Perceived identity of handicapped persons versus handicapped high-level athletes

Por: Kemper Reinhild e Teipel Dieter.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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The concept of identity can in general be characterised as the individual structure of evaluations of a person about himself or herself. It comprises a dynamic mental structure which is influenced by various intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects. Thus the self-identity includes the cognitive component, the emotional component and the behavioral component. Specific aspects of this identity are in respect of the body, among others, health and attractiveness, in respect of performance for example achievements in school and in sport as well as in respect of social relations the interaction with parents and friends. Specific studies on problems of the development of the self-identity in the career transition of non-handicapped athletes dealt with aspects of self-concept and body-concept. In contrast, in respect of handicapped athletes components of the self-identity have been investigated quite rarely.


In the present study a questionnaire concerning specific aspect of identity of handicapped persons versus handicapped athletes in public opinion was applied. It comprised evaluations of 10 bipolar personality traits of handicapped athletes. These specific traits were assessed on a 6-point-scale, for example ‘1=weak’ to ‘6=strong’. Handicapped athletes evaluated their perceived acceptance in public on the one hand as handicapped persons and on the other hand as handicapped high-level athletes. A group of non-handicapped sport journalists answered a shortened version of this questionnaire in respect of their assessment of personality traits of handicapped and handicapped athletes in public opinion was utilised. 75 athletes with various handicaps and 10 sport journalists took part in this study. The average age of the handicapped athletes was 29.8 years The average duration of the sport activity of the handicapped athletes was 12.0 years. 68 athletes had mainly body impairments, and 7 athletes had vision impairments. The sport disciplines of the 75 handicapped athletes comprised swimming, basketball, track and field, table tennis, volleyball, archery, goalball and wheelchair-rugby. The average age of the sport journalists was 34.0 years.


Essential trends in the perceived personality traits of handicapped persons versus handicapped high-level athletes could be detected in the handicapped group and the non-handicapped sport journalists. High evaluations of the handicapped person in public opinion were found in respect of the personality traits independence, engagement, self-consciousness, intelligence and joy. By far lower scores could be found in relation to the perceived personality aspects of health, activity and strength. In terms of the role of the handicapped high-level athlete in public opinion high estimations were registered in relation to autonomy, engagement, joy, independence and intelligence.
The assessments of characteristics of the high-level athletes in public opinion were in all 10 aspects at least significantly higher that those of the handicapped person. Thus, the scores of the athletes were highly significantly higher in the characteristics of health, self-consciousness, activity, strength, independence, stability and autonomy than those of handicapped persons. Furthermore, the characteristics of joy, engagement and intelligence were more positive related to high-level handicapped athletes than to handicapped persons in general. The total score of all 10 personality traits in respect of the handicapped high-level athlete was highly significantly more positive than in respect of the handicapped person. The 10 sport journalists showed very significantly higher assessments of the perceived personality scores of handicapped high-level athletes than of normal handicapped persons in relation to health, strength, activity and autonomy.
All in all, the handicapped persons feel themselves perceived in public opinion in their role as handicapped persons more negative than in their role as handicapped high-level athletes. Also, non-handicapped sport journalists manifested the same tendency of higher assessments of the characteristics of handicapped athletes than of normal handicapped persons.


Generally, the identity of handicapped persons and athletes seemed to be a rather stable perception and concept in the handicapped persons themselves and sport journalists. The findings showed a high rate of accordance with studies concerning the self-identity of normal handicapped persons and handicapped athletes. What is more, especially the sport journalists should become more informed about and aware of the daily life of handicapped persons and the engagement of handicapped high-level athletes in various sports. Therefore. the sport journalists should be more instructed to improve the identity and perception of handicapped persons in public and to avoid attributions of inadequate negative characteristics.


[1]. Kemper, R. & Teipel, D. (2003). Self-concept and social concept of handicapped high-level athletes. Unpublished research report, Institute of sport science, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena



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