Narratives of participation among individuals with physical disabilities: A life-course analysis of athletes' experiences and development in parasport


Objectives: Efforts to promote full participation in parasport are vital not only for the potential physical and psychosocial benefits, but also as a means of enacting social justice. Until recently, there has been little empirical consideration of the experiential aspects that make participation satisfying or meaningful throughout the life-course. The purpose of this study was to explore the meanings that athletes with physical disabilities attribute to their participation in parasport over time. Method: Two-part life history interviews were conducted with 21 current or former athletes with a physical disability. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and subjected to a dialogical narrative analysis, which enabled an in-depth examination of the common stories told by athletes and the effects of these stories on their past, present, and future participation. Results: Five distinct narrative types were identified, representing differential developmental trajectories and meanings of participation in parasport. Athletes drew on existing narratives of disability (i.e., restitution, quest) and sport involvement (i.e., performance, discovery, relational) to frame these narrative types. The core of each narrative type was formed by the specific meaning or value associated with parasport participation (e.g., sense of purpose, social acceptance). Conclusion: The resulting narratives offer a unique understanding of the developmental pathways of parasport athletes and what it means for these athletes to participate. The narratives are useful for informing strategies and programmes that optimize participation and enhance participation rates.

Acknowledgments: As a part of the Canadian Disability Participation Project, this research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) – Grant # 895-2013-1021. This research was also supported by a SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship awarded to Veronica Allan – Award # 767-2015-1633.