Adaptive & Unified Sports: A Win For Inclusion
There are many positive benefits of playing a sport. Studies show that participating in physical activities, whether as part of a team or individually, leads to physical, mental, emotional, and social growth. As a society – we need to realize just how important sports/physical activities are, and as advocates we need to ensure people of all abilities have the chance to participate.
Throughout the years, adaptive and unified sports have gained popularity throughout New Hampshire and beyond. According to SportTechie.com, an adaptive sport is “any activity where the rules and/or equipment have been adapted to accommodate people with physical differences or impairments”. Some examples include a basketball team where all the players are in a wheelchair, a soccer team where all players are visually impaired, or a one-on-one ski lesson where the equipment is modified. These programs promote inclusion and allow a person with a disability to participate in their hobbies without barriers.
Sarah Peters has been participating in adaptive sports for years. Skiing, snowshoeing, paddle boarding, and kayaking are just some of the activities she has participated in through Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports and New England Sports Arena. Two of her best friends use a wheelchair, and because of these programs it is possible for Sarah to go skiing with them. “When I go skiing, I feel like all my friends can do it,” she said. One of the major benefits of a program such as Vermont Adaptive is that the activities take place in different locations in the state which allows people to attend activities that are close to where they live, and travel to a new place if they choose to.
Eric Ferrazzani is part of a wheelchair rugby team through Northeast Passage, one of the largest adaptive sports programs in our state. Eric and the rest of his teammates all use a wheelchair to get around. He said he hopes seeing people in a wheelchair playing a game such as rugby will give others a different perspective on what it is like to be in a wheelchair. Eric said, “one perspective some people have is that if someone has a disability they just sit on the couch” – but hopes that adaptive sports can help end that misconception. It is important to him that wheelchair rugby is seen as a legitimate sport – “we are not here to inspire; we are here to win” Eric said.
Unified activities/sports is a similar way of thinking about sports that puts people of all abilities on the same team. According to the Special Olympics website, in the U.S. unified sports exist in over 4,500 elementary, middle, and high schools and over 200 colleges. The organization states “training and playing together is a quick path to understanding” and that misconceptions about people who have a disability can be dismantled when people of all abilities are playing side-by-side. Communications Manager for the Special Olympics of New Hampshire said about 60 schools throughout NH offer at least one unified sport or activity.
Stevens High School in Claremont, NH has both a unified basketball and track team. Mimi Rhines who runs the unified basketball team noted that the team is made up of players and partners. She said the partners are all neurotypical, while the players all have a disability and are the only ones who are allowed to score during a game. “Unified sports have changed the culture at our school. Teachers and students who may not have known what a unified sport was, or had never been around someone who has a disability now go to games and say hi to the players in the hallways” Mimi said. Her husband Matt runs the unified track team. He said all the students who run have a disability while all the ‘partners’ cheer on the team, and assist the runners in any way needed. Both agreed that the success of unified sports would not be possible without a supportive Athletic Director who sees the value in unified sports and students who are willing to promote inclusivity.
In 2015, George Fortin decided to start his own nonprofit called the JT Fortin Foundation to promote adaptive and unified sports, as well as promote inclusion in his community. George’s 11 year old son Jack is on the autism spectrum and understands how important it is physically, mentally, and socially for people of all abilities to participate in sports. “One thing we have done is start a scholarship for adaptive swimming. 90% of accidental deaths in children with autism who are 14 years old or younger is drowning. The goal is to teach children how to swim – and allow them to have fun and make friends at the same time,” George said. He added that over 150 individuals have benefitted from adaptive swimming since the non-profit began. Some of the other adaptive programs Jack has participated in are challenger baseball, TOPSoccer (Salem, NH), and basketball. George said unified and adaptive sports go a long way when it comes to promoting inclusion.
Find The Right Program For YOU
Here is a list of adaptive and unified sports programs in our state:
Spreading the word about these programs through word-of-mouth and on social media will help promote inclusion and allow people of all abilities to participate in any activity they choose!