3 children using adapted skating methods
Sports on Ice 

Sports on ice can be great fun when the slippery stuff allows you to propel yourself around at high speeds. Zipping around with other folks provides a great sense of freedom and comradery. Sure, the ice and snow can be a nuisance on the streets—cold, slick and often treacherous! But around a rink or down a hill, it's a hoot!

Several adapted forms of ice-skating are described below that cover a broad range of possibilities for people with disabilities. See if one looks good to you. Just remember to protect yourself from injury by using the appropriate equipment, and learn to laugh at yourself while you master new skills!


Recreational Ice-Skating

In 1976, while working as a professional skating instructor in Buffalo, Elizabeth M. O'Donnell had the unique idea to teach people who were blind how to ice skate. Initial success led to the formation of the Skating Association for the Blind and Handicapped, Inc(SABAH, Inc.) as a Buffalo-based not-for-profit educational corporation in 1977. Soon after its initial efforts, SABAH expanded to include children, youth, and adults with all types of disabilities. Since then, SABAH has taught Western New Yorkers in Erie and Niagara counties as well as Canadians who have physical, cognitive, or emotional challenges to ice skate. SABAH provides weekly ice skating lessons for those who rely on adaptive skating equipment and volunteer support. In the spring, SABAH organizes, choreographs and costumes the Annual Ice Skating spectacular featuring the accomplishments of SABAH students.  

The most popular device for skating is a support walker with runners at the base. Several different models are available from SABAH. Walkers are helpful to people with lower extremity impairments, balance and/or stability problems.

An outrigger with a blade attached to its base is used for support and propulsion power. It is somewhat like a walking crutch. Outriggers are also used for adapted skiing but with a short ski attached to the bottom.

Ankle support is a concern for most skaters, but when there is additional ankle weakness from a disability, the results can be very limiting. However, some people are able to use an ankle-foot orthotic (AFO) inserted into a skate or shoe to stabilize the ankle and prevent injury. In fact, many people wear an AFO as an everyday mobility aid. Orthotic inserts have been most useful to people with spastic cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, head and lower lumbar spinal cord injuries. A physician can prescribe one for you.

If an individual's disability is too severe to make use of the above devices, a wheelchair runner allows for passive participation. Wheelchair runners were invented at a park system in Ottawa, Canada, and adapted from standard snowmobile steering skis.



Skating Association for the Blind and Handicapped, Inc. (SABAH)


GlidingStars Adaptive Ice Skating Programs
Provides adaptive ice skating programs nationwide for people with disabilities. Has chapters in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York


National Amputee Centre
Information for lower extremity amputees


Private Organizations

C3 Therapeutic Skating
Colorado Springs company that provides skating instruction for people with disabilities


For more local resources, search the web for therapeutic skating.



Ice Sledding

Ice sledding is the seated equivalent of ice-skating. Originating in Norway around the mid-19th century, it is enjoyed as "ice-picking" by Canadians. It is usually done on a speed skating oval, propelled by picking sticks or shortened ski poles.

Sledge Hockey—What Is It?child playing sled hockey

As you might have guessed, most winter ice sports came from Norway via Canada. Sledge hockey was first played in Norway back in the 1960s. The word "sledge" means "sled" in Norwegian. Legend has it that the sledges were designed by ice fishermen to get to their ice-houses on the lakes, and while waiting for their traps to trip, they would skate around on the sledges.

This quickly led to games of sledge hockey and sledge races. Sledge hockey started to spread to other European countries, and was played in Canada about 25 to 30 years ago.

In 1989, John Schatzlien brought sledge hockey to the United States. He established a program in the Minneapolis area and later in Wisconsin. Mr. Schatzlien founded the American Sledge Hockey Association (ASHA). He remained president until 1998, when Rich DeGlopper of Buffalo, N.Y., took over as president. 


How It's Played:

The word "sledge" has gradually changed to "sled" in the United States and parts of Canada, and there is ongoing debate about whether the game should be called "sledge" or "sled" hockey.

The sledge is the wheelchair athlete's answer to ice skates. Sledge hockey allows individuals with a variety of disabilities to play an exciting version of hockey. Sledge hockey is played with six players on a team, and a standard hockey puck or small playground ball is used. Hockey helmets, gloves and elbow pads are required, while additional padding and masks are optional.

The primary piece of equipment is the sledge itself. This is an oval-shaped metal frame that has three points of contact with the ice: two skate-like blades and a small runner. A seat with a backrest goes on top of the sledge and will vary in size. A plastic-molded office chair with its metal legs removed makes a good seat. Leg straps are used to keep legs in one position. Also, some sledges have push handles on them so players with limited upper body strength can be pushed on the ice by a more able-bodied skater.

Picks are metal pieces with teeth on the end. The pick is attached to the end of a shortened hockey stick (29 inches). Each pick must have a minimum of three teeth, and teeth must measure no longer than four millimeters. Each stick must have two picks (a minimum of six teeth).

Sticks originally were regular hockey sticks cut in half, but the blade angle would not work because a sledge hockey player is closer to the ground than a standing hockey player. Today sticks are specially made for sled/sledge hockey. They're made of wood, aluminum or carbon fiber. Some players attach blades to aluminum or carbon filter shafts.

The player propels himself/herself down the ice very much like a cross-country skier and the pics dig into the ice, giving the player traction. When he or she gets near the puck, the player slides a hand down the shaft of the stick where the picks are attached. This gives the player the leverage to shoot the puck with the blade end of the stick. A player's hands can be taped or attached with Velcro to the glove and stick if grasping is difficult.


Products and Resources

Mobility Sports (formerly CanWin Sports)
Carries sled hockey equipment


Unique Inventions, Inc.
Carries sledge hockey equipment


US Paralympics
Paralympic sled hockey competition is open to male athletes with physical disabilities such as amputation/limb loss, spinal cord injury/wheelchair-users and cerebral palsy/brain injury/stroke. 


USA Hockey
Sponsors US National Sled Team Try-outs, Sled Grant program to assist new start-up sled programs and Sled Lending Program for clinics.


Disabled Sports USA