Why It’s Important to Destigmatize the Movement Spectrum

IMAGE SOURCE: SPECIAL NEEDS RESOURCE FOUNDATION OF SAN DIEGO

I have spent most of my life studying movement in some fashion. From Sports and Physical Education in school, to Kinesiology at University and through martial arts, dance and movement research throughout my professional life.

One thing that is very apparent to me during this time is that there is a ‘Movement Spectrum’ that every human falls along. This is logical and I don’t think there is much of a need to rationalize or explain this idea in great detail (unless its another article!). Essentially in very simple terms, at one end of the spectrum there is the ‘best’ movement and at the other end there is the ‘worst’ movement. Defining what is best and worst is a different (much longer) discussion but I shall touch on it here.

If you imagine this spectrum and every human falling somewhere along it…it does not align with how we treat movement in today’s society. We tend to box people into groupings that do not run parallel with a basic spectrum of movement ability. The most obvious of these groupings is of course individuals with physical and/or cognitive/intellectual disabilities.

These individuals are stigmatized and thought of as not having the ability to move as well as those who do not have any physical disabilities, often called ‘able-bodied’ which reflects the notion that people with disabilities are not ‘able’ to move. Frankly this idea is complete nonsense! Anyone who like me has worked with or simply seen an athlete with a physical and/or cognitive/intellectual disability will attest to what amazing physical abilities they have, sometimes the abilities are just a little different than others.

If we go back to our very simple spectrum and assess movement ability without the main construct of physical disability you can see why these groupings are not necessary in the best of times and dangerous to the development of certain communities in the worst of times.

Example #1 — ‘Joe’ has never participated in any organized physical activity on a regular basis, the most activity he does is walk to and from his car going to work and back home. His lifestyle is predominantly sedentary. He has no particular physical skill sets.

Photo Credi t— Banalities Flickr

Example #2 — David Brown was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease at 15 months old, resulting in Glaucoma and ultimately taking his sight by the age of 13. He is the first totally blind athlete to run 100m under 11 seconds when he clocked 10.92 in 2014.

Example #3 — Nicola Adams MBE is a British boxer. The first woman to win an Olympic boxing title, she is the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the women’s flyweight division. As of 27 May 2016 she is the reigning Olympic, World, Commonwealth Games and European Games champion at flyweight.

Photo Credit — Kent Capture

Which two would you say have the most in common? I would hazard a guess that ‘Joe’ is not one of them right? Both Nicola and David would fall onto the part of the spectrum more closely associated with ‘best’ movers. While Joe would fall far below that. While this over-simplifies the idea, it does present my main point in that movement potential is not defined by able-bodied and disabled….but rather what potential has been reached through opportunity and drive.

What these examples show is that having a physical and/or cognitive/intellectual disability is not really a major factor when it comes to movement ability. It can change it, but it is not a metric, not a measurement of potential. You can find thousands of individuals like David Brown who move in amazing ways, their potential for movement is reached as a result of their limitation and not ‘in spite’ of it.

Photo Credit — Australian Paralympic Committee

There are some people who have no physical and/or cognitive/intellectual disabilities as defined by society, but seem to not reach the potential of their bodies with regards to movement. Then there are people with either congenital or traumatic accident/injury physical limitations of either limbs/ spinal cord/other parts of the body and they go on to become some of the best ‘movers’ in the World. When we can show such a diverse array of movement ability across the spectrum of both individuals who are considered physically able and those considered physically disabled, then why the stigmatization of one group as being not able to move as well and having to live with the term ‘disabled’?

Rather than use the term disability, I like the idea of terms that don’t segregate one group from another. One of my martial arts instructors, a legend in our circles and a previous instructor with the UCLA Martial Arts Program, Guro Burt Richardson uses the term ‘diff-ability’, which expresses the idea that we are different in how we move, ‘differently abled’ is another way to say it. This allows us to see movement on a spectrum of actual ability and potential and encompasses everyone. To me there is no ‘able’ and ‘disabled’ in today’s world, with technology and education on movement there are only opportunity differences, and ways to adapt to those opportunities, whether it be a soccer cleat or a special BWW designed wheelchair! The differences can be solved by shifting our societal stigmatization and attitudes of certain groups in the community.

To steal a phrase from one of the most famous ‘movers’ of all time — Bruce Lee;

“under the sky, under the heavens there is but one family, it just so happens that people are different”
Photo Credit — Sal Ami Flickr

We all just play on different parts of the ‘Movement Spectrum’. When we take out society’s negative stigmatization of certain groups and use terminology that awakens our realization that your physical situation does not determine your potential, we will start creating movement practices that encompass more of the movement spectrum rather than just a very small part of it. This will begin to break down barriers for those that think their movement days are over and instead create opportunities for them to lead fulfilling and movement based lives.

Maybe this will also help us think about other groups have societal biases that affect their ability to participate in activities; gender, age, ethnicity, body type etc…