It Might Be ‘Us’ Not ‘Them’: An Autoethnographic Reflexion of Ableist Practices in Adapted Physical Activity

  • Author / Creator
    Kirwer, Kirsten B.
  • Adapted physical activity (APA) is an area of scholarship and professional practice situated across the medical, social, and most recently, resistance and radical models of disability. As APA scholars begin to shift towards more critical and social justice lenses of disability and movement understanding, reflexivity in the preparation of APA professionals becomes imperative. Traditionally APA researchers have studied ‘the disabled’ rather than addressing the ableism that constructs disability. I would like to shift the paradigm and study ‘us’ not ‘them.’ Using an interpretive autoethnographic approach, I explored how my ableism in APA professional practice resulted in disablist practices that upon reflexion caused harm and trauma. The aim of my research was to explore how ableism infiltrates professional practice. I sought to understand how assumptions, social constructions, and perpetuations of ableism in APA practice can be explored as epistemological ruptures to create more reflexive practice. My research objectives were to (a) bring understanding and meaning to my past professional practice, (b) interrogate the many intersections between the self and culture, and (c) explore how reflexivity can lend itself to the work of APA practitioners.Through an interpretive autoethnographic approach I curated storied narratives of key moments of moral discomfort, participant distress, and imposed professional expectations from my professional experiences as an adapted physical activity practitioner. The three narratives were stories of fixing, infringing, and justifying. The storied writing also involved ongoing reflexive note taking. The stories and notes were then analyzed thematically, generating four themes: communication, the expertism façade, the surrounding environment, and the violence of disablism. The theme communication highlighted the nuanced complications that arose when ableist understandings and practice silenced communication between myself, the APA practitioner, and participants. The expertism façade was based in the moral discomfort and perception when I assumed the role of expert, regardless of my limited professional experience and internal questioning. In the surrounding environment theme, I discussed the influence that the social environment had in reinforcing ableist understandings and actions in my APA practice. In the final theme of violence of disablism, I looked at how disablist practice led to implicit and explicit forms of violence in adapted physical activity. The narratives may bring others to understand the importance of reflexion on ableism, both conceptually and practically, in APA professional preparation and practices. There are implications of my work to APA practitioner preparation, including confronting the culture of ableism pervasive in the APA curriculum, the need for working on reflexive skills early in APA practitioner preparations, and critically examining the ethical concerns resulting from perpetuating violence in APA. Practical implications include the need to create space for practitioners to sit with and reflexively understand their moral discomfort and ethical tensions in their day-to-day work. Throughout my reflexion, it was also important for me to critically analyze my positionality as a non-disabled, White, settler.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.