The Paralympic Movement offers sport opportunities for athletes that have a primary impairment that belongs to one of the following 10 ‘eligible’ impairment types:
• Impaired muscle power
Impairments in this category have in common that there is reduced force generated by the contraction of a muscle or muscle groups (e.g. muscles of one limb, one side of the body, the lower half of the body). Examples of condtions included in this category are para and quadriplegia, muscular dystrophy, post poliomyelitis, spina bifida.
• Impaired passive range of movement
Range of movement in one or more joint is reduced in systematical way. Note that hypermobility of joints, joint instability (e.g. shoulder dislocation), and acute conditions of reduced range of movement (e.g. arthritis types of impairment) typically will be excluded as ‘eligible impairment’.
• Limb deficiency
There is a total or partial absence of the bones or joints as a consequence of trauma (e.g. traumatic amputation), illness (e.g. bone cancer) or congenital limb deficiency (e.g. dysmelia)
• Leg length difference
Due to congenital deficiency or trauma, bone shortening occurs in one leg.
• Short stature
Standing height is reduced due to aberrant dimensions of bones of upper and lower limbs or trunk (e.g. achondoplasia)
A condition marked by an abnormal increase in muscle tension and a reduced ability of a muscle to stretch. Hypertonia may result from injury, disease, or conditions that involve damage to the central nervous system. When the injury occurs in children under the age of 2, the term cerebral palsy is often used, but it also can be due to brain injury (e.g. stroke, trauma) or multiple sclerosis.
Ataxia is a neurological sign and symptom that consists of a lack of co-ordination of muscle movements. When the injury occurs in children under the age of 2, the term cerebral palsy is often used, but it also can be due to brain injury (e.g. stroke, trauma) or multiple sclerosis.
Athetosis can vary from mild to severe motor dysfunction. It is generally characterized by unbalanced, involuntary movements of muscle tone and a difficulty maintaining a symmetrical posture. When the injury occurs in children under the age of 2, the term cerebral palsy is often used, but it also can be due to brain injury (e.g. stroke, trauma).
• Vision impairment
Vision is impacted by either an impairment of the eye structure, optical nerves or optical pathways, or visual cortex of the central brain.
• Intellectual impairment
The Paralympic Movement identifies intellectual impairment as “a disability characterized by significant limitation both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social and practical adaptive skills. This disability originates before the age of 18” (American Association on Intellectual and Development Disability, 2010). The diagnostics of intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior must be made using internationally recognized and professionally administered measures as recognized by INAS (International Federation for sport for para-athletes with an intellectual disability).
The Paralympic Movement adopted the definitions for the eligible impairment types as described in the World Health Organisation International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (2001, World Health Organisation, Geneva)
Each Paralympic Sport has to clearly define for which impairment groups they provide sports opportunities. This is described in the Classification Rules of each sport. While some sports include athletes of all impairment types (e.g. Athletics, Swimming), other sports are limited to one impairment type (e.g. Goalball, Boccia) or a selection of impairment types (e.g. Equestrian, Cycling)
The presence of an applicable eligible impairment is a prerequisite but not the sole criterion of entry into a particular Paralympic Sport.
IPC Classification - Fair and equal competition
To ensure competition is fair and equal, all Paralympic sports have a system in place which ensures that winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus, the same factors that account for success in sport for able bodied athletes.
This process is called classification and its purpose is to minimise the impact of impairments on the activity (sport discipline). Having the impairment thus is not sufficient. The impact on the sport must be proved, and each in Paralympic sport, the criteria of grouping athletes by the degree of activity limitation resulting from the impairment are named ‘Sport Classes’. Through classification, it is determined which athletes are eligible to compete in a sport and how athletes are grouped together for competition. This, to a certain extent, is similar to grouping athletes by age, gender or weight.
Classification is sport-specific because an impairment affects the ability to perform in different sports to a different extent. As a consequence, an athlete may meet the criteria in one sport, but may not meet the criteria in another sport
When an athlete first starts competing he/she undergoes a process to verify the above criteria are met. This process is conducted by a classification panel, a group of individuals authorized and certified by a Sport Federation to determine the sport class of an athlete. The process (typically) includes:
• the verification of the presence of an eligible impairment for that sport
• physical and technical assessment to exam the degree of activity limitation
• the allocation of a sport class
• the observation in competition
When undergoing athlete evaluation, an athlete is only classified for one sport.
If an athlete is not eligible to compete in a sport, this does not question the presence of a genuine impairment. It means:
• that the athlete does not have a primary impairment that makes him/her eligible to compete in that particular sport, or
• that the severity of the impairment does not significantly impact on the activities required in that particular sport.
Due to the progressive nature of some impairment and their impact on certain activities, athletes are sometimes classified a number of times throughout their career.
When the medical condition of an athlete changes, he/she needs to inform the sport as well and ask for re-assessment.
To compete at international level, an athlete must be classified by an International Classification Panel and their decision overrules any previous classification decision taken by a national classification panel.
As a result of the sport specific classification systems, each sport has its own classifiers. For example, an IPC Ice Sledge Hockey classifier is only certified to classify athletes for this sport, and not for other sports.