A “Permissible Prejudice”: An exploration of the systemic ableist barriers to sport and leisure activity for disabled persons


Takeaway: We must assume a transformational practice: one that recognizes the on-going (re)construction of disability and sport in broader society, as well as the role that media plays in how those constructs are designed.
Cite as: Colombo-Dougovito, A. M., & Dillon, S. R. (2022, July). A “Permissible Prejudice”: An Exploration of the Systemic Ableist Barriers to Sport and Leisure Activities for Disabled People. Free Communication at the 2022 Annual Conference for the National Consortium for Physical Education for Individuals with Disabilities (NCPEID), Remote.


Given the ability of sport to reflect society as both a place for the reproduction of dominant societal values and a place for a resistance of those views, the impacts of sport on disabled bodies or the broader disability rights movement remains elusive and, likely, far more nuanced than typically acknowledged. In the last decade, there has been an increase in the media commodification of the Paralympics and a hypervisibility of disability among the coverage of sport for those with disabilities, drawing attention to both greater recognition to the needs of disabled persons and an increased presence of “inspiration porn”. Amid this increased visibility, ableist notions of ability are rampant and inseparable from the broader hegemonic views about gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, and age. Therefore, to better understand the imposed barriers that ableism enacts upon disabled persons attempting to engage in sport or leisure activities, we chose to conduct a qualitative meta-synthesis to thematically examine the overarching similarities among the firsthand accounts of disabled persons. A systematic literature search process led to 31 articles being included; extracted data summed to 678 individual quotations. Data analysis generating three interdependent themes: (1) Ableism within and about sport and physical activity is rampant and pervasive – or – “Sometimes you figure you got to become a second-class citizen.”; (2) Sport can serve as a mediator to psycho-environmental barriers yet is missing justice-oriented approaches – or – “Tak[ing] a break from pretending to be normal.”; and (3) Intersectional examinations of disability are absent and study samples are homogenous, prioritizing certain disabilities thus reinforcing an existing disability hierarchy – or – “They simply cannot help being prejudiced.” These themes will be discussed in detail, along with implications for future research. Ample time will be included for dialogue with Consortium members.

Audio/Video File

Self-recorded on July 14, 2022.

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