Perspectives of elite athletes with disabilities : problems and possibilities
Disability sport, and especially elite disability sport, has been all but ignored in terms of academic research in this country. This thesis, therefore, is an attempt to begin redressing this situation. It focuses on the Great Britain Paralympic track and field squad, that competed in the Sydney Paralympic Games between 18th and 29th October 2000. Through a series of in-depth interviews, which took a focused life history approach, the researcher attempted to gain a greater understanding of the kinds of factors, both positive and negative, that had an affect upon the lives of these athletes from the time they first took up the sport of athletics to the present day. In line with current research in the field of disability studies it adopts a social construction approach. The results of the analysis are set within the social model of disability in order to try and highlight the impacts of the perceptions of disability, embedded in the dominant medical model discourse, on these athletes' attempts to get involved and progress within the sport of athletics. Key findings highlighted by this research are the major influence that the medical model discourse of disability has on the perceptions of large areas of the able-bodied population with regard to disability in general and disability sport in particular. Able-bodied perceptions of disability greatly influence not only to what extent people with disabilities are able to operate within the society they live in, but also how they view themselves and their own abilities. This research also highlights some of the ways these socially constructed perceptions of disability are recreated and reinforced. In keeping with the emancipatory approach adopted for this research, the athletes were given the opportunity to comment upon an initial draft of the research findings. This was an attempt to be inclusive and keep the participants informed. Also it was an attempt to try and portray as accurate and as authentic account of the sporting life of an athlete with a disability as is possible. Throughout this thesis the researcher attempts to give an open and reflective account of the whole research process in order to make the reader aware of the possible effects of the researcher's own background on the research outcomes. In conjunction with the athletes, suggestions are made about how to better inform policies or strategies for British disability sport in general and disability athletics in particular.