Project Echo focuses on ‘post-event ripple’ of major athletic games

by Alexandra Burza

After the medals are awarded, spectators and athletes return home and stadium lights shut off – what remains of the infrastructure and services developed for major athletic games when they leave town?

Laura Misener, PhD, is the director of the School of Kinesiology at Western University. Her research focuses on the social impact of sport as well as disability in sport. For years, along with researchers from the University of West of Scotland and Mount Royal University, she has been studying para-athlete participation and the approach to accessibility at two major athletic events: the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the 2015 Toronto Para-Pan-American Games.

“Participating in something is more than just accessing your gym,” Misener explained. “For someone who has an impairment or experiences disabilities, there’s a whole set of other things that come into play: transportation to and from, access within the facility, the appropriate support personnel and types of equipment, even weather considerations.”

The next phase of their research, Project Echo, focuses on what Misener calls the ‘post-event ripple’; what was lost and what was retained from the programs and services that were implemented as a result of the games.

Para-athletes’ loss of access to these opportunities in the fall-out of the games can impact their ability to effectively train to compete as high-performance athletes, and increase barriers to participation for new athletes.

“While it may look like it’s very accessible during the games, many things are temporary and won’t remain,” Misener said. “We want people to talk about how they have negotiated or navigated those constraints. We want to be able to provide a platform where people can have those conversations and filter some of that information.”

The Project Echo website, set to launch April 3, will host various topic-based discussion forums for para-athletes and the para-athletic community on an on-going basis. For Misener, giving athletes with disabilities a platform to voice their own experiences with access issues was paramount.

“One of the significant gaps that has been apparent for me but also other scholars in this field has been the lack of voice of the user group,” she said. “That is changing, but we do know that from a disabilities studies lens, those with less access have less power, and therefore less voice in the conversation.”

True to its name, Misener and her colleagues expect the results of Project Echo will amplify the access needs and experiences of its participants. They hope to present their findings to policy makers and service providers, offering a more comprehensive understanding of the barriers to participation and the demand for particular services and infrastructure among para-athletes.