Before even the first Games began, people competed

Australians with disability have participated in sport since the nineteenth century. Newspapers provide glimpses of the exploits of some of these athletes. The most commonly reported were amputees participating in swimming and water polo. James Resleure, an Australian amputee who lost a leg in a rail car accident at age 10, won several races as a member of the Bondi swimming club. In California, he trialled for the US Olympic swimming team in 1912 and for the US Olympic water polo team in 1920. In 1914, he won several swimming events and set records while studying at Cambridge University in England. Other amputee swimmers in this era included arm amputee George Tobitt in Victoria, and later Western Australia, and Brisbane-based leg amputee Charles Olsen, who won enough races to represent Queensland at the Australasian Championships in 1914. Furthermore, the Manly Swimming Club in Sydney had at least six amputees who participated in club events.

Internationally, the most advanced organisation was sport for the hearing impaired. The first sporting club for the deaf was created in 1888 in Berlin, additional clubs and associations followed in other countries, and by 1924 the inaugural World Games for the Deaf was conducted in Paris and the International Committee for Deaf Sports (initially called the International Committee of Silent Sports) was created. Interstate deaf competition in Australia began with a friendly cricket match between South Australia and Victoria in Adelaide in 1894.

Sporting events for visually impaired people have been held in Australia since at least 1908, when blind people ran footraces by means of a row of stretched wires to guide them at the annual picnic and sports of the Sydney Industrial Blind Institution.

While sporting participation has always existed, opportunities were limited, sporadic and focused on a few sports. The development of the Paralympic movement in the 1950s extended opportunities, created more regular, formalised competition and vastly expanded the range of sports available and the number of participants.

Long before there were Paralympians, athletes with a disability competed, usually in able-bodied events. In 1912, Australian amputee athlete James Resleure almost made the US Olympic team.