Disability, Sport and Social Activism: Developing social justice through sport

disability-sport-323x200Despite having national laws plus the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, disabled people regularly encounter oppression and discrimination - known as disablism and ableism. For example, disabled people are often restricted by society in terms of where they can be physically active and what they can engage in. Public health messages (e.g. sit less, stand more) often ignore disabled people or reinforce normative assumptions about human bodies (e.g. all people can stand), which discriminate against certain bodies (e.g. people with spinal cord injury, who use a wheelchair). Disabled people are also frequently discriminated against when it comes to employment and having access to housing that meets their needs.

One exciting way to help challenge oppression and discrimination is through sport. Sport may be used as a platform to engage in activism. For example, athletes with a disability are potentially well positioned to shine a spotlight on the social injustices that disabled people face and seek change for the better in society. Sport researchers, as well as sporting organisations, can also engage in activism by challenging discrimination and doing work to enable social missions.

What we do

Led by Professor Brett Smith, our team conducts world-class research on sport, disability and social activism. Reflecting the importance of doing interdisciplinary work, it brings together psychology, sociology, and critical disability studies. For example, we were the first to bring together these disciplines to examine activism amongst elite athletes with impairment and how adopting an activist identity, or not, impacts on their wellbeing and retirement from disability sport.

To capture people's history and experiences of activism, our research uses traditional qualitative methods (eg; interviews) and more innovative qualitative methods (eg; visual methods and digital methods). It also utilises quantitative methods that measure activist identities, wellbeing, and perceptions of sporting performance.

Over the next 3 years, the programme of research aims to gather data from 150 elite para-sport athletes. It will communicate the results through peer reviewed journal papers, the media, stories, disability organisations, and athletes themselves. 

Article on ResearchGate:
Disability sport and activist identities: A qualitative study of narratives of activism among elite athletes with impairment

One exciting way to help challenge oppression and discrimination is through sport

What are the outcomes of this research?

  • An evidence base for the value of engaging in social activism when an elite athlete or retired from disabled sport.
  • Narratives from athletes that challenge oppression and discrimination.
  • Increases in athlete’s understanding of why activism is beneficial.
  • Enhanced physical and mental wellbeing.
  • Individual, social and community development.

People involved

Examples of Articles

For more papers see www.researchgate.net/profile/Brett_Smith4