JMU disability sport expert offers insight ahead of 2022 Paralympic Winter Games

JMU disability sport expert offers insight ahead of 2022 Paralympic Winter Games

Harrisonburg, Va. — The world’s greatest para-athletes are set to take center stage when the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games begin their 9-day run Friday in Beijing. One of their biggest fans, James Madison University kinesiology professor Cathy McKay, is ready to cheer them on.

McKay recently finished hosting her annual Paralympic Skills Lab at JMU, where she brings in a variety of Paralympians and athletes who play for the Charlottesville Cardinals wheelchair basketball team to interact and facilitate skills stations parasport with JMU kinesiology classes.

McKay also hosted in-service and pre-service teachers for a special session on using parasport education as part of K-12 physical education.

In addition to being a celebration of athleticism and sporting excellence, McKay said the Paralympic movement and educational programs related to the Paralympic movement promote socio-cultural attitudinal change and have worked to change the paradigm through which Americans see disability.

Here are some more insights from McKay on disability sport and the Paralympics.

Who practices handisport?

Sports opportunities for people with disabilities tend to be organized around three main disability groups: deaf people, people with physical and/or visual impairments, and people with intellectual disabilities. Many members of the deaf community do not view deafness as a disability and often compete with non-disabled people with little or no modification needed. Although designed for people with disabilities, sport for the disabled can be played by anyone, giving able-bodied people the opportunity to participate alongside people with disabilities.

Can any sport be disabled?

There are two main categories of sports for the disabled. The first is based on existing sport for the able-bodied, but with modifications or accommodations to meet the needs of athletes (eg, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, water sports). The second is designed specifically for people with disabilities (eg, goalball). Sport for the disabled includes Paralympic sport for athletes competing in the Paralympic Games. Paralympic sports are part of sports for the disabled, but not all sports for the disabled (eg rock climbing, kayaking) are Paralympic sports. The term Parasport (Para meaning parallel) is becoming more and more popular and replacing terms such as disabled sport, adapted sport and adapted sport.

What makes a disability sports event or program successful?

The Parasport Education and Outreach Program I lead at JMU is based on Allport’s Contact Theory, which states that contact with people different from oneself will result in attitude change if presented in the right conditions. The theory was first proposed when discussing how to improve relations between members of majority and minority groups and has been used to explain human relations in terms of prejudices and differences. Allport hypothesized that when people come into contact with others who are different from themselves, their preconceptions diminish as they come to understand the other person. Contact theory has four components that come to life in my programming: equal status contact; common and collaborative goals; meaningful personal interactions and support from authority. Direct contact with Paralympians and athletes from local disability sports clubs helps address these elements and create an impactful and engaging overall parasport education experience.

Is there a stigma surrounding sport for the disabled?

People with disabilities are often seen as different because they do not fit the description of normality which is often interpreted by beauty, attractiveness and physical ability. In contemporary society, people with disabilities are believed to be inferior or inferior to non-disabled people, which easily translates to disabled sport being inferior or inferior. Disability sport education and awareness, including meaningful and useful contact with athletes with disabilities, plays an important role in shaping perceptions of ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’, as society places strong emphasis on emphasis on physical activity and athletics. The idealized notion of “normal” is channeled into ableist norms and provides a sense of the need for disability awareness and education programs that promote socio-cultural attitudinal change and perception growth.

What impact have the Paralympics had on the awareness/de-stigmatization of disability sport?

The Paralympic movement and educational programs related to the Paralympic movement encourage socio-cultural attitudinal change and have worked to shift the paradigm through which Americans view disability. This paradigm shift challenges traditional ableist stereotypes of disability, expands perceptions, and advances a culture where individuals of all abilities are celebrated.


Contact: Eric Gorton, [email protected], 540-908-1760

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