The Effect of Paralympic Athlete Status on Public Perceptions of Competence and Capability in Persons With Blindness


  • Kimberly Elizabeth Ona Ayala Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • Yetsa A. Tuakli-Wosornu Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, Connecticut
  • Cathy McKay James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia
  • George Raum University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Katie Wang Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, Connecticut


Adaptive athletes, paralympic sports, blind sports, disability stigma, patronizing help


Adaptive sports, including Paralympic sports, have been positioned as antidotes to disability stigma. We examined the impact of athlete status on general public perceptions of a person with visual impairment faced with subtle and hostile discrimination. An online survey asked 206 American adults to respond to a vignette where a woman with blindness labeled either as a secretary or a Paralympian asks for bystander assistance. The perceived appropriateness of the bystander’s reaction, as well as the protagonist’s reaction to bystander hostility, did not differ based on athlete status. Though the Paralympic and similar sports movements envision transforming ableist attitudes through sport, athlete status– which is a signal of participation–may not be enough to shift perceptions in the general public. Significant expansion, integration, and multi-scale mainstreaming of adaptive sports is needed to more reliably reduce disability stigma through sport.





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