Young skier with disability

Australians with disability participate in a range of sports. There are many practical ways to include people of all abilities in sport at a level of their choice whilst still maintaining the integrity of the activity.

Click here to go to the Disability Inclusion Interactive Scenario.

Sport for people with disability is not ‘one size fits all’. The focus for clubs should be on finding practical ways for people with disability to participate in sport at a level of their choice. Inclusion is about providing a range of options (e.g., options that are only for people with disability and options that are for everyone, but happen to include people with disability with some modifications).

It is not reasonable that all people with disability must be included in all activities all of the time. However there are usually ways to include most people (e.g., athlete, coach, instructor, administrator, official, parent or volunteer).

People with disability are often the best source of information as they know what they can do and they can tell you about possible modifications to assist with inclusion and it is alright to ask a person with disability questions and give things a go as this is often the best way to learn.

Information to help you understand the issue

These days, the question facing many sporting organisations is not ‘why’ would they include a person with a disability, but ‘how’. Attitudes toward the inclusion of people with disability have transformed in Australia since the 2000 Paralympic Games. Sports generally understand and accept the rights of people with a disability to take part in sport at a level of their choice. And they see the benefits of inclusion in terms of increased membership, community development and culture.

Challenges still exist however. In 2010 the Australian Sports Commission conducted a research project in collaboration with the University of Technology in Sydney into the Participation and Non-Participation of People with Disability in Sport and Active Recreation. You can download a summary of that report here.

Some of the challenges identified in the research focused on the training and support of staff within sporting organisations to help them include people with disability in what they do. Below you will find a framework for inclusion and some practical tips to help you adapt and modify activities for people with disability when you need to.

The Inclusion Spectrum

A common misconception about inclusion is that it is solely about including people with disability in regular sport activities without any modification. Inclusion encompasses many different options in different settings. Inclusion in sport can be viewed in terms of a spectrum. Each section of the spectrum is as important as the next, and ideally there would be programs for people with disability available in all sections to choose from.

The Inclusion Spectrum

Examples of the inclusion spectrum:

  • No modifications: an athlete with an intellectual disability may train and compete with athletes without intellectual disability at a local swimming club
  • Minor modifications: a vision impaired tenpin bowler using a rail for support
  • Major modifications: a seated shot-putter competing under separate rules using modifed equipment against other athletes with disability in an integrated track and field competition
  • Primarily for people with disability: athletes with disability and their able-bodied peers combine to form teams for the purpose of developing a wheelchair basketball competition
  • Only for people with disability: goal ball players participating in a competition exclusively for people with vision impairments
  • Non-playing role: people with disability can be officials, coaches, club presidents, volunteers and spectators.

The following factors will influence the section/s of the spectrum an individual chooses to participate in:

  • their functional ability
  • the sport in which they are participating
  • the opportunities within their local environment
  • their personal preferences.

The inclusion spectrum allows games and activities to be delivered in different ways, with more options. The aim is to encourage higher quality participation by people with disability, both with or away from their able-bodied peers. Clubs can provide a range of options by adapting and modifying their sport in different environments.

You can download an Information Sheet on The Inclusion Spectrum produced by the Australian Sports Commission here.

Adapting and Modifying activities

Being inclusive is about providing a range of options to cater for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds in the most appropriate manner possible. Inclusion encompasses a broad range of options in many different settings. Sometimes this may mean modifying a sport to provide a more appropriate version for particular participants.

Modifying the rules or even the competition structure of a sport is nothing new. Most national sporting organisations in Australia provide modified versions of sports for their junior program, making the sport more inclusive, safe and fun for younger players (For example, Basketball Australia’s Aussie Hoops and AFL’s Auskick).

The purpose of adapting and modifying sport is to minimise or eliminate disadvantage caused by the environment in which a sport is played. This strategy also enables new rules and equipment to be introduced as players mature and their skills improve. All modifications should be continually reviewed and, if appropriate, phased out over time. However, some modifications may become accepted as part of the regular program, making a program that is suitable for all abilities, such as the modified junior sport programs.

The TREE model

The TREE model is a practical tool designed to help you modify your activities or programs. There are four essential elements of an activity that can be modified to make it more inclusive.

  • Teaching style
  • Rules
  • Equipment
  • Environments

Teaching style

Teaching style refers to the way the sport or activity is communicated to the participants. The way an activity is delivered can have a significant impact on how inclusive it is. Strategies you may use include:

  • being aware of all the participants in your group
  • ensuring participants are correctly positioned (for example, within visual range)
  • using appropriate language for the group
  • using visual aids and demonstrations
  • using a buddy system
  • using appropriate physical assistance — guide a participant’s body parts through a movement
  • keeping instructions short and to the point
  • checking for understanding.


Rules may be simplified or changed and then reintroduced as skill levels increase. Strategies you may use include:

  • allowing for more bounces in a game such as tennis or table tennis
  • allowing for multiple hits in a sport such as volleyball
  • having a greater number of players on a team to reduce the amount of activity required by each player
  • reducing the amount of players to allow greater freedom of movement
  • regularly substituting players
  • allowing substitute runners in sports such as softball and cricket or shortening the distance the hitter needs to run to be safe
  • reducing or extending the time to perform actions
  • allowing different point scoring systems
  • varying passing styles: try bouncing, rolling or underarm toss, instead of overarm throw
  • reducing competitive elements.


Strategies you may use include:

  • using lighter bats or racquets and/or shorter handles
  • using lighter, bigger and/or slower bouncing balls, or balls with bells inside
  • using equipment that contrasts with the playing area — white markers on grass, fluorescent balls.


Strategies you may use include:

  • reducing the size of the court or playing area.
  • using a smooth or indoor surface rather than grass.
  • lowering net heights in sports such as volleyball or tennis.
  • using zones within the playing area.
  • minimising distractions in the surrounding area.

Things to consider

  • Changes do not have to be permanent — some may be phased out over time as skills and confidence increase.
  • Try as much as possible to include all the members of your group in the game. Be conscious of keeping all participants challenged.
  • Engage individuals in modifying the activities when appropriate, as they will be your best source of solutions.
  • It may not be necessary to modify the game’s rules or equipment for everybody just to include one person, it may only require a change for that one person.
  • There are situations where including everybody all the time may not be possible. Safety considerations are always a priority for each individual and the entire group. Use your common sense.
  • Always maintain the integrity of the game — do not modify a game so much that it no longer resembles the game you were playing at the outset.

You can also download the Disability Education Program Activity Cards - these are an excellent resources that uses the TREE model in a variety of practical contexts:

DEP Activity Cards

Download the DEP Activity Cards 

Listen to the audio from Peter Downs, former Manager of the Australian Sports Commission’s Disability Sport Unit and current Manager of Play by the Rules on adapting and modifying activities.

You can download an Information Sheet on the Golden Rule of Inclusion produced by the Australian Sports Commission here

The law

There is federal, state and territory legislation in place that makes discrimination and harassment in relation to a disability unlawful. Federally, there is the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) that exists to ensure equal opportunity in sport and recreation. You can download an Information Sheet on the Disability Discrimination Act here

Central to the law on discrimination is the concept of reasonable adjustment – what changes are reasonable for sport to ensure the inclusion of people with disability. Listen to the audio from Peter Downs below who talks about the concept of reasonable adjustment for sport.