Abstract The purpose of the study was to explore why there are so few disabled women taking up sport and leisure activities worldwide. Five research objectives were set to help to achieve this aim. They were: to introduce the issue of disability in sport via a literature review; to establish how gender is presented as it intersects with disability; to examine the role of media in sport for disabled; to interview professional tennis players; and to draw a conclusion and give recommendations.
In-depth qualitative interviews were used to encourage female disabled athletes to talk about their lives and sport; all of them were professional tennis players. The interviews helped to explore how gender and disability intersect in the lives of those athletes. Researcher’s findings revealed the integral role that sport plays to offset the stigma of their disabilities and socio-cultural norms. The data was also collected using literature review. The literature suggests that challenges to participation in sport most likely include lack of media interest and social support for women with disabilities.
Utilizing a model of communication in sport and also socio-cultural norms in regard to disability, the findings illustrate the issues with which female athletes struggle in everyday life. Recommendations have been made on the implementation of media attitude change – especially with the closeness of the 2012 Paralympics, and the media’s apparent lack of interest in that event. Also, research suggests that more leisure activities and special programmes for women should be created to help disabled people to take up sport and interact with society.
Introduction Significance of the Study.
People with disabilities often face societal barriers and disability evokes negative perceptions and discrimination in many societies (Sport England, 2001). As a result of the stigma associated with disability, persons with disabilities are generally excluded from education, employment and community life which deprives them of opportunities essential to their social development, health and well-being. As Olenik et al. (1995) state, the social construction of disability has been influenced by a variety of interrelated factors which restrict the way in which society attaches meaning to disability.
Included among these factors are Western society’s cultural rules, economics, and political climate. Likewise, the woman with a disability attaches her own meaning relative to the nature of her impairment, her socio-economic status, ethnicity, sexuality, and specific attitudes, experiences, and expectations developed through interactions with others (Wendell, 1996; Olenik et al. 1995). It is well recognised that sport can make a significant contribution to individuals and to society (Sweadan, 2001).
There is no reason to suppose that this is any less so for disabled individuals than for their non-disabled peers, men or women. Sport changes the person with disability in an equally profound way by empowering persons with disabilities to realise their full potential and advocate changes in society (Thomas, 2009). Through sport, persons with disabilities acquire vital social skills, develop independence, and become empowered to act as agents of change. Sport and exercise offer the possibility of overcoming the stigma often associated with disability (DePauw, 1997, 2003).
Women with disabilities face ‘double discrimination’ in disability sport – being disabled and being female. It is also often called ‘double whammy’ – stigma which often presents disabled women incapable of leading a normal life, nevertheless practise sport and enjoy leisure activities. Need, Purpose and Significance of the Study Women with disabilities had to fight for their rights to be included in the arena of sport (Hedrick and Hedrick, 1991).
Historically, the public deemed women, minorities, and people with disabilities “unfit” to participate in sport due to beliefs centred on fear, superstition, and perceptions of frailty (DePauw & Gavron, 2005).
In 1976 the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization proclaimed that all people, including women and those with a disability, are entitled to participate in sport (DePauw, 1997). Despite the proclamation, girls’ and women’s participation in sport is still a new phenomenon – there are statistically fewer women with disabilities across the spectrum than men, and women are less prone to taking up sport or leisure activities.
Righttoplay. com reported that ninety-three per cent of women with disabilities are not involved in sport and women comprise only one-third of athletes with disabilities in international competitions. This is a very significant number and this paper will investigate the issues surrounding the possible reasons for such low participation. Aims and objectives This research will examine why there so few women taking up sport and leisure activities worldwide. In particular, this dissertation will examine five main research objectives:
1.To introduce the issue of disability in sport via literature review 2. To establish how gender is presented as it intersects with disability 3. To examine the role of media in sport for the disabled 4. To establish if the ‘double whammy’ image makes women empowered by conducting interviews with professional tennis players 5. To conclude and give recommendations. Rationale This year, London will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games. For most of the participants, it will be like a dream come true – regardless of their gender, age or disability; they have all had to work very hard to get there.
However, for some of them, it will be not only a case of winning for their country and gaining another medal, it will be an issue to overcome their stigma – being a woman and being disabled. There is still little literature focused on the significance of gender in disability sport. Also, this study was undertaken to clarify issues on that complex area, hence using secondary and primary research on this topic. These women face many issues every day – but they fight for their dream. This research studies why there are so few of them.
Who is damaging their dreams to live normal lives? Themselves? Society? The media? This research paper will discuss these issues. Literature review Introduction Although much progress appears to have been made, women with a disability have long been stigmatized in the sporting area. Gender specific behaviour has not been systematically studied in disability sport (DePauw, 1994). Research on female athletes with disabilities will draw on the literature about sport performance in general, as well as specific research on female athletes.
The researcher will critically analyse the literature to help to build a theoretical framework on the definition of disability, gender, socio-cultural issues and media in the sport industry. As Gratton and Jones (2010, p. 56) believe: “Using an appropriate theory is important to allow you to have framework within which to explain you findings. ” Issue of disability in sport Disability is often equated with inferiority and deficiency rather than a neutral difference that may require some adaptation; there is an implicit cultural moral judgement.
The meaning of disability is culturally framed and what is defined as a disability in one context is not in another. Therefore, disability has been described as ‘slippery’ and fluid because there are many kinds. What is defined as a disability by some is not by others. Goffman (1963) defines stigma as “the situation of the individual who is disqualified from full social acceptance”. This “disqualification” has been particularly evident in sport where a “disabled” body often does not meet the guidelines of the “ideal sporting body.
”In fact, Pensgaard and Sorensen (2002) identify disability as individual differences in “appearance, structure, function and performance that are perceived as undesirable in society”. Goffman (1963) states that persons with visible and invisible disabilities have to negotiate disability on a daily basis. Those with different bodies have to face negative attitudes and those with invisible disabilities, such as deafness, often face irritation and a lack of comprehension. The person with a disability does not fit the model of a “normal” person, let alone the image of an athlete.
However, DePauw and Gavron (2005) argue that athletes with disabilities are now gaining recognition as athletes. People with disabilities are experiencing increasing visibility nowadays and also ‘true’ acceptance in sport. Sport for persons with disabilities has blossomed to include more than seventeen international games, including three Olympic-level competitive games targeting athletes with disabilities – the Deaflympics (for those with hearing impairments), the Paralympics (for those with all other forms of physical disabilities such as limb loss and blindness), and the Special Olympics (for those with intellectual disabilities).
Samuels (2003) outlines: “Disability status is complicated by the ‘visible’ and the ‘nonvisible’ and ‘invisible’ nature of disability, and the changing dynamic of some disabilities. Negotiating disability in social interaction is part of everyday life and is informed by the nature of the individual disability. ” In sport, all athletes have had to negotiate their disability identity, as each disabled athlete has no choice since being part of the competitive sport system necessitates coming out through the classification process, which is public.
Brewer, Van Raalte and Linder (2003), define athletic identity as the degree to which an individual identifies with the athlete role and looks to others for acknowledgment of that role. Athletic identity is strongly influenced by interaction with society. Sport works to improve the inclusion and well-being of persons with disabilities in two ways – by changing what communities think and feel about persons with disabilities and by changing what persons with disabilities think and feel about themselves.
Righttoplay. com suggests that community impact and individual impact of sport helps to reduce the isolation of persons with disabilities and also change the way they think about themselves. Disabled women in sport The power of sport as a transformative tool is of particular importance for women as women with disabilities often experience double discrimination on the basis of their gender and disability (www. un. org).
Henderson and Bedini (1997) add that women with disabilities represent a unique population. As Wendell (1989) notes: “Men with disabilities are female in a male dominated world and disabled in a world dominated by able bodied people. ’ Several authors state that women face a “double whammy” in being female and having a disability (Doucette, 1992; Traustadottir, 1992), but they may also find that “double whammy” to represent empowerment as well as constraints (Morris, 1991).
Women are participating in increasing numbers and there have been a number of new directions in women’s sport since 2000, however, female athletes with disabilities still face a significant gap, in terms of number of participants, with disabled men and their able-bodied female counterparts. Women in the 2008 Summer Paralympic Games in Beijing, China, represented less than one-third of the 3,806 participants, according to the recent data available from the International Paralympic Committee, based in Bonn, Germany.
Women in the Olympic Games, by contrast, represented a much higher forty-four per cent of the 11,099 athletes, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington, Vancouver. It is reported (www. un. org) that ninety-three per cent of women with disabilities are not involved in sport; some reasons may include limited resources and opportunities made available to girls and young women with a disability at the local, national and international level (www. paralympic. org). Role of media Studies have shown that women with disabilities have also been marginalized in sport media (Messner, 2002; Schell, 1999).
Women’s sport receives far less coverage than men’s – as Hardin (2009) reports: “The exclusion of women and athletes with disabilities in sport media can be seen in a number of arenas. These include, but are not limited to, both mainstream and disability print and web based media, such as books and magazines, as well as, television shows that emphasize sports. ” Information is scarce when it comes to women with disabilities and even more limited for disabled women in sport. The national news rarely features women athletes who have overcome disability barriers.
This lack of attention creates few disabled female athlete role models. Even television commercials that show disabled athletes almost always choose male models. According to Auslander and Gold (1999), the media is the key reason for negative images with regard to women athletes with disabilities. The research showed that disability has not been an area that the media has felt obligated to cover because media representatives and their audience often do not know that disability sports exist or even consider them authentic.
Hardin (2009) believes that women athletes with disabilities feel that the only time they are mentioned in the media is when the media wants to perceive them in a stereotypical way. As Haller (2000) recollects: “Besides dealing with discrimination from others, women with disabilities also have to deal with their invisibility in the media’s cultural messages, as well as dealing with the negative stereotypes chosen to represent them. ” The media sometimes presents them as self-centred and egotistical (Schell, 1999), which does not help the advocacy for women in sports media.
DePauw and Gavron (1995) state that this attitude must change so barriers faced by women with disabilities can be overcome to increase women’s opportunities in sports and beyond. Hardin (2009) also agrees that people must first understand the perceptions of the women who play disability sports in both mainstream and disability sports media. On the contrary, a study carried out by Hardin, Chance, Dodd and Hardin (2002), found that women in sports media are finally progressing and moving away from stereotypical coverage.
Conclusion The inequities of females in sport and recreation have been well documented in non-disabled sport in the West, but only explored in a limited fashion in disability sport. Sampson (citied in Wendell, 1996) argues for the need to recognize the specificity of the diversity of female experience and the context of gendered disability, not just as an ‘additive’ analysis. From reviewing the literature and disability studies, it was possible to identify various views on the issue of female disabled athletes.
Several researchers have taken a strong focus on disability sports research; however, the disability studies were heavily centred on male athletes with disabilities. There is also a gap in disability theory as the approach is often ‘gender-neutral’ and the literature is sometimes essentialized. Once the methodology is completed, the researcher will focus on the gap within existing literature, by using in-depth interviews with female athletes with disabilities.
The preceding chapters presented the background of the study, defined the research problems, annotated the findings of relevant literature related to factors which may influence why there are so few women with disabilities taking up sport and leisure activities. In the first section of this chapter, the research design is described. The research will also look into the sampling frame, procedure for in-depth interviews, and also explain the data analysis method to be used to test the hypothesis.
Research design Boore and Kertz (2010) believe that ‘in planning a research project, marketer must be sure the study will measure what they intend to measure’. The choice of a particular method or methods is a very important decision in assignment and project work; as according to Saunders et al. (2003), ‘there is an inevitable relationship between the data collection method you employ and the results you obtain. In short, the results will be affected by the method used. ’ Research on the topic of gender, disability and sport has been approached quantitatively and qualitatively over decades.
Deciding which approach is the most appropriate depends on the nature of the research objectives (Gratton & Jones, 2004). If the interest is in the precise measurement, the researcher will choose a quantitative methodology; however, if the interest is of people’s feelings or experiences, the researcher will pursue a qualitative methodology. This research paper intends to identify the reasons why women with disability are in the minority of taking up sport and leisure activities by exploring the perceptions and experiences of disabled tennis players.
As a result, a qualitative methodology was chosen to examine the issues and struggles of disabled women in the sport and leisure area. Primary vs Secondary research Secondary Research Secondary research was conducted by using books, journals and Internet sources. Books and journals were consulted, when trying to understand relevant theories within the research. Internet sources were carefully selected, as it is hard to prove the validity of those sources – when the article was written, who wrote it and for what purpose it was written.
A range of years, dating back to 1963 was accepted due to the theories and concepts required. These backdated sources were also applied to current industry examples, providing discussion on issues of disabled women in sport. However, most of the literature presented in the literature review was often gender-neutral in regard to disability in sport. The literature was often gender orientated but not in regard to disability, hence, the reason for primary data being used in the paper as the main source of research. Primary research Primary research refers to the collection of data for the first time.
This data is collected for some specific purpose. Primary research is more expensive and time-consuming but it will give better results than secondary data (Gratton & Jones, 2010). There are several methods that can be used for research like interviews, questionnaire, surveys, and observation. The researcher has chosen an in-depth interview method as it will reflect the thesis question in the best way. Interviews, in general, are conducive to helping the narrator become actively involved in the research being carried out (Reinharz, 1992).
As Boyce & Neal (2006) explain ‘in-depth interviewing is a qualitative research technique that involves conducting intensive individual interviews with a small number of respondents to explore their perspectives on a particular idea, program, or situation. ’ They also state that ‘in-depth interviews are useful when you need to obtain detailed information about a person’s thoughts and behaviors or want to explore new issues in depth. Interviews are often used to provide context to other data (such as outcome data), offering a more complete picture of what happened in the program and why.
’ Instrument Using relevant literature and previous research, the researcher designed a fifteen-item interview guide to include questions about participation in recreation activities, perceptions of self when in recreation activities, perceptions of disability, meaning of support of friends and family, role models, and the role of the media. The researcher included appropriate prompts to facilitate the interview in case a respondent seemed confused about any question. Sample The participants for this study were five female wheelchair athletes ranging in age from nineteen to forty-two.
The participants came from a variety of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. One of the participants was a British citizen, two of them were East European, one was a South African citizen and one came from the Netherlands. The participants were selected because they were all tennis wheelchair players and the researcher was familiar with all of them. The participants’ wheelchair tennis experience ranged from six to seventeen years. The women were also asked whether or not they wanted to have their names used in the research.
The concern was that removing the name from the experience could somehow remove the experience of the phenomenon from the woman. None of the women interviewed were against using their real names. Data Collection/Procedures Face-to-face or phone semi-structured interviews were conducted with each participant. Each interview was transcribed verbatim. Interviews lasted 20 to 45 min. Appointments were scheduled with each participant at a location and time of their choice (i. e. , home, workplace, tournament, school). All participants were happy to spend their time answering all of the interviewer’s questions in order to help with the research.
Data Analysis The author conducted qualitative analyses of the interview transcripts through the use of the constant comparison technique, relating closely to issues raised throughout the literature review from secondary research. Qualitative analysis is often started by analyzing and counting the distribution of answers question by question. The researcher selected some sections of the participants’ discourse as providing satisfactory answers to questions, whereas other parts of participants’ discourse were ignored or treated as unimportant.
It is assumed that this procedure will result in a logical and coherent picture of the researched group’s actions or views, and can be generalized to classes of social action (e. g. , information-seeking behaviour and issues). The participants were allowed to confirm or dispute any information that they felt had been transcribed correctly or incorrectly. Data Validity In a qualitative study, there are a few different ways in which data trustworthiness or reliability can be established (Goetz and LeCompte, 1984).
In order to establish data trustworthiness in this study, the researcher explained the nature of the study to the women who were interviewed and also gave them an explanation of the use of the interview process and the researcher’s role. In addition, direction quotations were used to support the conclusions drawn. Summary This chapter has explained and justified the reason for conducting in-depth interviews. The researcher believes it is the most appropriate method of research for this study.
Both secondary and primary research are important to establish the aim of the research, with primary research identifying all issues of disability with which female athletes struggle on an everyday basis. The researcher also finds out why those athletes think there are so few disabled women practising sport and taking up leisure activities. The next chapter will outline the analysis undertaken and the conclusions reached based on the findings of the study. PRESENTATION AND ANALYSIS OF THE DATA Introduction This section will discuss the findings of the research.
The differences between labels given to disabling conditions and functional abilities within society will be discussed. The women’s description of their own disability will be used throughout the findings. The data will be related to previous findings and the analysis of that data will be presented. This analysis will be in keeping with the issues raised in the literature review. Definitions and experiences of leisure and sport will be discussed as well as the constraints experienced by these women with regard to leisure, both physically and within their social environments.
Also the findings will investigate the various reasons why there are so many disabled women not participating in any sport and leisure activities. A final section will discuss the manner in which disabled women adapt their daily lives to meet their leisure needs and desires. Meet the Girls! When the researcher asked the women to be interviewed for their assistance in finding out the answers to the thesis question, they could not hide their excitement. They confessed that they feel very honoured and started asking questions such as ‘Are you sure you want to interview me? ’, ‘Am I going to be famous?
’They all happily agreed to talk about their entry into sport, their struggles, support of peers and family, being/having a role model and the role that the media play in their lives. However, due to the fact that all of those girls are very hard working and preparing for many tournaments and the Paralympics, it was very difficult to find the right time for a research chat. So planning weeks ahead, the interviews took place at different locations and at different times. All of those disabled female athletes were very lovely, friendly and tried to give as much information as was needed.
They are all different: they come from different countries, their ages vary, they religion varies too, but they have one thing in common – passion for sport despite their disabilities. The following are brief descriptions of the women in the study. Jordanne Whiley ‘Smurf’, was born in Birmingham, England. She is only nineteen years old but has achieved much more than the average nineteen-year–old. She is Britain’s number one wheelchair tennis player. She represented Great Britain at the Beijing Paralympics and now lives with her parents in Halesowen, West Midlands.
Jordanne first played wheelchair tennis aged two at a tournament in Israel, where her father, Keith was playing. Both Jordanne and Keith (a former Paralympian in 1984) were born with the genetic condition Osteogenesis Imperfecta (commonly known as Brittle Bone Disease). This disorder affects the production of collagen, which leaves the bones very weak and prone to breaking. Even the slightest knock could result in a fracture. In 2007, Jordanne became Britain’s youngest ever national women’s singles champion at the age of 14 and won her second national title in 2008 before finishing runner-up to British number one, Lucy Shucker in 2009.
She took over the number one position in Great Britain in 2011 and she is currently preparing for the London Paralympic Games this year. She is competing in the Ladies’ Singles and Doubles tennis competitions. Aniek van Koot, Aniek, who is twenty-one years old, was born in the small village of Winterswijk in the Netherlands. She was born with several abnormalities of her right leg, which was, among other things, much shorter than her left leg. She started receiving hospital treatment when she was a baby, however, the inevitable happened: after so many surgeries, it was discovered that several parts of her leg were missing.
Aniek had asked for a second medical opinion in Utrecht but after many attempts, she was faced with a choice which would affect the rest of her life: the leg had to be amputated when Aniek was only eleven years old and she had to learn to walk without her right leg. Before the amputation, Aniek started practising tennis at the age of 10 and since then, her passion has developed. She currently lives on her own in Arnhem, Netherlands, and enjoys her life as a professional tennis player ranked impressively at number two in the world of Ladies’ Singles.
She also works part-time for a company called Invacare, which specializes in sport wheelchair production. She is also now preparing for the London Paralympics this year by training five times per week, aiming to win a Gold medal. Kgothatso “KG” Montjane Kgothatso is twenty-five years old and comes from South Africa. She is currently number one in the country in her country’s Ladies’ ranking and number thirteen in the world. Kay, as her friends call her, was born with a congenital birth defect.
She only started playing tennis six years ago and as she admits, she did not know what she was supposed to do with a racket and a ball at the beginning. However, since then, she has made a huge impact on the local and international circuit. She is widely regarded by her peers and young fans as a major inspiration. In August 2011, she was awarded the title of sport’s person of the year in the disability category, along with her tennis colleague Lucas Sithole. She was also awarded silver in the disabled sports women of the year category at the Gauteng Sports Awards.
She is currently training with her team in preparation for the London Paralympic Games. Judyta Olszewska, Judyta is twenty-two and comes from Plock, a city in central Poland. She is the bubbliest person the researcher has ever met and her smile makes everyone else smile. At first, she does not look as if she has any disability, however, looks can be deceptive – Judyta has suffered from a foot deformation since she was a little girl. Her condition makes it impossible to play and run like able-bodied people. Despite that, she chose tennis wheelchair and she thoroughly enjoys practising it.
She started practising tennis at her local tennis club, then quickly progressed to the national team. However, Judyta was too young to play senior tennis, so for the first few years she represented her country in the junior category. In 2006, she became the best junior player in the world by winning the Invacare World Cup. After progressing to the seniors’ category, Judyta played in many national and international tennis tournaments around the world. She is currently number fifty-six in the world in the Ladies’ ranking but aiming for a higher position.
Her next goal is to compete at the Paralympics in 2016. Lucyna Mietrkiewicz, Lucyna is forty-two and also comes from Poland. She started playing wheelchair tennis ten years ago, when her then boyfriend, now her husband, Pawel Mietrkiewicz, showed her the opportunity of playing sport for the disabled. She claims that she did not take competition seriously in the beginning, but after winning several national tournaments, she started playing as a professional.
She is currently ranked 122 in the world and is thinking of retiring soon from professional tennis to pursue her business career. Lucyna owns her own company which supports disabled people to help them start taking up sport and leisure activities.
Findings The findings of this study, only specific to “this group of wheelchair athletes” (Hardin & Hardin, 2003, para. 34) have been summarized into three themes: 1. The participants believe that there is lack of women taking up sport activities due to a lack of opportunities being given 2. The participants state that socio-cultural differences are responsible, but the issue may be psychological in each individual as well 3. The participants are tired of the media stereotypes and believe that the media is partly responsible for the lack of women and individuals with disabilities covered in the sports media as a whole.
Also, within each different theme, several key points emerged. Being a woman in a male world First, discussion was related to sport opportunities for disabled women. During the interview, their experiences were also considered. Their activities and training regimes vary but they all share a huge passion for tennis. Then, each participant related their story about how they got started in sport, how difficult it was to ‘come out’ to the world and enjoy their lives, even if they felt different. Jordanne mentioned: ‘being a kid was lonely for me.
I could not attend most kids’ parties, I could not go to kids’ parties and play, and things like bouncy castles were a definite no. ’ Jordanne has had ten operations since the age of three, however, she still needs her wheelchair most of the time. At school, despite her bubbly personality, she felt like an outsider: ‘I felt strange as all those kids could play football together or just play around and the only thing I could do is stand on the side and watch them. ’ In some places in the world, people still suffer from social stigma associated with their disability.
Stigma consists of unfounded stereotypes, inaccurate assumptions, negative perceptions and prejudice. The consequences of stigma can be severe and even fatal. In some cultures, merely having a family member with a disability makes it difficult for a woman, without a disability but in the same family, to marry. Misconceptions and lack of knowledge about the true effect of disabilities frequently lead to social, economic and political exclusion of persons with disabilities. This exclusion may be intentional or unintentional.