A Foray into Athletic Assistive Technology

Playing a sport like football, rugby or cricket isn’t easy on your body even when you are in the best health. You collect an array of small injuries and niggles over a period of time, leading to countless minor aches, spasms and the like. This is the reality of sport, be it amateur or professional, no matter how passionate you are.

Now imagine playing these same sports but with a disability. Imagine playing football or rugby or even athletic games such as sprinting while missing a limb. Sounds like a farfetched impossibility, doesn’t it?

A few decades ago, that’s what it would’ve been.

But the advent of Athletic Assistive Technology has turned this impossibility into reality.

For the uninitiated: Assistive Technology is a range of devices created to enable players with a disability to participate in a sport. This is achieved in two ways:

  • Either an existing sport is modified using tech so players with a disability can play,

Or

  • Assistive tech can be used to invent a completely new sport for athletes with disabilities.

But that’s just scratching the surface. Go a bit deeper, and you find out how complex the world of Assistive Technology truly is. From ‘low tech’ which consists of mere adaptive prosthetics, to ‘high tech’ where you have computers aiding the athlete, it’s a wide, wide universe out there.

Advances in the field have aided athletes in performing at increasingly higher levels, with their performances skyrocketing. Indeed, the not-so-erstwhile Oscar Pistorius made the headlines when he attempted to enter the non-disabled international competitions after becoming the Paralympic Champion. Initially, there were objections over his artificial limbs giving him an unfair advantage – and isn’t that proof enough of how far assistive tech has come since its inception? – but eventually, his persistence paid dividends when he became the first amputee to win a non-disabled track medal and the first double amputee to take part in the Olympic Games. (Of course, then he went and ruined it all by murdering his girlfriend, but that’s another story).

Some of these Assistive Devices include:

  • Bowling Balls with grips for people with limited grip on their hands
  • Recumbent Cycles – also known as handcycles – which use the rider’s arms for steering
  • Sit Skis which allow skiers to sit down and push along trails in the snow
  • Balls that beep so people with visual impairment can hit or catch them
  • Basketballs which jingle for players with eyesight problems

But that’s just one part of the story. The other includes sports which have been modified by technology to help players. Some of these are:

  • Wheelchair Curling- Where a specially adapted stick is used to launch the rock down the ice.
  • Murderball – Now known as Quad Rugby – Is Wheelchair Rugby. Originally developed in Australia (where else could it be developed, with a name like Murderball?), it allows quadriplegic athletes to play the full contact, aggressive sport with the aid of wheelchairs.
  • Power Soccer: A combination of traditional football and demolition rugby, this sport too is played on wheelchairs, where players use the extended part of the device to control, pass and shoot the ball.

Most of these sports are now a part of the Paralympic Games, having achieved elite international status.

To add to this, certain sports have been specially developed with challenges and hurdles which people with disabilities can enjoy. Here, all players require assistive tech to participate in the game, thus bringing everyone on even footing. Handcycling and Wheelchair Basketball are the most common examples of this.

Thus, Assistive Technology have brought about a revolution in sports and recreation, augmenting players so they don’t have to be defined by their disabilities. So that they can arise, go forth and conquer.

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