Disabled Archery

Archery is one of the most inclusive and accessible sports, so there are many opportunities for disabled people to get involved in archery. The best places to get started are at a 'Have a Go' session or beginner's course. Find out how to get into archery as a disabled person. You might decide to join a club and take part more regularly, compete in local competitions, or progress to a national or even international level through Archery GB's talent pathway structure.

Archery is one of the most inclusive and accessible sports

So there are many opportunities for disabled people to get involved in archery. The best places to get started are at a “Have a Go” session or beginner’s course.

Have a Go sessions and beginner’s courses are held at a variety of locations such as archery clubs, schools and universities, multi-sport camps, or through specific disability sport organisations. 

You might decide to join a club and take part more regularly, compete in local competitions, or progress to a national or even international level through Archery GB’s talent pathway structure.

Para or disabled archery is the discipline of archery for athletes classified with a physical or visual impairment

Archery is a highly accessible sport and para archery was one of the original Paralympic sports. Para archery is one of the sports with the most similarity to its able-bodied counterpart and para archers can compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics as long as they meet the qualification criteria. Para archers may use their assistive devices to level the playing field against their able bodied competitors.

Para archery consists of competition categories for archers with certain classifications: W1, compound open and recurve open.

Assistive devices for para archers

Disabled archers may use assistive devices in their archery, including draw or release aids, mouth tabs and wheelchairs, to level the playing field. Classified athletes may also compete with able bodied athletes in target archery events using their assistive devices.

Visually impaired archers are split into two categories depending on the severity of their impairment, and less impaired athletes must wear blindfolds during competitions. Visually impaired athletes shoot over a distance of 30 metres using tactile sights to aim and can have an assistant to help with loading arrows and scoring.

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Classification for para archery

Archers must be classified to be eligible to enter any of these categories. Classification helps to define whether an archer can use an assistive device and groups athletes by the severity of their impairment to ensure fairness in the competition.

Athletes in the recurve open and compound open categories usually have an impairment in either the top or bottom half or one side of their bodies. Athletes in the W1 category usually have an impairment in the top and bottom halves of their bodies, torso and at least three limbs.

The history of para archery

Archery was used as a rehabilitation activity for injured world war veterans by Dr Ludwig Guttmann at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in the 1940s.

Guttmann, a Jewish doctor who escaped Nazi germany in 1939, worked with ex servicemen using revolutionary techniques to rehabilitate and show them that life could still be lived and enjoyed. He began by organising games of wheelchair polo and basketball - for men who had previously been told they would never get out of bed again, Guttman was life changing!

Archery, requiring only upper body strength and allowing Guttman’s patients to compete against able bodied athletes, proved incredibly popular. Bob Paterson, a senior

member of the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports federation (IWAS), said “After injury Guttmann focussed an individual’s mind on what they can do rather than regretting what they can no longer do. Through sport Guttmann gave that person back the will to live a full life with pride and self-respect.” 

On 28 July 1948 the Olympic Games opened in London. On the same day, Guttmann

hosted the first annual Stoke Mandeville Games. 14 men and two women, all with spinal injuries, competed in wheelchairs – the highlight being the archery competition. By 1950 there were 60 competitors from across England, competing in archery, javelin and netball. 

Guttman is now regarded as the founder of the Paralympic movement, and when a Dutch team participated in 1952, the foundations were laid for an international event. 

The first Paralympic Games was in Rome in 1960 and featured archery which has remained on the programme ever since.

Find a competition Find your local club

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Archery GB Guide to Including Disabled Archers

Disabled people are half as likely to be active than non-disabled people. Our guide to including disabled archers aims to highlight good practice that is currently taking place within the sport and provide support to clubs in their provision for disabled people. Download it from the Resource section of this page. 

Activity Alliance’s Talk to Me report, identifies 10 key principles to help drive participation of disabled people in sport. These principles should help clubs and organisations improve their offer to disabled people and make it more appealing. 

The report goes through each principle in detail, providing evidence of what disabled people are looking for and recommendations of how to meet expectations. They can be grouped within top three headings, which are:

  • Drive awareness
  • Engage the audience
  • Offer support and reassurance

Activity Alliance’s Inclusion Club Hub is a great resource to help clubs make sure that disabled people feel able to access and enjoy their activities. The toolkit provides clubs and coaches with practical ideas, methods and resources to ensure that everyone has a positive experience. 

Take a look at Access for All: A guide to support your sports club to improve physical access for disabled people, to see how you can make your club more accessible.

Coaching disabled people

When coaching a disabled person, understand that they are the expert on their own needs. Speak with the disabled archers you coach about their abilities and aspirations, what they need from you and how you can help them have the best possible time and progress as an archer.

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Shooting from a wheelchair - Hannah’s story

Teenage recurve archer, Hannah, has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and her joints dislocate every single day. 

She said: "It's a challenge having to remember everything that I have to do: my breathing, my posture, whether my feet are in the right position to be able to balance myself in the chair, and making sure my arms don't dislocate while I'm shooting. I'm in pain every day even with painkillers. At one competition I had my mum holding my shoulder in place just so I could shoot. I shot the whole event like that. My mum made it possible for me, I'm so thankful for her, she's been amazing because she finds a way for me to do things that seem impossible."

And what makes a good coach? 

"Being able to adapt. For example, I need my coach to consider how we can prevent my shoulder dislocating during shooting. It's important to have the support of someone who can take the time to get to know me and understand my needs."

Coaching in a wheelchair - Martin’s story

When Martin Wood suddenly became wheelchair bound, it was archery that helped him regain his passion for sport and life. Now a newly-qualified instructor, he tells us about his venture into coaching. 

“After leaving the military following a 23-year career, I was a fit and healthy 40-year-old who loved all types of sport. I thought that a sporty, active life would be something that I would be able to continue for the rest of my life. How wrong I was.

After a while my health took a drastic turn for the worse and I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD. This led to a vivid flashback which caused a horrendous fall which left me wheelchair-dependent, with damage to both of my legs. Thinking that my days in sport were over, I was introduced via Facebook to Jon Hancock, who runs the Holt Woodland Archery and Airgun Club in Norfolk, where I live. 

On the day that I decided to go, Jon met me in the car park to introduce himself, and after chatting for a while I felt completely at ease before we ventured down to the range. Jon set me up with my equipment and gave me some coaching to get me started on the archery range. After a short while, and with changes in bow and other equipment as I improved during the day, Jon left me on my own to shoot at my own pace, coming over and checking everything to make sure that I was happy every now and then. I was hooked and had found a sport that I could do in my wheelchair. I also didn’t realise the effect that it had on my PTSD. I spent about five hours there, lost in my own thoughts and not even thinking about my problems.

After a while, I introduced my friend and fellow veteran Martin Craddock to the sport. Although he doesn’t have the same physical or mental health problems as me, he has his own issues which seem to vanish as soon as he picks up a bow. Like me, he uses the sport as a therapy to get away from the worlds that are in our minds and bodies.

As I work a lot with veterans and Sea Cadets, I decided to take my archery to the next level this year by gaining an Instructor’s Award qualification with Archery GB. This will enable me to instruct people from all walks of life and with all kinds of challenges of their own. The course was good and well structured, and although I’ve been doing archery for a few years, it taught me a few things that I didn’t know and also refreshed information that I had forgotten over time.

Being disabled, I like to think that my presence on the course also benefited other participants, as they got to see the alterations that are required and the differences between teaching a non-disabled and disabled person. This might mean factoring in considerations for different ways to hold the bow and shoot, how to access to the range, and help that could be required to reach the targets to retrieve the arrows – the latter resulting in the archer in a manual chair expending a lot of energy to carry out the task.

Since completing the course, I couldn’t make it to the range or do any coaching until recently when my mother came to stay. As my mum had only done archery once before, it was the perfect opportunity to try out my new qualification. The first time you go it alone as an instructor is always going to be daunting, but after a short time it felt good to be able to pass on my knowledge and see improvement as the day went on.

Although my main aim since taking up archery has been to get myself to a position where I can compete, I now have a new interest in passing on knowledge and helping others to partake in what is a very inclusive sport.”

Coaching in a wheelchair - Paul’s story

“I’m 78 and have been a wheelchair user for 30+ years. I got interested in archery through Paralympian, coach and WheelPower volunteer, Fred Stevens, some years ago. As time went on I improved my skills as a wheelchair archer with great help from Fred.

One day Fred mentioned he needed help delivering archery to the spinal injuries rehab centre at Stoke Mandeville, so I went along with him to see what it was all about. That was the start of great change for me. At that time I was out of my depth as I was not a coach, but that didn’t matter, as Fred and other well-known archers soon showed me how I could be of help.

As time went by, I made more trips to Stoke Mandeville, and through WheelPower(the national organisation for wheelchair sport in Britain), gained the skills needed to coach. It then became necessary to become a licensed coach, so WheelPower paid for me to do the Session Coach (Level 1) qualification – I never looked back.

Anyone can do archery and have fun! Some we coached at WheelPower had missing limbs, were wheelchair bound, had trouble standing, mental health problems and a variety of injuries. We coached everyone aged six to 80+.

The point I want to get across is the reward of seeing others, who were either too scared or certain sport wasn’t for them, realise they could become great Sportspeople.

Mohamed Patel at Leicester Archery Academy recently asked me to help him introduce the sport to disabled pupils from the city’s Ash Field Academy. You should’ve seen the children’s faces once they got the bows in their hands! It’s fantastic how Mohamed has set up his club, and works so hard to keep improving the skills of the archers and coaches. I’ve been very lucky to have someone change my life (thanks Fred!), and now I can do the same for many others.”

Coaching people with disabilities - Steve’s story

The obstacles that a disabled person has to overcome just to leave home and get themselves set up to shoot are numerous, all before they have even taken aim. Coach Steve Millward tells us about his role in helping disabled archers at the range.

“I’ve been in archery since 1992. My profession is in carbon fibre composites, and I'd been working with Keith Gascoigne, one of the UK's top bowyers, to help him develop some carbon fibre limbs. Keith taught me the basics of shooting so that I had a better idea of the bows we were developing, and I quickly realised that archery was an ideal family sport. 

Keith's wife Christine kindly taught my family how to shoot and we've been archers ever since; my wife and I are both now Level 3 coaches at Jolly Archers of Houghton and Wyton in Cambridgeshire.

In 2010 I started to help coach a young lady in a wheelchair at our archery club. She was a member of the British Wheelchair Archery Association (BWAA) and that's where our association with the organisation began.

I think a lot of coaches may be nervous of working with people who need adaptations because it is outside their comfort zone and/or they are worried about injuring the disabled person. The most important thing is to understand the archer's disability and adaptations needed; everyone has different requirements. The main challenge we have is that some wheelchair archers have very little feeling below the waist so stability in their chair and positioning the bow correctly can be tricky. 

Quite often it's about achieving good posture in the chair, making adjustments so that they can shoot comfortably. Sometimes we meet archers who have two wheelchairs: one for everyday use and one for sport. A lot of wheelchair archers find it easier to shoot compound bows which are shorter, and have a fixed draw, and therefore don't tend to interfere with their chair.

Coaches often end up making unique adjustments just to help someone shoot. We'll be creative with adapting equipment to suit the individual, which is where coaches with technical backgrounds can be particularly helpful. We try and keep costs down by doing the work ourselves; this is particularly important for young archers who are still growing as we're constantly having to make adjustments to their kit.

At clubs around the country, work is still ongoing to improve access to the range for disabled archers; we're getting there though. The good thing is there's generally always someone around to help where needed.

We're looking forward to restarting our series of winter weekend shoots within the BWAA at Stoke Mandeville, when we invite archers with disabilities to come along. We have a team of coaches with specialist knowledge on hand who can give the archers the guidance they need, and make it possible for everyone to enjoy the sport."

If you have a disability and would like to try archery

Why not contact your local club to find out when their next Have a Go session, or beginners course is starting?

Find my local club

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Specific impairment groups

The following links provide information from UK Coaching to raise awareness around specific impairment groups. Participants should always be treated as individuals and not defined by their impairment. This information provides generic information and should be used as a reference point only.

Organisations and further information

There are many national and local organisations that provide accessible sporting opportunities for disabled including archery.

The Fletchers' Trust

The Worshipful Company of Fletchers has an impressive track record in charitable giving, especially in providing financial support to all levels of the disabled archery community.

Archery GB’s charity partner is The Fletchers' Trust. Its main focus is supporting archers with disability, physical and mental, including those who are visually impaired. The Fletchers' Trust awards grants to newcomers to archery as well as to experienced and elite national archers. 

Anyone wishing to apply to the Trust for assistance should contact the Honorary Almoner by downloading, completing and sending in a grant application form.

What does The Fletchers' Trust do?

  • Helps individuals to purchase equipment – bows, arrows etc – as recommended by their coach. 
  • Makes grants for new club facilities and equipment.
  • Helps with the costs of running events. In recent years they have sponsored the annual Fletchers' Disability Championship at Lilleshall and the annual tournament for disabled archers at the Royal Toxophilite Ground. In addition, they support The British Wheelchair Archery Association’s Summer Championship at Stoke Mandeville; The British Blind (Archery) Society’s Winter tournament and training sessions at Lilleshall or Stoke Mandeville; The Blind Veterans Archery Section and the Deer Park Archers Inclusion Shoot

The Fletcher’s Trust works closely with Archery GB and supports various initiatives which are aimed at more grassroots archers.

Fletchers Disability Championships 2021

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