Playing adaptive sports linked to higher employment, economic impact

The results of a new study from the University of Houston Department of Health and Human Performance connect adaptive sports to positive results for the athletes, including higher employment and economic impact.

“Our analysis shows that playing an additional year of adaptive sport is associated with an approximately 4% increase in likelihood of employment every year for 10 years before the benefits flatten out,” Michael Cottingham, PhD, associate professor of Sport Administration and the study’s principal investigator, said in a press release. “Resources to support disability sport are lacking, though, in part because of the perceived lack of economic return of investing in these programs.”

Michael Cottingham


The study was published ahead of print in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation.

The national employment rate is 95.4%, but it drops to 29% for individuals with disabilities and 18% for those in a wheelchair.

Cottingham said previous research has linked adaptive sports to a strong social support system, increased self-confidence and peer-education system, which can lead athletes to resources for employment and mentorship.

“These factors are probably directly and indirectly impacting employment,” he said. “To what extent, we do not yet know, but what seems clear is that disability sport is a catalyst.”

Cottingham and colleagues surveyed 131 wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball athletes about their time participating in sports before and after the onset of their disability, as well as employment before and after the onset of their disability.

“The number of years since disability onset was positively associated with employment, and the more severe the injury, the less likely the individual maintained employment,” Cottingham said. “The data also show this negative relationship between injury severity and employment becomes less significant the longer they played sports. Over time, the fitness and health benefits are probably mitigating the disadvantage of having a more severe impairment.”

Cottingham said the study results show an economic benefit to the promotion of adaptive sports.

 “If an additional 100,000 individuals, or 2% of the working-age wheelchair population in the country, were to play adaptive sports for only one year, our study estimates approximately 4,000 of them would become employed, and this new employment would add approximately $40 million to the economy in the form of household income,” he said.

Reference: Cottingham M, et al. Disabil Rehabil. 2015; [Epub ahead of print].

Disclosure: Cottingham reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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