in sport?

  • Ensure that you are fully aware of the pupil’s condition and understand what effects it will have on them.
  • Ensure that you are fully aware of certain triggers that could cause difficult behaviour and avoid these triggers.
  • Players who have difficulties with communication will sometimes require cue cards or a form of sign language, such as Makaton, to help them understand instructions. You could also use the picture exchange communication system (PECS).
  • A visual timetable of what activities are planned will be useful for some pupils, for example a pupil with ASD who relies heavily on a routine.
  • Players who have learning difficulties may require clear concise instructions and may require them more than once.
  • The players may require greater support from you to help them.
  • To engage the players in an activity, you could adapt a game to meet their interests.
  • Use music as a motivator.
  • Keep activities short and ensure that the players are all able to complete the activity.
  • Ensure all players are overpraised for all activities and rewards are available.
  • Adapt equipment and games to meet the players’ needs.