Paralympics: What Do The Categories Mean?

1 September 2016, 10:37 | Updated: 28 October 2019, 15:53


The Paralympic Games have arrived in London and millions are watching the exciting sports for the first time.

Many of the Paralympic sports have a number of different classifications, as athletes are classed depending on their disability.

Take a look below at our guide to find out everything you need to know about how the athletes are classified in the Paralympics.

The Paralympic Classifications Explained

The International Paralympic Committee has six disability categories, but not every sport allows for every disability.

The categories are:
Amputee: Athletes with a partial or total loss of at least one limb.
Cerebral Palsy: Athletes with non-progressive brain damage, for example cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, stroke or similar disabilities affecting muscle control, balance or coordination.
Intellectual Disability: Athletes with a significant impairment in intellectual functioning and associated limitations in adaptive behaviour.
Wheelchair: Athletes with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities that require them to compete in a wheelchair.
Visually Impaired: Athletes with visual impairment ranging from partial vision, sufficient to be judged legally blind, to total blindness. The athlete and their sighted guides are considered a team and both can win medals.
Les Autres: Athletes with a physical disability that does not fall strictly under one of the other five categories, such as dwarfism, multiple sclerosis or congenital deformities of the limbs such as that caused by thalidomide.


Archery classification is broken up into three classes:
ARW1: spinal cord and cerebral palsy athletes with impairment in all four limbs
ARW2: wheelchair users with full arm function
ARST (standing): athletes who have no disabilities in their arms but who have some disability in their legs. This group also includes amputees, les autres and cerebral palsy standing athletes. Some athletes in the standing group will sit on a high stool for support but will still have their feet touching the ground.


All disability groups can compete in athletics with a variety of categories. The letter F is for field athletes, T represents those who compete on the track, and the number shown refers to their disability.

11-13: track and field athletes who are visually impaired
20: track and field athletes who are intellectually disabled
31-38: track and field athletes with cerebral palsy
41-46: track and field amputees and les autres
T 51-56: wheelchair track athletes
F 51-58: wheelchair field athletes

Blind athletes compete in class 11 and are permitted to run with a sighted guide. Blind field athletes use sounds, such as clapping or voices, if they compete in the 100m, long jump or triple jump.

Athletes in classes 42, 43 and 44 must wear a prosthesis while competing, but this is optional for classes 45 and 46.

Oscar Pistorius and Great Britain's Jonnine Peacock appear in the T44 category.


Boccia - a type of bowls - is open to athletes with cerebral palsy and other severe physical disabilities who compete from a wheelchair, with classification split into four classes:

BC1: Athletes may compete with the help of an assistant, who must remain outside the athlete's playing box. The assistant can only stabilise or adjust the playing chair and give a ball to the player on his request
BC2: Athletes have poor functional strength in their extremities, but can propel a wheelchair and are not eligible for assistance
BC3: For players with a very severe physical disability. Players use an assistive device and may be assisted by a person, who will remain in the player's box but who must keep his/her back to the court and eyes averted from play
BC4: For players with other severe physical disabilities - not necessarily cerebral palsy. Players are not eligible for assistance


Cycling is open to amputees, les autres, athletes with cerebral palsy and visually impaired athletes, competing in individual road race and track events.

Athletes with cerebral palsy are split into four divisions according to the level of their disability, where class four comprises the more physically able.

Visually impaired athletes compete together with no separate classification system. They ride in tandem with a sighted guide.

Amputee, spinal cord injury and les autres competitors compete within these groups:
LC1: Riders with upper limb disabilities
LC2: Riders with impairment in one leg but who can pedal normally
LC3: Riders with impairment in one lower limb who will usually pedal with one leg only
LC4: Riders with disabilities affecting both legs

Athletes with more severe disabilities take part in handcycling, which is now included in the cycling programme. Handcyclists compete in the following disability divisions:
HCA: For athletes with complete loss of trunk and lower limb function
HCB: For athletes with complete loss of lower limb function and limited trunk stability
HCC: For athletes with complete loss of lower limb function but few other functional disabilities, or for athletes with partial loss of lower limb function combined with other disabilities which mean conventional cycling is not viable

Paralympians on tandem bikes use a front pilot to steer, able-bodied contestants who can win a medal.


Riders are divided into four grades and are graded according to ability:
Grade 1: Severely disabled riders with cerebral palsy, les autres and spinal cord injury
Grade 2: Athletes with reasonable balance and abdominal control including amputees
Grade 3: Athletes with good balance, leg movement and coordination including blind athletes
Grade 4: Ambulant athletes (those able to walk independently) with either impaired vision or impaired arm or leg function


Five-a-side football is played by those with a visual impairment, while seven-a-side football is played by athletes with cerebral palsy.

People who take part in five-a-side blind football are classified, according to their level of sight, as B1, B2 or B3.

Players in the B1 classification are considered blind, while those rated B2 and B3 are classified as visually impaired or partially sighted.

Outfield players are B1, but must wear eye-patches and blindfolds. The goalkeeper is sighted, but cannot leave the area. There are no offside rules. The football contains ball bearings to produce a noise when it moves.

Seven-a-side football consists of players from the C5, C6, C7 and C8 divisions, rated according to limb control and co-ordination problems when running. All classes are comprised of ambulant athletes, where those in class five are least physically able through to class eight who are minimally affected.

At least one C5 or C6 class athlete per team must play throughout the match. If this is not possible, the team must play with six players. Furthermore, no more than three players from category C8 are allowed to play at the same time.


A type of blind handball, Goalball is played by visually impaired athletes without any classification. Participants wear "black out" masks to ensure everyone competes equally.


Judo is contested by visually impaired athletes only. There is no categorisation as competitors are divided by weight in the same way as able-bodied athletes.

The only difference is the texture of the mat to indicate the edge of the mat.


Powerlifting is open to athletes with a physical disability and is classified by weight alone, with 10 weight classes.



Rowing is divided into four boat classes.
LTA4+: A four-person, mixed gender, sweep-oar boat plus cox with sliding seats. Open to athletes with an impairment but who have movement in the legs, trunk and arms. A boat can include a maximum of two visually impaired athletes.
TA2x: A two-person, mixed-gender scull for athletes with trunk and arm movement only.
AM1x: A fixed-seat single scull boat for men. Athletes have full movement in their arms only.
AW1x: A fixed-seat single scull boat for women. Athletes have full movement in their arms only.


Sailing is a multi-disability sport where athletes from the amputee, cerebral palsy, visually impaired, wheelchair and les autres groups can compete together.

There are three sailing classes:
Sonar: a mixed three-person crew
SKUD18: a two-person class
2.4mR event: single-crewed.

Competitors are ranked according to a points system where low points are given to the severely disabled and high points for the less disabled. Each crew of three is allowed a maximum of 12 points between them.

Single-handed sailors must have a minimum level of disability which prevents them competing on equal terms with able-bodied sailors.


Shooters are divided into wheelchair and standing groups.

These divisions are split into six sub-classes, each of which determines the type of mobility equipment the competitor is allowed to use.
SH1: For pistol and rifle competitors who do not require a shooting stand
SH2: For rifle competitors who have an upper limb disability and require a shooting stand


Swimming is the only sport that combines the conditions of limb loss, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury and other disabilities across classes.
1-10: Allocated to swimmers with a physical disability, with lower numbers for those with more severe disabilities
11-13: Allocated to swimmers with a visual impairment
14: Allocated to swimmers with an intellectual disability

The prefix S denotes the class for freestyle, backstroke and butterfly. SB denotes the class for breaststroke, and SM denotes the class for individual medley. So S1, SB1 and SM1 are for athletes with severe disabilities, while S10, SB9 and SM10 are for those with minimal disabilities.

Swimmers may start with a dive, or in the water. This is taken into account when classifying an athlete.

Table Tennis

Table tennis is played by athletes with a physical disability spread over 10 classes.

1-5: Athletes competing from a wheelchair, with class one the most severely disabled and class five the least disabled
6-10: Ambulant athletes, with class six the most severely disabled and class 10 the least


Volleyball is contested by athletes with a physical disability and has both a sitting and standing event.

In sitting volleyball, the court is smaller than standard and has a lower net. Games are contested by athletes with a minimal disability that prevents them from competing with able-bodied athletes.

Standing volleyball uses a full-sized court and normal height net, and is played by athletes split into three classes according to their disabilities.

Wheelchair Basketball

Basketball is open to wheelchair athletes, whose impairments may include paraplegia, lower limb amputation, cerebral palsy and polio.

Athletes are classified according to physical ability and are given a points rating between 1 and 4.5. One point equates to the most severe disability, 4.5 to the least. Each team fields five players but may not exceed a total of 14 points at any given time.

Wheelchair Fencing

Fencing is open to wheelchair athletes, whose impairments may include spinal cord injuries, lower limb amputation and cerebral palsy.

Athletes competing in this event are split into two classes:
A: Athletes with good balance and recovery, and full trunk movement.
B: Athletes with poor balance and recovery, but full use of one or both upper limbs.

Wheelchair Rugby

Wheelchair rugby athletes are classified using a points system, with the most severely disabled athletes being graded at 0.5 points, rising to 3.5 points for the more able. Each team is comprised of four players and is allowed a maximum of eight points on court at any one time.

Wheelchair Tennis

Tennis is played from a wheelchair with two classes - open and quad (disability in all four limbs).

In wheelchair tennis competitions, players are allowed two bounces of the ball, the first bounce being within the bounds of the court.