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The Differently-Abled Athlete: Are They Really That Different?

Jenna Street, MS, ATC street.jenna@gmail.com @JennaStreet

The proper term to use when referring to an athlete who has a disability changes frequently.  You may have heard the terms handicapped, differently-abled or athlete with a disability.  Each term is meant to label or identify a physical or mental challenge one may have.  Athletes whose anatomy may not be referred to as normal by some, may not only have skill, but extraordinary skill.

Working with an athlete with a disability should be approached the same as with any other athlete.  Their medical history may be a bit longer, or it may not be; it all depends on the person.  Each athlete needs to be treated as such: an athlete.  Below is a short list of conditions an athlete may present with.  As you read through the list, ask yourself what, if any, small changes you could make to accommodate the athlete’s condition.

ArthrogryposisAbove elbow amputationAbove knee amputationBelow elbow amputationBelow knee amputationHearing impairmentOosteogenesis imperfectSpina bifidaSpinal cord injuryVisual impairment

As Athletic Trainers (ATs), we have the knowledge and skill set to help all athletes achieve their full potential.  With our ability to think outside the box, adapt and adjust, we have the knowledge to do our job with every single athlete.  We cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated or surprised by a wheelchair, prosthetic or service dog.

We are not expected to know everything, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and research a condition new to you. Take it as an opportunity to expand your knowledge, which will help expand your skill set.

With an increase in military, collegiate and Paralympic programs throughout the United States, there will most likely be an increase in differently-abled athletes.  It is best we are prepared so we can assist and treat every physically active individual who walks into our athletic training room, clinic or office