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Hahn versus Guttmann: revisiting ‘Sports and the Political Movement of Disabled Persons’

Ludwig Guttmann, who pioneered the use of sport in the physical, psychological and social rehabilitation of paraplegic patients, argued that sport facilitates social reintegration, even asserting that: ‘an employer will not hesitate… to employ a paralysed man… when he realizes that [he] is an accomplished sportsman’ (Guttmann, 1976: 13). Disability activist Harlan Hahn, on the other hand, argued that participation by people with disabilities in sport is: an emulation of non-disabled standards; over-emphasises physicality in the assessment of humans; and diverts attention from the struggle for equality. Focusing on the Paralympics, this paper shows that disability sport is neither a panacea for social exclusion, as Guttmann would have it, nor a monolithic disabling institution, as Hahn would suggest-but rather an incredibly complex phenomena politically, socially and historically. It is argued that, whether essentially disablist or not, the Paralympics may make an excellent political platform for the disability rights movement.