What's Sport Got to Do With It? Women with Disabilities and Identity Development
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INTRODUCTION: Women with physical disabilities are often socially defined by their disabilities. This imposed social identity or "master status" may override other attempts to establish an identity apart from disability. Little is known about what role sport participation has in identity development in women with physical disabilities. The purpose of this study was to describe the experience of identity development through sport participation for women with physical disabilities. More specifically, the objectives of this study were (a) to understand the role sport plays in identity, (b) to understand the meaning of athletic identity for women with physical disabilities, and (c) to bring a female disability perspective to our understanding of identity within the context of sport. METHODOLOGY: An inductive qualitative research approach that utilized phenomenological research methods was employed for this study. The experiences of four women between the ages of 19 and 31 who had physical disabilities and who had participated in competitive and recreational sport activities were captured using semi-structured face-to-face interviews, artefact descriptions, and field notes. Identity theory was used to facilitate the interpretation of the findings. RESULTS: The experiences of the women indicated that participation in competitive and recreational sport provided a strong athletic identity that enhanced other identities. The thematic analysis revealed two themes: (a) challenging otherness and (b) putting on the athlete role. Challenging otherness included the subthemes: (a) symbols of role expectations and (b) athlete as supercrip. Putting on the athlete role included the subthemes: (a) focus on self and (b) training the body. DISCUSSION: Identity development is a complex process that is further complicated for women with physical disabilities by the assumed symbols and meanings ascribed to their disabilities. The participants were active in mediating and moderating these meanings to create athletic identities. Sport contexts enabled the participants to focus on identity and body and develop positive symbols and meanings. Through sport they created identity definitions beyond the "otherness" experienced within larger social structures. The participants challenged the otherness which they often experience within these structures.
DegreeMaster of Science (M.Sc.)
CommitteeSpink, Kevin; Humbert, Louise
Copyright DateAugust 2011
Physical Disability, Identity Theory, Sport Participation, Athletic Identity