Principles for Adapting Activities in Recreation Programs

How to best adapt your program to athletes with disabilities

Individuals with disabilities benefit greatly when they participate in team sports and other community recreation settings. Like their peers who may not have disabilities, they learn how to make choices, take turns, follow directions, have fun and share and perform as a team. Fear of the unknown, past practices, and uncertainty about “how” to include people with disabilities into recreation environments are several of the more prevalent obstacles to inclusion. When considering what adaptations to make, if any, there are several categories one might consider:

1. Materials and Equipment. Examples include sport specific vs. standard wheelchairs; shoe orthotics; foam vs. solid balls; batting tees; protective eyewear/goggles vs. regular glasses.
2. Rules of the Activity/Game. Examples include having a “no strikeout” rule or having a buddy to help them run the bases.
3. Procedural/Skill Sequence. Examples include coming earlier to practice; performing an activity after observing others; or using a volunteer advocate or older sibling to assist with participation.
4. Facility/Environment. Examples include upgrading or retrofitting facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms or relocating practice to an accessible facility.

Principles of Adaptation

The following should be considered when determining the need for and types of adaptations necessary to assure that individuals with disabilities are given every opportunity to have equal access to and benefit from their participation.

1. Adapt only when necessary. Take the opportunity to review with prospective participants the nature of the activity and allow them to tell you whether they can or cannot participate. Adapt when needed to increase a person’s participation, success, and enjoyment.
2. Adapt on an individual basis. Foam balls, batting tees, and activity aides may be acceptable adaptations, which allow a person with a disability an opportunity to play alongside his peers. Make them available, when needed.
3. View any adaptations as temporary. Consider adaptations as transitional until the person can learn the skills and behaviors to participate in the standard or typical way. Some modifications may always be necessary but prevent players with disabilities from becoming unnecessarily dependent on these adaptations, thus limiting their opportunities to enjoy these activities in more inclusive settings.
4. Adapt for congruence. Any adaptations or modifications should make sense, not only for the person using them, but to others observing their use. Unique or exaggerated adaptations and modifications may have an unintended consequence of further limiting the inclusion and acceptance of the person with a disability.
5. Adapt for availability. If children learn how to play a game or sport using modified equipment at the neighborhood center, parents should be able to purchase these same games and sports materials at local discount retailers and know how to modify them if necessary. It does no good for people to become dependent on one location to meet all their leisure and recreation needs.

Coaches are encouraged to continue to address the needs of players with disabilities as they would with any other player - professionally, patiently and with an open and imaginative mind. The goal should be to provide a quality experience and create an inclusive team environment for all members of the community - including people with disabilities.

By keeping these points in mind, coaches, parents, and teammates can work together to ensure that all players have the opportunity to participate in baseball in a safe, respectful and positive environment.

For more information and resources for the community of athletes with a disability, please visit NCHPAD at