Story 16: Able-Bodied Integration
Able-bodied participation in wheelchair sports is probably the Paralympic movement’s most controversial topic. Critics of integration say that able-bodied or minimally disabled people take spots on teams away from disabled people and that disabled athletes with a higher classification rating (such as 4.5 in wheelchair basketball) who acquired their disabilities as children and so were not able to take advantage of the able-bodied sports system are at a significant competitive disadvantage. Proponents of integration, however, say that the classification system does a good job of leveling the playing field, that able-bodied athletes raise the level of play in wheelchair sports, and that able-bodied athletes help teams in smaller towns to be able to field enough athletes to compete.
More importantly, however, the presence of able-bodied athletes turns the wheelchair into just a piece of sporting equipment, as opposed to a marker of disability. You want to play hockey? Strap on some skates. You want to play soccer? Get some cleats. You want to play wheelchair basketball? Get into a sports wheelchair. A wheelchair therefore becomes just another way to compete.
While wheelchair basketball is perhaps most famous for its policies on integration, other sports also allow able-bodied participation. Wheelchair tennis, for example, has “up-down” tournaments where either an able-bodied person plays against a person in a wheelchair and the person in the wheelchair is allowed one extra bounce of the ball, or an able-bodied and a disabled person play on a doubles team together.
Whatever your opinion on able-bodied integration, it’s clear that able-bodied athletes are an important part of the wheelchair sports movement in BC. Today, we salute these able-bodied athletes who dedicate years to a sport that they cannot play at a Paralympic level.