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Tracing the Paralympic movement's 'freak show' roots
Date:8/29/2012

(Edmonton) Danielle Peers has lived the thrill and pressure, revelled in competition and brought home hardware from the Paralympic Games. But beneath the cheers, the University of Alberta researcher questions whether the Paralympic movement is as empowering as its benevolent image.

The former Paralympian bronze medallist and women's wheelchair basketball world champion says the history of the Paralympic movement dates to the freak shows of the 19th centuryand even today's modern games are a spectacle of curiosity that reinforces disability.

"The Paralympics is one of those very few times where we actually have disabilities visible in our culture, where people take notice, but we're not taking full advantage of the opportunity," said Peers, a PhD candidate and Trudeau Scholar in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation.

Peers comes to the issue with experience playing stand-up and wheelchair basketball at high levels. She played wheelchair basketball for four years before being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, which allowed her to play in the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games.

"The ways in which we often talk about and show the Paralympics reproduces this idea that disability is a tragic problem in people's bodies, not a structural problem in our communities. My life and the lives of others I know with disabilities are full of structural difficultiesyou can't find housing, it's hard to find a jobbut our lives are also full of pleasure and joy."

Peers' historical analysis of the power relationship between disability sport organizers and athletes, Patients, Athletes, Freaks: Paralympism and the Reproduction of Disability, was published in the August issue of Journal of Sport & Social Issues in the lead-up to the 2012 London Paralympics.

Peers contends the movement avoids criticism and celebrates its able-bodied leaders in the most favourable light, often erasing contributions from athletes.

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Contact: Bryan Alary
bryan.alary@ualberta.ca
780-492-0436
University of Alberta
Source:Eurekalert

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