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Aug 27, 2015 11:24 PM EDT

Wheelchair Sports Linked To Higher Employment, Economic Impact


New research suggests that adaptive sports can benefit the economy.

Researchers from the University of Houston Department of Health and Human Performance (HHP) found that playing an adaptive sport can have dramatic results on the athlete and the economy.

The employment rate for individuals with disabilities is about 29 percent compared to a national employment rate of 95.4 percent. If the disability forces the individual into a wheelchair, the percentage drops to 18 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation.

"Our analysis shows that playing an additional year of adaptive sport is associated with an approximately 4 percent increase in likelihood of employment every year for 10 years before the benefits flatten out," Michael Cottingham, the study's principal investigator, said in a statement. "Resources to support disability sport are lacking, though, in part because of the perceived lack of economic return of investing in these programs."

For the study, researchers surveyed 131 wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball athletes about the number of years participating in sports before and after the onset of their disability, employment before and after the onset of their disability, as well as demographic questions.

"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."

The findings support a stronger commitment and promotion of adaptive sport, which can be expensive as athletes incur the costs of specialized wheelchairs and travel to competitions. He said there is an economic benefit as well.

"If an additional 100,000 individuals, or 2 percent 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."

The findings are detailed in the international, multidisciplinary journal Disability and Rehabilitation.

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