Sport Development for Athletes with Disabilities: Collegiate Opportunities are Works in Progress

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Fines, Abby, Education - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Block, Martin, CU-Kinesiology, University of Virginia

International, national, and institutional policy state that individuals with disabilities should have equal opportunity to participate in sport and recreation. Unfortunately, policy is insufficient. There remains a lack of opportunity for students with disabilities to participate in campus recreation and varsity athletics, which includes intercollegiate, club, and intramural programs. Even those individuals who can bargain their own entry into either context still work against a status quo that evades a practice of equity. Ableist norms keep students with disabilities at the margins of an important part of an overall education program. This dissertational work aimed to understand how to bridge the gap between policy and practice. The overarching purpose was to understand how to advance opportunities for students with disabilities to play and compete at the college level. Three manuscripts addressed this purpose: (a) Capacity Building in Campus Recreation: Collegiate Goalball, (b) Searching for Solutions to Grow Intercollegiate Adapted Athletics: Lessons Learned from Women’s Sport Participation, and (c) The Inclusion of Student-Athletes with Disabilities in the NCAA: A Case Study of Notre Dame Track & Field. Each of these took a pragmatic approach to learn from existing programs (a, c) and similar situations (b) about how to include students with disabilities more effectively within collegiate sport and recreation. Strategic use of a process model of capacity building grounded by the construct of ableism unveiled practical implications about program development for organizations and professionals responsible for providing sport and recreation on college campuses. Findings showed that people were and are the lifeblood of change. Campus recreation and varsity athletics should identify and develop leaders within and partnerships outside their organizations to move more swiftly toward inclusion. With careful consideration of organizational capacity and context, creating inclusive programs can benefit individuals with and without disabilities as well as institutions at large. The long-term impact of such outcomes will require a systematic pursuit of equity, which means organizations will have to change policies and practices that support the status quo. Overall, this research demonstrated that collegiate opportunities are indeed works in progress. To truly bridge the gap between policy and practice, and advance equal opportunity for students with disabilities, the collegiate arena will need to be transformed.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Sport Development, Adaptive Athletics, Disability, Intercollegiate Athletics, Campus Recreation, Capacity Building, Case Study, Inclusion
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