School alliances are needed now more than ever, given campus resource limitations and the volume of adaptive programming on campus. Although there is not a broad-based collegiate Paralympic sport structure, there is a strong appetite for collegiate adaptive programming. The strength of the adaptive programming at the college level is reflected in the collegiate footprint on Team USA. In Rio, 40% of the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team competed collegiately; at the 2020 Paralympic Games, the U.S. college footprint grew to 50%.

The Paralympic inclusion efforts were guided by athletes, coaches and experts from the USOPC Paralympic Advisory Council, the NCAA Office of Inclusion, and the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. These experts met several times to consider past collaboration efforts and recognized the need for increased connection to schools offering adaptive programs. Paralympic sport at the college level could be elevated by increasing understanding of the current adaptive programs and advancing the Paralympians Made Here promotional efforts.

Recommendation: Bring stakeholders together to launch the Para-College Inclusion Project

The multifaceted recommendation brings stakeholders together to launch the Para-College Inclusion Project. Through the effort, a shared plan will include commitments to: (1) conduct Paralympic/collegiate research on national adaptive sport programming, (2) collectively promote adaptive sports, and (3) connect school leaders that have adaptive programs with U.S. Paralympic leaders to strengthen sport structures.

With growing interest from athletes and NCAA member schools with adaptive sports programs, there are vast opportunities to enrich understanding of national adaptive sport trends through shared best practices on building adaptive sport operations on campus. Aggregating and sharing this information across stakeholders would help generate sport growth from grassroots through the elite level. As Paralympic sport awareness continues to grow across our country, the college system will see more interest from young athletes aspiring to further their educational and athletic pursuits through higher education. This may also benefit schools looking to increase enrollment and expand inclusive offerings on campus.

Increased collaboration in the Paralympic space will provide schools with a better understanding of adaptive sport sponsorship trends, allowing them to make informed decisions about future programming on campus. As adaptive sport awareness grows, schools may seek to establish or increase programming. This growth will also benefit adaptive student-athletes looking for college participation opportunities. Additionally, through this project, the NCAA Office of Inclusion and USOPC will both be able to advance their shared goal of promoting inclusive sport opportunities.

Additional Resources

The Paralympic inclusion working group recommends integrating a World Para Athletics event (wheelchair track and field) during an NCAA DI outdoor track and field championship to continue promoting and growing Para sport opportunities at the college level. View the Paralympic inclusion championship concept: PDF | Google Docs.

The U.S. Paralympic Team collegiate footprint continues to grow – from 40% in 2016 to more than 50% in 2021. Two-hundred and forty two current, former or incoming collegiate student-athletes from 76 different schools represented Team USA during the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. View the Tokyo 2020 collegiate Paralympic participation highlights: PDF | Google Docs.


Sandy Barbour Penn State headshot

Sandy Barbour
Pennsylvania State University
Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics

Greg Byrne Alabama Headshot

Greg Byrne
University of Alabama
University of Athletics

Tiffini Grimes headshot

Tiffini Grimes
University of Alabama
Senior Deputy Athletics Director

Rocky Harris headshot

Rocky Harris
USA Triathlon

Jessica Heims headshot

Jessica Heims
University of Northern Iowa
Paralympian (Track and Field)

Zak Ivkovic headshot

Zak Ivkovic
Executive Director
CUNY Athletic Conference

Stephanie Wheeler headshot

Stephanie Wheeler
Women's Wheelchair Basketball Coach and Paralympian (Wheelchair Basketball)

Amy Wilson headshot

Amy Wilson
Managing Director of Inclusion

Justin Zook headshot

Justin Zook
St. Catherine University
Head Coach and Paralympian (Swimming)