Para swimming is competitive swimming for persons with impairments, including individuals with physical, visual and intellectual impairments.

  • Physical impairments include amputation; dysmelia; cerebral palsy; acquired brain injury; dwarfism; spinal cord injury; polio; spina bifida, and others (major joint restrictions, coordination restriction, limb paralysis or weakness).
  • Visual impairments include impairment of the eye structure, optical nerves or optical pathways, or the visual cortex, which results in reduced or zero visually perception.
  • Intellectual impairments include limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviour as expressed in conceptual, social and practical adaptive skills, which originates before the age of 18.



A classification system provides structure to the para swimming system and to help minimise the impact of impairment on sport performance. The classification system groups eligible para swimmers in sport classes according to their functional ability within the sport of swimming.

All swimmers with an impairment are eligible to swim at invitational swim meets without having gone through the classification process.

There are currently 14 officially recognized classifications within the Canadian swimming system. Swimmers with physical impairments compete in classes S1 to S10. Athletes with the highest functional ability, while still meeting the criteria to be eligible for para swimming, compete in the S10 classification, while athletes with the lowest functional ability compete in the S1 classification.

Swimmers with visual impairments compete in classes S11, S12 or S13. S11 swimmers having very low and/or no light perception, S12’s having more clarity than the S11 class and/or a visual field of less than 10 degrees diameter and S13’s having more clarity than the S12 class and/or a visual field of less than 40 degrees diameter.

Swimmers with intellectual impairment compete in the S14 class.

Domestic Classification

There are 3 levels of domestic classification:

Level 1:

Provides swimmers with rules and exceptions for swimmer safety and ensures that the swimmer’s permanent impairment is taken into consideration by officials at swim meets. There are no minimum age or swimming experience requirements.

The sport tags begin with PS and are specific to the impairment category:

  • PSPI – Para Swimmer Physically Impaired.
  • PSVI – Para Swimmer Visually Impaired.
  • PSII – Para Swimmer Intellectually Impaired.

Being considered for a Level 1 classification requires the completion of 2 forms: Request for Sport Class Evaluation and the Classification Sheet Level 1 form.

Level 2:

First introduction to obtaining a specific sport class.

Requirements for consideration to take part in the Level 2 process:

  • Be a minimum of 12 years of age or have permission of Swimming Canada’s Classification Lead.

  • Have a minimum of 2 years of swimming experience.

  • Be technically ready. The more technically sound a swimmer’s skills are, the easier it is for classifiers to determine that the impact on the swimmer’s functioning in the water is due to their impairment and not a lack of technical swimming skills.

The classification process at Level 2 consists of the completion of the Request for Sport Class Evaluation form, as well as other forms depending on the swimmer’s impairment.

For swimmers with a physical impairment, the process also includes a physical and technical assessment.

The physical assessment involves a bench test completed by a certified medical classifier (typically a physical or occupational therapist or medical doctor). Depending on the impairment of the swimmer, components of the bench test may include the evaluation of strength, coordination, range of motion, or limb length measurements.

The technical assessment is conducted in the water with swimmers being asked to complete floats, glides, the 4 competitive strokes, turns, and starts. The technical classifier has extensive experience within the sport of swimming (typically an experienced coach).

All evaluations whether on the bench or in the pool are scored on a scale of 0 to 5.

Sport class tags consist of 3 components:  

  • “S” Freestyle, Backstroke, Butterfly.

  • “SB” Breaststroke.

  • “SM” Individual Medley.

Rule exceptions as required.

Level 3:

Required once a swimmer has achieved a minimum qualifying standard for a national level competition (Canada Games, Can Ams, Canadian Swimming Championships).

Requirements for consideration to take part in the Level 3 process

  • Be a minimum of 13 years of age.
  • Have achieved a qualifying standard for a national level competition.
  • Provide adequate supporting medical documentation.

The Level 3 classification process begins with a Request for Sport Class Evaluation form being submitted to Swimming Canada.

For swimmers with a physical impairment, the process is similar to the Level 2 process, with the addition of an observation component that must take place during a competition, and swimmers must enter specific events called First Appearance events.

For swimmers with a visual impairment, a physical exam by an ophthalmologist who is trained as a classifier is required.

For swimmers with an intellectual impairment, the Level 3 Intellectual Impairment Classification Sheet must be completed by an accredited medical professional. The Intellectual Impairment Sport Call Consent Form must be completed by swimmer/parent/guardian.

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