In praise of sport: Promoting sport participation as a mechanism of health among persons with a disability

Barbara Wilhite, Ed.D., C.T.R.S., John Shank, Ed.D., C.T.R.S.

Department of Therapeutic Recreation, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19121, USA

Disability and Health JournalJuly 2009 Volume 2, Issue 3, Pages 116–127



Achieving and maintaining health are no less important to people with a disability than they are to anyone else; it is just typically more challenging. This report explores sport as a mechanism of health for people with a disability. The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) is used to frame the analysis and discussion of the narratives of 12 women and men with a disability who participate in sport.


The goal was to describe how participating in sport, broadly defined, helps persons with a disability achieve and maintain health and health-related components of well-being. The ICF was used to frame a secondary analysis and discussion of participant narratives.


Participants with physical or sensory disabilities responded to a request for participation in in-depth interviews to explore their sport participation; snowball sampling was used to ensure maximum variation in demographic characteristics. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using a grounded theory approach. A secondary analysis was conducted that focused on the relationship of the data categories to the ICF.


Sport benefits included enhanced functional capacity, health promotion, relationship development, increased optimism, and inclusion in meaningful life activities and roles. Health professionals were vital in introducing and encouraging people with disabilities to participate in sport.


Sport is a valuable and promising mechanism for fostering physical and emotional health and building valuable social connections. Health professionals, in concert with individual, family, and community members, may use the framework of the ICF to guide their clinical and educational reasoning for enhancing sport participation among persons with a disability.