Introduction to Adaptive Ice Skating

Written By: Riedell | October 3, 2023

Skating is a sport designed to be enjoyable for everyone, regardless of age or ability. This isn’t an exclusive sport that only a select few can participate in. Instead, it’s a versatile activity that can be enjoyed competitively or recreationally.

The U.S. Figure Skating Adaptive Program is designed to encourage skaters with intellectual or physical disabilities to showcase their skills in competitive or recreational environments. This program offers two different tracks that provide skaters with the opportunity to grow their skills and thrive. 

Through learning new skills, developing self-confidence, and encouraging physical fitness, skaters involved in adaptive ice skating will learn valuable life skills that will help them flourish both on and off the ice. 

What Is Adaptive Ice Skating?

Adaptive ice skating is a program by U.S. Figure Skating that offers two tracks for people with intellectual or physical challenges to learn to skate. This program involves a variety of modifications to the traditional rules, expectations, and requirements of traditional ice skating programs. 

Skaters are allowed to use special equipment to help them skate, and they’re given a different set of protocols to follow, which gives everyone an equal chance at success, regardless of age or ability.

The two tracks involved in adaptive ice skating are the Special Olympics and Skate United track. The Special Olympics track is designed to encourage skaters with intellectual disabilities to excel in skating and demonstrate their skills in competitive and recreational settings. The Skate United track gives those with physical disabilities the opportunity to utilize and showcase their skills in recreational and competitive environments.

How Do Disabled People Ice Skate?

Some disabilities create challenges that prevent athletes from skating using traditional methods. There is a wide variety of adaptive ice skating equipment available to help skaters with a range of disabilities perform and excel on the ice.

Here are some of the equipment and accessories available to skaters with physical disabilities:

  • Custom Ice Skates: Custom ice skates, like those made by Riedell, can be made to fit your exact needs. Riedell’s master craftsmen can customize your skates to address foot irregularities, heel spurs, bunions, and even prescription orthotics. Other modifications we can accommodate include leg braces, different leg lengths, and different size feet.
  • Skate Training Aid: This is a metal frame trainer that helps stand-up skaters maintain a correct center of gravity. It’s available in adult and child sizes. 
  • Balance Aid: These types of aids are designed for the ice. The height is often adjustable, and some come with accessories, such as additional handles, which are helpful for guiding skaters who are visually impaired.
  • Gliding Stars Products: Gliding Stars is a not-for-profit company that makes a variety of adaptive ice skating equipment. Some of the products they offer include orthotic skates, skates for pronation, and a variety of balance aids.
  • Ice Skating Sled: An ice skating sled is a specialized device that has two skate blades mounted on a bracket, which supports a metal frame and plastic seat. It allows the user to maneuver around the ice using only their upper body strength. Ice skating sleds come with an adjustable frame to accommodate a wide range of user sizes.
  • Protective Headgear: Falls occasionally happen on the ice, and having the right protective headgear for those with disabilities is essential. There is a wide variety of protective headgear available, and they’re all designed with the skater’s unique needs for safety and comfort in mind. 

This isn’t a complete list of the adaptive ice skating equipment available to people with disabilities, but it covers the most commonly used devices.

Can You Take Wheelchairs Ice Skating?

Yes, you can take your wheelchair ice skating! Wheelchairs tend to glide on the ice like skates, so it’s an incredibly positive experience for those wishing to get out on the ice in their chair. People using wheelchairs can be independent on the ice, although it’s more common for them to be accompanied by another skater who guides them around the rink.

Skaters who want to use their wheelchairs on the ice will need to make sure the rink they’re visiting is suitable for their needs. You may need to check to see if a rink offers dedicated sessions to people who use wheelchairs and make sure they have ramps where needed.

However, if you use a wheelchair, you’re also welcome to try a variety of adaptive equipment to help you get out on the ice. An ice skating sled is an excellent option for those unable to stand, while something like an adaptive walker would work well for those who are comfortable standing for short periods.

Get On The Ice With Riedell

If the allure of ice skating is calling to you, and you need the right adaptive skates to get on the ice, Riedell can help. We have experience working with skaters and their medical teams to design the perfect pair of ice skates that are suited to your unique needs.