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How the Parapan American Games Classifies Disabilities.

July 22, 2015

The Parapan American (Parapan Am) Games are soon to run in Toronto, Ontario, just after the Pan American Games. And many people want to know, how do people with disabilities compete in sport? What sports do they compete in? How are disabilities classified so that sporting events are fair? Here we lay out how the Parapan Am Games classifies disabilities and sports.


Athlete and Disability Classification

Athlete and disability classification is a unique challenge faced by the Parapan Am Games needed to ensure fairness in sporting events. Because each sport requires different skills, each sport is categorized individually.

Prior to the Parapan Am Games each athlete goes through an evaluation by an authorized technical official who is appointed by the National Federation for that sport. This assessment looks at the athlete’s disability and how it affects the athlete in his or her sport so that each athlete can be put in a class. Each National Federation for that sport decides which disabilities that sport will cater to.

This athlete classification ensures that skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus is what wins competitions – just as these things win competitions for athletes without disabilities.

Eligible Disabilities for the Parapan Am Games

There are 10 eligible disability types for the Parapan Am Games:dixon_ad_en

  1. Impaired muscle power such as that seen in spinal injury
  2. Impaired passive range of movement
  3. Loss of limb or limb deficiency
  4. Leg-length difference
  5. Short stature as a result of musculoskeletal deficit of bone or cartilage structures
  6. Hypertonia – An abnormal increase in muscle tension and the reduced ability of a muscle to stretch as a result from injury, disease or conditions which damage the central nervous system, such as that seen in cerebral palsy
  7. Ataxia – a lack of coordination of muscle movement such as is seen in cerebral palsy
  8. Athetosis – unbalanced, involuntary movements and difficulty maintaining a symmetrical posture such as is seen in cerebral palsy
  9. Visual impairments
  10. Intellectual impairments

Sport Classes

Sports may be designed with a specific disability in mind, such as goalball, which is for those with visual impairments while others, such as swimming events are open to athletes with any of the above 10 disability types. The International Federation for each sport decides on the level of disability required to compete in that sport.

Sport classes group athletes depending on performance-impacting disabilities. So, a sport class may include multiple types of impairments; however, these impairments each affect the athlete’s ability to a similar extent.

According to the Pan American website, an example of this is rowing wherein athletes compete in three sport classes depending on whether they use their arms only, their arms and trunk only, or their arms, trunk and legs to accelerate the boat.

In smaller competitions, different spot classes may compete together for one medal as there may not be enough athletes for each sport type.

For more information on how the Parapan American Games classifies disabilities, please see here.



“This article was written by award-winning mental health writer and speaker, Natasha Tracy.”

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