Personal Empowerment through Sport and Physical Fitness Activity: Perspectives from Male College Students with Physical and Sensory Disabilities

By Blinde, Elaine M.; Taub, Diane E. | Journal of Sport Behavior, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Personal Empowerment through Sport and Physical Fitness Activity: Perspectives from Male College Students with Physical and Sensory Disabilities


Blinde, Elaine M., Taub, Diane E., Journal of Sport Behavior


As a result of socialization experiences and restricted life chances, individuals with disabilities may have difficulty perceiving themselves as competent and effective members of society (Phillips, 1985; Sherrill, 1986, 1997). Often lacking the employment and educational opportunities necessary to enhance their social position, individuals with physical and sensory disabilities have limited power over their lives (Labanowicz, 1978; Lloyd, 1992; Nixon, 1984; Shephard, 1990). Such a condition of powerlessness significantly restricts their range of possibilities and impacts the degree of influence they have over life decisions (McWhirter, 1991).

To reverse this lack of control or "empowerment deficit" (Swift & Levin, 1987, p. 81), a positive self-definition of capabilities and potential first needs to be developed (Staples, 1990). By modifying beliefs about the self, individuals can begin to feel they have an active role in determining life events. The process whereby members of a disadvantaged group acquire self-perceptions and skills to gain mastery over their lives and to become proactive in improving their life situation has been termed empowerment (Gutierrez, 1990; McWhirter, 1991; Rappaport, 1983-1984). Conceptualized at three different stages, empowerment can occur at the personal, group, and institutional levels (Hartsock, 1983; Theberge, 1987).

Personal empowerment results when feelings of powerlessness are reduced through the acquisition of skills and self-perceptions that encourage individuals to become causal agents in daily events (Gutierrez, 1990; Kopp, 1989; McWhirter, 1991; Rappaport, 1983-1984). The development of qualities such as positive self-esteem, perceived competence, self-efficacy, and an internal locus of control facilitate empowerment at the personal level (Conger & Kanungo, 1988; Rappaport, 1985; Simmons & Parsons, 1983; Staples, 1990).

Engaging in empowering activities enables group members to realize undeveloped potential and acquire the capacity for successful action (Nixon, 1984; Staples, 1990). Competencies and perceptions are learned and developed through individuals' experiences in daily activities (Rappaport, 1983-1984). This process of empowerment involves persons empowering themselves rather than being recipients of power (Staples, 1990). Instead of relying on the assistance of others, members of a disadvantaged group achieve greater control over their destiny through initiating action on their own behalf (Staples, 1990).

One possible site for empowering individuals with physical and sensory disabilities is sport and physical fitness activity. Participation in this setting emphasizes qualities such as achievement and mastery, and often encourages the development of self-efficacy, goal setting, cooperation, and competitiveness (Greenwood, Dzewaltowski, & French, 1990; McPherson, Curtis, & Loy, 1989). Moreover, the physical activity context is one in which participants can respond to challenge and engage in problem-solving behavior. Therefore, individuals may develop personally empowering skills that not only contribute to success in physical activities, but also enhance effectiveness in other life situations.

Individuals with physical and sensory disabilities have had limited opportunities to participate in the sport and physical fitness context (Nixon, 1984; Sherrill & Williams, 1996). Societal attitudes about physical ability often have precluded this group from gaining access into the socially valued arena of sport and physical activity (Nixon, 1984, 1989). Due to their restricted participation, individuals with physical and sensory disabilities have been overlooked as potential respondents in research studies (Sherrill & Williams, 1996). As a result, limited knowledge exists concerning the impact of physical activity participation on these individuals.

The purpose of this research was to examine the empowering capability of sport and physical fitness activity participation for individuals with physical and sensory disabilities. …

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