Inclusive Physical Education


Many teachers and coaches have questions about how best to include children with disabilities in physical education.

This article aims to help teachers, student teachers, and coaches to:

  • Consider various factors that can affect a pupil's ability to participate in physical education activities.
  • Recognize how physical education activities can be adapted to better suit a child.
  • Identify resources that can help in learning more about this area.


While this article will discuss physical education (PE), the same principles and ideas discussed here can be used in any physical activity setting, including a sports club, a summer camp, or a fitness program. Similarly, the ideas can be used when working with children of any age.


There are two important points to consider initially:

  1. Thinking about participation
    Can we organize PE activities so all pupils can participate? This will depend on how we organize activities and on the environment in which they take place.

    Let's look at some examples:
    (from 'Action for Life, Action for Everybody' from the Irish Heart Foundation)

    Brian is a child who is able to walk and run, but has problems with eye-hand coordination. During PE class one day, his class plays a game of rounders. When it is his turn to bat, he cannot manage to hit the ball when it is thrown towards him.

    Danny has similar coordination problems. When his class plays rounders, he has the option of batting the ball while the ball rests on an oversize tee. He manages to strike the ball, and take part in the game.

    Tara has a visual impairment. Her class begins PE by jogging around the sports hall to warm up. She is asked to sit out because the teacher is concerned about the risk of her falling.


    Eileen has a similar impairment. Her teacher pairs her with a partner who assists in guiding her as they run. Eileen and her partner participate in the warm-up along with the rest of the class.

    Michael usually uses two crutches to help him walk. During a PE class, his class practices hockey skills. He tries to walk with one crutch, so he has a free hand to hold the hockey stick. However, he finds it very difficult to stand with only one crutch, and becomes tired very quickly.

    Gavin has a similar mobility impairment. His teacher ensures there is a gym bench available in the sports hall during the PE class. Gavin has the option of sitting on this, and practicing the hockey skills from a sitting position.


    All the above children have some kind of impairment - of coordination, vision, or motor control. However, Danny, Eileen, and Gavin all participate fully in their class activities. We can see that having a disability does not mean that a pupil cannot participate in the class activity.

    Key point: We can adapt a movement activity to suit the abilities of a child, and thereby allow him or her to participate fully.

  2. Thinking about differing abilities in a group
    Within one class, children will differ in many ways. Children will have different heights, different builds, different hair colors, different reading abilities, different musical tastes, and different favorite sports.

    When we're planning physical education activities, we need to consider other ways in which children will differ:

    • Children will differ in their ability to move.
    • Children will differ in how well they can see or hear.
    • Children will differ in how they take in and process information about the world around them.


    If a group of children participate in any movement activity - whether running 50m, rolling across a mat, or dribbling a football - there will be big differences in how they perform these. This range of abilities exists whether or not there is someone with a diagnosed disability in the group.

    Key point: We can adapt or individualize our activity whenever it will create a more appropriate activity for a child. This might be for one, some, or all children in a group.

    We will now look at some ways to adapt popular PE activities.

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