Facing stigma, negotiating expectations, and exploring identities in a special olympics group transitioning into adulthood

Caldeira, Olivia (2016) Facing stigma, negotiating expectations, and exploring identities in a special olympics group transitioning into adulthood. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Special Olympics continues to be controversial to those who criticize any segregated activity that is not inclusive for people with disabilities. Rather than dismissing the Special Olympics outright as an outdated organization that has not kept pace with the push towards inclusion, I engage these controversies from the perspectives of the disciplines of folklore and disability studies. I demonstrate that close attention to the actual practices and lived experiences of a Special Olympics group provides important insights about the challenges and goals of inclusive versus exclusive practices. I examine the athletes’ conceptions of identity, disability, and kinship to better understand how stigma affects people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and the opportunities for full the participation in public life. Based on extensive ethnographic research, participant observation, and open-ended interviews with adult athletes, their families, coaches, and support professionals, I describe a Midwestern team’s activities, including athletic practices, games, home life, and social events. To what extent people with IDD are aware of stigma and its effects emerges as one of the underlying questions from this research. In addressing this, I encounter methodological challenges that require an appreciation for different communication styles, including deceptive practices, moments of resistance, and exercises of agency. I begin by looking at the history of the Special Olympics, how it is structured, and where it provides (or inhibits) possibilities for full participation. As part of that discussion, I describe the roles of safety, sportsmanship, and self-esteem. To further develop the issues that arise in discussing Special Olympics and inclusion from a disability studies perspective, I turn to the subjects of pity and its corollary, the celebration of individuals with IDD as mascots who are awarded symbolic, rather than actual, roles in sports, school, or community events. As mascots, individuals with IDD are hypervisible, but this does not necessarily counter the stigma they experience that prevents them from being fully included in other domains. In particular, obtaining and maintaining competitive employment are often the central measures of inclusion, so my concluding chapter considers the challenges faced by Special Olympics athletes in the workplace.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/12464
Item ID: 12464
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 311-319).
Keywords: stigma, disability, ethnography, intellectual, developmental, identity, Special Olympics, inclusion, transition, competence
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Folklore
Date: October 2016
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Special Olympics--Social aspects; Developmental disabilities--Psychology; Stigma (Social psychology); Sports team mascots; Group identity

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