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A male athlete putting on his leg prostheses to play sport

5 Types of Assistive Technologies for Sport and Recreation

As part of our ongoing partnership with Paralympics Australia, NDSP is releasing a series of informative, helpful resources to empower NDIS participants to get into sport. If sports participation is your goal, we want to help you learn more about it.

In this article, we will explore assistive technologies that can enable you to participate safely and more independently in sports activities.

 

What is Assistive Technology?

Assistive Technology (AT) is a blanket term for devices or systems that allow people to perform tasks they would otherwise be unable to do, or increase the safety with which they can perform these tasks.

In sports, they can help you to participate fully and grow your independence. There is a wide range of aids to support everyone’s individual needs.

 

NDIS Funding for Sports Participation

The NDIS is very specific in what they will or will not fund for sports-related activities. They may approve funding for assistive technology for you to further your plan goals – so be sure to include sports participation goals in your NDIS plan.

Note: ‘Regular fees’ like club memberships or uniform costs are not considered a barrier to your participation, as they are costs everyone must pay regardless.

Further reading: 

 

1. Orthotics

An orthotic is a form of artificial support that sits on top of or around a body part, typically to support the area in question to prevent or correct improper movement. 

For example:

  • Ankle foot orthoses (AFO) help to correct toe walking by holding the ankle in a good position for walking.
  • Wrist splints can hold the wrist in a straight position while allowing the user to still hold things.

 

By design, orthotics restrict some range of movement, so the way you throw, kick, jump or otherwise play sports may have to change to accommodate this. Also be aware these can get sweaty quickly – taking them off between events to clean out any debris and check for pressure areas is key for comfortable, safe use.

 

2. Prosthetics

A prosthetic is an artificial body part that is usually made from plastic, carbon fibre, silicone, or a mixture of these. Prosthetics are fitted to the individual’s needs but can generally be categorised as:

  1. Below knee
  2. Above knee
  3. Hand or arm

 

‘Everyday’ leg prosthetics are different from sporting prosthetics like a running blade. A running blade flexes and provides push-off while a regular prosthetic is typically in a fixed position.

Hand or arm prosthetics offer a stabilising function that can support improved balance. They can also be specially designed for use in sports like golf, archery, or fishing.

 

3. Equipment for standing sports

This is adaptive technology aimed to support athletes with function and active participation in standing sports. If you are participating in standing sports using AT, you should have your wheelchair or a seat available between events in case you need to rest.

Crutches

A lightweight metal, crutches provide additional stability and balance for walking, playing team sports such as soccer, or skiing for winter sports enthusiasts using adapted crutches.

They require good upper body strength and make walking and running slower, but more stable. 

Walking Frames

These assist independent walking and can provide different levels of support based on the athlete’s needs. Typically made from metal, users can steer these with their hands.

While walking frames are excellent for supporting balance and leg strength, they are usually best for ‘on-road’ use as most have small wheels that would not be suited to grass or uneven ground.

Frame Runners

Frame runners are custom-built three-wheeled frames. The runner is fully supported by a saddle and leans against chest support, propelling themselves forward with their feet and steering with their arms. The low centre of gravity provides essential stability for people with reduced balance, giving users the ability to move and functionally run independently.

They can also have ‘off-road’ use as the tyres can be changed for grass or soft surfaces. Technique training is essential for using a frame runner to find your ideal running style.

 

4. Equipment for sitting sports

Manual Wheelchair

This is possibly one of the most comfortable options for seated athletes. They have a seat, backrest, two large wheels, a footrest, and two small wheels at the front for stability.

There can be a bit of a learning curve and manual wheelchairs take a lot of upper strength to operate.

Race Wheelchair

Race wheelchairs propel athletes forward quickly, with three wheels (two at the back and one at the front) and a lightweight metal or carbon fibre frame. They come in either a sitting or kneeling format and require the athlete to lean forward while moving. 

As with the manual wheelchair, they can take time and practice to master and require a high level of upper body strength.

 

5. Throwing Frames

These accommodate athletes in throwing events (like shot put or javelin) to throw from a seated position. Square or rectangular, the frame is connected to the floor with straps and can be customised to have backrests, footrests or a foothook, and straps or belts.

Throwing frames offer postural support and are safer than throwing from a wheelchair or chair as they are connected securely to the ground.

 

NDIS Funding Categories for Assistive Technology

Two categories within the Capital Supports Budget specifically address AT to help you accomplish your goals.

1. Assistive Technology (AT)

Covers specialised technology you may need, such as wheelchairs, prosthetics, and orthotics.

2. PACE Assistive Technology maintenance, repair and rental

Covers expanded and ongoing AT costs like renting equipment, and flexible equipment packages for changing needs, repairs and maintenance.

Related: NDIS Funding Categories Explained

 

Encouraging Accessible Sport with Paralympics Australia

NDSP is proud to partner with Paralympics Australia, amplifying their inspiring vision to create positive change using the influence of sport. With the whole nation primed and ready to cheer our Australian Paralympic team on, the stage is set to push for an increase in visibility and accessibility.

We believe nothing should get in the way of your goals – least of all a lack of information about where to get started. Follow along as we countdown to Paris 2024 with helpful articles and resources to guide your sports participation journey.

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