(Article 2 of 5)
[5-Part Article Series]
People with physical disabilities hold limited positions as scholars, teachers, or leaders in physical education, recreation, and sports. Perhaps the reason is that the field is flooded with able-bodied people who think they know best. But do they? Michael Oliver, imminent writer, and scholar argued that people with physical disabilities should be the only ones in the field of disability studies because they have a bodily experience with disabilities. The following five-part article series shares the perspective of a scholar in the field of sports disability who has his own physical limitations. In each article, he discusses a different issue a person with a physical disability faces in the profession of physical education, recreation and sport.
Part II: I Am Not an Object or Incompetent
I have been told by abled-bodied professionals that students with physical disabilities cannot and should not be physical education teachers and coaches because they are not relatable to the able-bodied. The attitude that is created from such a comment is an us versus them mentality. A person with a physical disability is seen as incompetent. I have a physical limitation but I am a competent educator and scholar in physical education, recreation and sport.
Attitudes towards people with physical disabilities start with the university or school administrators and teachers. Many times, students with physical disabilities are seen as objects and not as humans. I know, I am one of them. I have been told numerous times: “Aubrey, I don’t know what to do with you.” Or the more hurtful statement: “I don’t have time; you have to figure it out for yourself,” all while I watched the professional display a smile toward me and turn to help the able-bodied students.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. I am not simply an object. I was a university teaching assistant while I was earning my Ph.D. I worked and taught alongside the faculty, learning how to teach from them. The best success occurred when the mentor created an environment that demanded respect for me. I was a team member and a part of assessment and teaching. I knew every student’s name and I talked to each of them. The students accepted me because the standard was nothing less than acceptance. One of the students said in his in-class review of the course “We had an awesome TA, Aubrey.” Regardless of my physical limitations, students respected me because I respected them.
After earning my Ph.D., I took this same attitude with me when I taught several classes at a different institution. I knew from the research that students with physical disabilities were not included in physical education. I wanted to see if I could integrate inclusion into all the courses I taught. At first, I received pushback from the students because it was a new concept for them, and they were nervous because they had no previous experience. However, throughout the semester they became more comfortable, and their attitudes shifted in a positive way toward including students with physical disabilities in their classes.
In both stories, able-bodied students were able to relate to me as a person with a physical disability. My experience negates the belief that I am not relatable to able-bodied students. In addition, the able-bodied students celebrated that they were being taught by a person with a physical disability and their attitudes towards people with physical disabilities improved. My teaching evaluations were excellent. Individuals with physical disabilities can be excellent teachers and coaches of physical education and recreation. Maybe Oliver was right….
Follow the 5-Part Series this Month
Leading as a Scholar with a Physical Limitation
- Don’t Judge Me by My Gait
- I Am Not an Object or Incompetent
- The Power of Time (June 19th)
- If You Cannot Do It – Can You Teach It? (June 23rd)
- Just Talk to Me (June 29th)
This series was written by Aubrey Shaw, Ph.D. and edited by dr. Sharon Stoll (University of Idaho)