Dissertation: Disability and Sport

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Abstract

The purpose of the study was to explore why there are so few disabled women taking up sport and leisure activities worldwide.

Five research objectives were set to help to achieve this aim. They were: to introduce the issue of disability in sport via a literature review; to establish how gender is presented as it intersects with disability; to examine the role of media in sport for disabled; to interview professional tennis players; and to draw a conclusion and give recommendations.

In-depth qualitative interviews were used to encourage female disabled athletes to talk about their lives and sport; all of them were professional tennis players. The interviews helped to explore how gender and disability intersect in the lives of those athletes. Researcher’s findings revealed the integral role that sport plays to offset the stigma of their disabilities and socio-cultural norms. The data was also collected using literature review. The literature suggests that challenges to participation in sport most likely include lack of media interest and social support for women with disabilities.

Utilizing a model of communication in sport and also socio-cultural norms in regard to disability, the findings illustrate the issues with which female athletes struggle in everyday life.

Recommendations have been made on the implementation of media attitude change – especially with the closeness of the 2012 Paralympics, and the media’s apparent lack of interest in that event. Also, research suggests that more leisure activities and special programmes for women should be created to help disabled people to take up sport and interact with society.

Introduction
Significance of the Study
People with disabilities often face societal barriers and disability evokes negative perceptions and discrimination in many societies (Sport England, 2001). As a result of the stigma associated with disability, persons with disabilities are generally excluded from education, employment and community life which deprives them of opportunities essential to their social development, health and well-being.

As Olenik et al. (1995) state, the social construction of disability has been influenced by a variety of interrelated factors which restrict the way in which society attaches meaning to disability. Included among these factors are Western society's cultural rules, economics, and political climate. Likewise, the woman with a disability attaches her own meaning relative to the nature of her impairment, her socio-economic status, ethnicity, sexuality, and specific attitudes, experiences, and expectations developed through interactions with others (Wendell, 1996; Olenik et al. 1995).

It is well recognised that sport can make a significant contribution to individuals and to society (Sweadan, 2001). There is no reason to suppose that this is any less so for disabled individuals than for their non-disabled peers, men or women. Sport changes the person with disability in an equally profound way by empowering persons with disabilities to realise their full potential and advocate changes in society (Thomas, 2009). Through sport, persons with disabilities acquire vital social skills, develop independence, and become empowered to act as agents of change. Sport and exercise offer the possibility of overcoming the stigma often associated with disability (DePauw, 1997, 2003).

Women with disabilities face ‘double discrimination’ in disability sport – being disabled and being female. It is also often called ‘double whammy’ – stigma which often presents disabled women incapable of leading a normal life, nevertheless practise sport and enjoy leisure activities.

Need, Purpose and Significance of the Study
Women with disabilities had to fight for their rights to be included in the arena of sport (Hedrick and Hedrick, 1991). Historically, the public deemed women, minorities, and people with disabilities “unfit” to...
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