By Michael Rock

There are many benefits to playing sports. They can promote physical health and fitness as well as social and leadership skills. Unfortunately, common perceptions of people with disabilities, such as that they are “weak” or “incapable”, can make it harder for people with disabilities to participate and excel in them. Fortunately, there are efforts to address existing inequalities.

New York City’s Asphalt Green offers specialized swimming lessons for people with special needs. Some of the center’s accommodations include a hydraulic lift chair in the Olympic pool and a movable bottom in their exercise pool. Both serve to lower participants of these classes into the pools.

Meanwhile, nearby Nassau County is home to plenty of sports teams designed for participants with disabilities from a number of different providers of various backgrounds. Such accessible sports opportunities include wheelchair softball, powerchair soccer, swimming; horseback riding, and more.

Further upstate, Warwick’s Beautiful People offers specialized athletic programming for children with various disabilities in baseball, basketball, and soccer. In the long run, Beautiful People hopes to create an accessible sports park for their athletes and add other sports, such as ice hockey and track and field, to their roster of programs.

In Glens Falls, the Upstate New York Autism Alliance and 32Fit Gym have partnered to create a “Fit Kids Camp,” where children with autism are offered specialized workouts which prioritize plyometrics and leg strength. Some of the skills the camp aims to work on include balance, cardiovascular health, hand-eye coordination, and muscle stability.

Across the Hudson, Scotch Plains, New Jersey is home to Wolves Basketball Academy, which teaches children with various special needs the skills needed to play basketball. They also offer an inclusion league, creating teams in which players with and without disabilities play together as parts of teams.

Several towns in New Jersey also offer space for Rally Cap Sports, which offers leagues for children aged seven and up as well as young adults with a wide variety of special needs. Their programs include basketball, bowling, dance, flag football, golf, soccer, softball, tennis, beach and sand volleyball, and yoga. Their use of volunteers, accessible equipment, and specialized sports plans ensures that their programming is as inclusive as possible.

All of these examples are merely a few of the many opportunities people with disabilities have to participate in sports. As our society becomes more and more accepting of such differences, there will likely be more such programs designed to address the inequities that athletes and prospective athletes with disabilities face.

Michael Rock is a New York City-based reporter and self-advocate with autism. A graduate of Brandeis University, his work has appeared in Kings County Politics, Chelsea Now, Our Town, Queens County Politics, and WhoWhatWhy.