Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Identity Negotiating: Redefining Stigmatized Identities through Adaptive Sports and Recreation Participation among Individuals with a Disability

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Identity Negotiating: Redefining Stigmatized Identities through Adaptive Sports and Recreation Participation among Individuals with a Disability

Article excerpt

As a professional providing recreation services for individuals with disabilities in a community-based adaptive sports setting, I would occasionally hear comments such as, "this is the best thing I have ever done for myself," or, "participating in this program has changed my life." For a professional working in this area, hearing these types of participant comments creates both a sense of excitement and wonder. These statements quickly elicit other questions such as, how exactly does a "change of life" take place, and what is it about a community-based adaptive sport and recreation setting that might facilitate such changes for an individual with a disability?

In seeking to answer these basic questions, the current literature lacked research empirically identifying the meanings individuals associated with their participation in a community-based adaptive sports and recreation program, or the outcomes related to their involvement in such programs. While there is a growing body of research looking at sports and recreation participation for individuals with disabilities in various settings including elite level competitive sports (Brittain, 2004; Huang & Brittain, 2006) and inclusive recreation programs (Devine, 2004; Devine & Lashua, 2002; Devine & Parr, 2008), there has been little investigation into the adaptive sport and recreation environment (Groff & Kleiber, 2001). Therefore, the primary purpose of this study was to qualitatively investigate the most meaningful aspects of participation in adaptive sports and recreation and identify the primary outcomes associated with participation. Our intent was to better understand how individual transformation might be facilitated through involvement in these types of programs.

Because the literature is sparse in attempting to answer this question, an exploratory approach was necessary. In an attempt to further specify this broad research question, a preliminary literature review was conducted and subsequent research sub-questions were identified.

Adaptive Sports and Recreation Participation for People with Disabilities

The term adaptive sports and recreation refers simply to any modification of a given sport or recreation activity to accommodate the varying ability levels of an individual with a disability. As an example, the participants in this study were most commonly involved in adaptive skiing and cycling. Adaptive skiing includes modifying downhill ski equipment, so a person with paraplegia or quadriplegia can ski from a seated position using handheld outriggers instead of ski poles. Cycling modifications would be similar, allowing someone to cycle from a seated position, pedaling with his or her arms or using a bicycle with three wheels to provide more stability. A key feature of adaptive sports and recreation is the provision of specialized equipment, which facilitates as much independent participation as possible for the individual with a disability.

The concept of community-based services was another important feature of the setting investigated in this study. While adaptive sports and recreation programming occurs in a variety of settings, programs are most typically available as either a therapeutic service associated with a rehabilitation hospital or through an independently operated agency existing within the community. The communitybased concept infers that opportunities to participate are not institutionalized, but open to all members of the community, and that participation occurs in public settings. Community-based adaptive sports and recreation services not only have the primary purpose of serving individuals with disabilities but are also open to other members of the community who are interested in mutually participating.

A common purpose of community-based adaptive sports and recreation programs is to improve the quality of life, health, confidence, and community integration of individuals with disabilities through the provision of recreational experiences. …

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