Understanding the lived experiences of people with disabilities
: assessing the legacy of para-sport events in host countries

  • Shauna Kearney

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    As para-sport events, namely the Paralympic Games continue to grow in size and scale (Dowling and Legg 2017), there is a growing need for consideration of the attainment of legacy goals developed alongside such events. With people with disabilities (PWD) making up 15% of the world’s population (WHO 2011), the legacy goals of Paralympic Games organisers, if achieved, have the potential to positively impact the lived experiences of PWD in host countries. However, to date there is an absence of the voices of PWD in the discussion of para-sport legacy (Misener et al. 2013) and its execution.

    Therefore, this thesis demonstrates an understanding of the lived experiences of PWD with respect to marketplace inclusion/exclusion within the event and wider society, through the incorporation of the voices of PWD, in order to answer the research question:
    “How do PWD in the host country evaluate experiences in their lived realities linked to legacies of a Paralympic Games?”

    In order to develop an understanding of the lived experiences of PWD in previous host countries of Paralympic Games, two research sites were chosen as most applicable, the UK (London 2012) and Brazil (Rio 2016). This thesis utilised a multi-theoretical approach in the development of a conceptual model integrating ableism, socio-spatial theory, intergroup contact and imagined contact theory. This model informed consideration of lived experience in relation to the event space and legacy goals of the International Paralympic Committee. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with PWD in both research sites. A derived etic approach (Berry 1979) was undertaken, with a thematic analysis process adhered to during the data analysis phase.

    Key findings within this thesis show the shared experience of prevalent exclusion of PWD across research sites, with ableism remaining prevalent in society in both objective and subjective spaces, and as such, in overall lived experience. From the perspective of the majority of participants, planned legacies of each event have not been achieved. Areas of concern with respect to exclusion transcend across space and include; access, transport, employment, attitudes and media representation.

    This study showcases a lack of consideration of the complexity of disability when it comes to changes in space by para-sport event organisers; the exclusionary effects of supercrip stereotypes linked to para-sport events and the lack of accountability by organisers to ensure lasting legacy. As such, this thesis contributes to the literature on para-sport events, legacy and lived experience.
    Date of AwardDec 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorEva Kipnis (Supervisor) & Ian Brittain (Supervisor)


    • disability
    • legacy
    • ableism
    • marketplace inclusion / exclusion
    • lived experience
    • para-sport
    • Paralympics

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