The difference that difference makes: leisure, space and teenage wheelchair users

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Despite the burgeoning social scientific research regarding children and young people, there has been a paucity of research regarding the everyday issues and experiences of 'disabled' teenagers. This thesis presents an understanding of the encounters and experiences of teenage wheelchair users in a range of public and private leisure spaces. The thesis contributes to expanding debates surrounding the significance of difference in developing understandings of the lives of particular 'groups' of (young) people. It challenges the notion of 'wheelchair user' as a universal grouping, exploring the difference and diversity of their leisure experiences in relation to the home, transport, indoor and outdoor public leisure spaces. The study utilises a multi-method approach, tailored wherever possible to the needs of individual participants. The methods used include survey-based interviews, a photography exercise and participant-led tours. Significant emphasis is placed on the contributions of the young people themselves, as experts in their lives. The thesis presents the diversity of experiences that teenage wheelchair users encounter in those spaces used for, and designated as, leisure. Discussions centre on their enjoyment(s), disappointment(s) and the insights that they can give to the development of the everyday spaces that they frequent. A number of theoretical contributions are put forward in relation to the teenagers' use of spaces in accessing leisure, and which have wider ramifications for debates relating to geography, childhood and 'disability'. Throughout, the notion of disadvantage in the lives of the teenagers is discussed, alongside the significance of the (socially-constructed) labels 'childhood', 'disability' and 'wheelchair user'. These 'layers of disadvantage' are explained as they manifest in and through the spaces that the teenagers frequent in relation to leisure. The notion of 'deceptive access' is drawn out to explore spaces which are seemingly adapted and accessible for the generic wheelchair user, however where access is not afforded in relation to the diverse needs of the young wheelchair user. Throughout, the theme of emotion in relation to leisure is developed, situating the experiences of this group of young people in their 'present time worlds' (Sanders and Munford, 2008, p. 331), and highlighting the importance of the everyday in understanding the leisure of young people. Ultimately the significance of leisure in the here and now, rather than merely for the future good is maintained.
Date of Award2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorJohn Horton (Supervisor) & Faith Tucker (Supervisor)

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