The number of people with disabilities who engage in sports and other physical activities has increased dramatically in the past decade, due to the growing field of assistive sports equipment. There are national and international sports associations, and organized competitions for persons with disabilities are now commonplace for many different sports. Whether for competition or simply recreation, the sports equipment market is overflowing with devices to get fans off the sidelines and into the sports arena.
Sports equipment of any kind is designed with the user's safety in mind, but it must be fitted and employed properly. Questions about the type or model of equipment that will be fun and safe should be directed to the product manufacturers, the appropriate sports organization (see the Directory of National Recreation Organizations, June 1993), a prosthetist or therapist.
Swimming and other water activities are used in rehabilitation and physical therapy to promote good muscle tone, lung capacity, flexibility and overall fitness without causing undue pressure on joints or bones. Aquatic activity can be fun and relaxing, and learning to float or swim can lead to participation in other aquatic sports. For advanced swimmers, there are local, national and international competitions.
Flotation devices are designed to keep either a person's entire body or specific parts of the body afloat. Most flotation aids are made of vinyl-coated soft flotation foam with adjustable straps to attach around arms, legs, the torso, the head or the neck. Sizes are based on the user's weight. Flotation devices are good for persons with some head and neck control and to help compensate for uneven weight distribution. In addition to helping a person maintain a horizontal floating position, some models will maintain vertical positions in the water for walking/gait exercises and for games such as water polo.
Swimming aids take a variety of forms, including rings, harnesses, platforms, belts and bars. Platforms generally allow free movement of the head, arms and legs while providing buoyancy to the swimmer. Harnesses may or may not have head and neck supports and are designed to maintain the body in a usual swim position. Flotation bars consist of flotation rings or balls at either end of a plastic bar which the swimmer can grab for kicking exercises or place under the thighs or arms for resting positions.
A pool lift transfers people with mobility disabilities into a swimming pool. Models vary according to the hoisting and lowering mechanism (hydraulic, drive or geared lifting mechanisms), whether they are portable or permanent models, whether the lift is self- or attendantoperated and whether the model is geared toward institutional or residential use. Different models are designed for deck-level pools, above-ground pools or both. Maximum weight capacities vary from 250 to 400 pounds. Transfer seats may be sling or chair types and most have belt or safety strap options. Some models are available with head, chest or adjustable leg supports.
Other pool access equipment includes portable or permanent stainless steel ramps with handrails for aided ambulatory or amphibious wheelchair entry into the water and pool steps descending from a transfer bench or chair for wheelchair users with sufficient upper body strength to ease down each stair.
A stainless steel rail fence can be installed in a pool to limit the swimming area. Removable parallel bars can make moving around in the water easier. Movable swimming pool floors, operated by a hydraulic lift, and underwater platforms are other options for making swimming pools accessible to persons with disabilities.
This article has been adapted from ABLEDATA Fact Sheet, number 15, December 1992, entitled Aquatic Sports and Recreation Equipment. ABLEDATA is located at the National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC). NARIC is a library and information center of disability and rehabilitation. NARIC collects and disseminates the results offederally funded research projects and manages the REHABDATA bibliographic database which contains citations and descriptions of the material in the collection.
For copies of the fact sheet (single copies are free) or more information, contact ABLEDATA, 8455 Colesville Rd., Suite 935, Silver Spring, Md. 20910-3319, (800) 227-0216 or (301) 588-9284 or call ABLE INFORM, an electron c BBS, at (301) 589-3563 with the modern settings 2400 baud, 8N-1. Both ABLEDATA and NARIC are funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NlDRR), with contracts numbers HN92026001 and HN90028001, respectively. Both are operated by Macro International, Inc.