Reimagining inclusion in all movement cultures

Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Disability and Movement Cultures Danielle Peers leans on their lived-experiences and the voices of others to shift understanding on what inclusion in movement cultures means for all

Danielle Peers has dedicated their academic career to critically investigating and evaluating inclusion in sport, recreation and physical activity. And while they have been able to establish very meaningful and important research findings and outcomes, they know that much work is still needed to bring forth a paradigm shift in how all Canadians think about inclusion.

“Inclusion involves knowing and understanding the barriers that are excluding or harming people and working diligently at all levels to remove those barriers so that, in the words of community organizer Daley Laing, more people can bring more of themselves, more of the time.”

To do so, Peers’ knows that this shift will take a lot of effort from many people at all levels in the sport, recreation, leisure and physical activity fields. 

“We can’t just change the wording in a national sport and recreation policy and assume that it’s going to create a more inclusive environment,” says Peers, associate professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation. “We need to engage people at all levels of sport and recreation—from large, national, governing bodies to the frontline practitioners, coaches and staff who are working directly in our communities, to those who have been left on the sidelines of sport, as well as emerging scholars who have direct experience with marginalization—and reimagine what inclusion really means for everyone.”

Thanks to a recent Canada Research Chair (CRC) Tier II grant, Peers will be able to do just that. They will work with all levels of Canadian sport and recreation, as well as with emerging critical race, disability, Indigenous, feminist and queer scholars to start this important shift in how Canadians understand and create inclusion in all movement cultures. 

Reimagining inclusion from the margins

“Reimagining Inclusion from the Margins” is one of three CRC projects Peers’ will work on over the next five years. They will collaborate with emerging scholars and governing sport and recreation bodies to reimagine what inclusion means, from the perspective of those who are most impacted by the many barriers in movement cultures. 

According to Peers, the problem is that we tend to think of inclusion as creating separate activities for each different  “kind” of underrepreseneted people”—for example, wheelchair sports, special olympics, Gay Games, etc. This thinking often ends up imagining the problem as a set of deficits in those people, rather than challenging sporting structures that were, from the beginning, designed only for a very narrow range of Canadians.. This way of thinking about and organizing sport and recreation also makes it nearly impossible for the many, many people who experience more than one set of barriers to participate.  

“We tend to think that one person can only have one type of barrier, but that is certainly not the case. Take me for example, I’m a queer, non-binary, disabled scholar, but if I go and try to participate in any queer sport or recreation activity, I can’t actually do anything because none of it is wheelchair accessible, yet most wheelchair sport remains inaccessible because it is still structured around the gender binary with very little place for trans and non-binary athletes .”  

That’s why Peers and colleagues are working together to fundamentally rethink what meaningful inclusion looks and acts like, and what needs to be done to make that idea a reality. To do so, however, Peers knows that this is going to require changing their methodology, and working with emerging scholars who have experienced marginalization first-hand will play a role in developing an intersectional approach.

“The scholars I’m working with are sometimes the first generation of folks from different disciplines who have these experiences. Many of use don’t have mentors who attempted to do what we’re doing, so together we have to create a methodology where we centre the knowledge and the labour of the folks around the margins in order to fundamentally challenge the centre.”

This methodology will include regimaging the grounding principles of problem solving—stepping back and acknowledging that perhaps the problem is being imagined wrong and looking at it from different perspectives.

From the ground up

Peers notes that in order for their research to create meaningful results, they will also need to include practitioners and frontline staff in these important conversations. 

“The individuals working at grassroots levels can see when a national policy works and when it doesn’t, and their perspectives will go a long way in reimagining and problem solving.”

Peers’ two other CRC projects endeavour to work largely with practitioners at the grassroots levels to support access to everyday movement cultures that go beyond sport and traditional recreation activities and includes access to art and culture activities such as different types of events and festivals.

“I am a believer that people can shift the way they think and act through transformational learning, and that when interventions are made, they usually trickle up as opposed to trickling down. This is why working with people at the grassroots is important in making these interventions a success.”

Getting more people to bring more of themselves, more of the time

Peers’ Canada Research Chair projects will go beyond small shifts in thinking and practice--they will require a transformational approach where the way things were done in the past will need to be abandoned in order to spark the change their research is seeking.

“We can’t keep doing things the same way and expecting policy to make the changes that are needed. We need to change the way we think about the barriers that exist and what inclusion means for absolutely everyone.”

“Once people go through the process of learning about inclusion from a different lens, it’s pretty hard for them to go back to their daily life knowing that old behaviors and actions—or lack of action—can cause harm for others.” 

A phrase Peers uses frequently when talking about the goal of their CRC is being able to have more people bringing more of themselves, more of the time. This quote is borrowed, with consent, from a community organizer, Daley Laing, and points to how activities need to be accessible, welcoming, and affirming of people’s full sevles, not just marginally inclusive of one aspect of someone.  In order to create environments where this is possible, Peers acknowledges it will take a lot of hard work from a lot of different people working together to create models of thinking and doing that foster complex inclusivity. While they know they aren’t going to change every single element of every single movement activity, they firmly believe having the right people in the right place to tackle this important work will result in the paradigm shift they are seeking

“Ultimately, what I hope to achieve with my Canada Research Chair projects is working with folks at all levels of a wide variety of movement cultures to create spaces and activities that allow all people to have meaningful movement experiences.”