Background People with disabilities often depend on assistive devices to enable activities of daily living as well as to compete in sport. Technological developments in sport can be controversial.
Objectives To review, identify and describe current technological developments in assistive devices used in the summer Paralympic Games; and to prepare for the London 2012 Games, the future challenges and the role of technology are debated.
Methods A systematic review of the peer-reviewed literature and personal observations of technological developments at the Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008) Paralympic Games was conducted.
Results Standard assistive devices can inhibit the Paralympians’ abilities to perform the strenuous activities of their sports. Although many Paralympic sports only require technology similar to their Olympic counterparts, several unique technological modifications have been made in prosthetic and wheelchair devices. Technology is essential for the Paralympic athlete, and the potential technological advantage for a Paralympian, when competing against an Olympian, is unclear.
Conclusion Technology must match the individual requirements of the athlete with the sport in order for Paralympians to safely maximise their performance. Within the ‘performance enhancement or essential for performance?’ debate, any potential increase in mechanical performance from an assistive device must be considered holistically with the compensatory consequences the disability creates. To avoid potential technology controversies at the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, the role of technology in sport must be clarified.
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