The Social Construction of Disability: The Impact of Statistics and Technology

in Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly

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Debra ShoganUniversity of Alberta

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This paper aims to foster a discussion about the social construction of disability within adapted physical activity. Social construction of disability refers to the social history of disability and the social contexts that both enable and disable individuals who negotiate these contexts. Statistics and technology are introduced in this paper to illustrate that “the normal,” “the abnormal,” “the natural,” “the unnatural,” “ability,” and “disability” have emerged historically and to demonstrate that these concepts are implicated in social contexts. Work in the history of statistics is drawn upon to establish that the normal is a fairly recent notion in the English language. It is argued that statistics, as a normalization discourse, sustain artificial demarcations between ability and disability and the normal and abnormal when used by researchers and practitioners. To expose assumptions about natural ability, technological-assisted performance for participants with or without disabilities in physical activity and sport are addressed.

Debra Shogan is with the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2H9, Canada.

I would like to acknowledge and thank Sheryl McInnes for drawing my attention to writings in the history of statistics. I would also like to thank Jane Watkinson for encouraging me to contribute a paper to the North American Federation of Adapted Physical Activity 1996 Symposium.

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