Sport and social movements by and for disability and deaf communities: Important differences in self-determination, politicisation, and activism

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  • On the face of it, the Paralympic Movement seems to share much with global disability movements1 in relation to rights, inclusion, and social change. The guiding aspiration of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), for example, reads: “Athletes and the Paralympic Games are at the heart of our Movement ... The Paralympic Movement builds a bridge which links sport with social awareness thus contributing to the development of a more equi- table society with respect and equal opportunities for all individuals” (IPC 2015a, “Aspiration”). This aspiration appears in line with three principles that have been central to global disability and Deaf movements, which are centring disabled people in decisions that most affect them (i.e., self- determination); reframing disability as a social or political, rather than a biological, problem (i.e., politicisation); and actively challenging social structures that perpetuate inequality and oppression (i.e., activism) (see Charlton 2000; Driedger 1989; Peters et al. 2009; Stroman 2003; Withers 2012). The IPC has not been shy about selling this seeming alliance, includ- ing celebrating its role in “athlete empowerment” (IPC 2015a, “about us”), and claiming that the Paralympic Movement began as “a disability move- ment” (IPC 2015b, 0:15).
    The IPC’s claimed alliance with disability movements, however, has not been reciprocated. The Paralympics goes unmentioned in the vast majority of disability movement histories (e.g., Campbell and Oliver 1996; Charlton 2000; Davis 2006; Driedger 1989; Nielson 2012; Stroman 2003; Withers 2012). In those rare times when disability scholars do take up the Paralympics, or disability sport more broadly, it has tended to be through a critical lens, demonstrating how disability sport has contributed to ableist representations and structures (e.g., Hahn 1984; Howe 2008; McRuer 2014; Peers 2012; Withers 2012). In this chapter, I intend to flesh out this critique by offering a historical overview of the relationships amongst global disability and Deaf movements, disability sports movements, and the Paralympic Movement, from the late nineteenth century until contemporary times. Given that Paralympic histories will be covered elsewhere in this book, I will describe in greater detail the emergence of disability and Deaf movements, and then will link these to major milestones in Paralympic and disability sport movements more broadly.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International