Program helps classify ID athletes

Academics at Loughborough University are working with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to develop a robust computer test to help classify athletes with a learning disability.

The computer program is being developed by Dr Stephan Bandelow and colleagues in the Applied Cognitive Research Centre, part of the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences (SSEHS), and was a key element in the IPC’s decision to consider the re-inclusion of athletes with an intellectual disability (ID athletes) to the Paralympic Games.

The London 2012 Paralympic Games will be the first time that ID athletes are allowed to compete at an international multi-disability sports event since the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Australia.

Bandelow and his colleagues independently developed the automated touch-screen test and have analysed more than 700 athletes worldwide during competition and in training in order to validate it.

At the 2009 INAS-FID Global Games in the Czech Republic alone, a team of 13 volunteers tested more than 400 athletes over one week. Researchers have also enlisted help from specialist East Midlands schools and organisations including Mencap Gateway and the Linkage Community Trust in order to verify the functionality of the program.

‘We identified the need for a robust system to accurately classify athletes with an intellectual disability at the same time that the IPC was demanding evidence-based classification for key sports,’ said Bandelow.

‘The program tests reaction times, reasoning abilities, memory and concentration and is designed to measure problems with information processing that are prevalent among individuals with a learning disability,’ he added. ‘We also aim to develop sport-specific testing for sports including athletics, swimming and table tennis, based on the cognitive demands associated with each discipline.’

Bandelow and his colleagues are working with sports scientists as part of the international IPC/INAS-FID research group, which has been charged with developing a robust classification system for ID athletes. INAS-FID is the international federation for sport for ID athletes.