Danielle Peers

Study program:
Ph.D. Physical Education and Recreation
Current affiliation:
University of Alberta

Danielle is assessing how the perceptions held by Canadians influence the rights and opportunities of disabled citizens

Danielle Peers, a 2011 Trudeau scholar, is a former paralympic athlete whose doctoral research at the University of Alberta looked at the role of physical activity and sport in Canadian histories of eugenics, disability rights, and disability policy more broadly. Her publications touch on multiple other issues in critical disability studies, including social barriers to full social participation and embodied experiences. Danielle has made seven films and uses research-creation methods to produce knowledge that is widely accessible. Peers is a 2015-2016 Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in communication studies at Concordia University. 


From Eugenics to Paralympics: Disability Sport, Human Rights and the Government of Disability in Canada

Danielle's research explores the complex and shifting relationship between disability, sport and human rights in Canada over the last forty years. She uses Michel Foucault's genealogical methods to demonstrate how the meanings of disability, and the socially accepted "solutions" to disability, have shifted over this time: from a eugenic problem solved by sterilization, to a biomedical problem solved by rehabilitation, to a political problem solved by human rights. Furthermore, through the analysis of events (like the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games) and the analysis of sporting figures (like Terry Fox and Rick Hansen) Danielle demonstrates how sport has been, and still is, a point of struggle over the meaning(s) of disability, as well as a space where the results of such struggles are played out through the bodies, rights and lives of those who experience disabilities.

In 1999, Danielle Peers walked away from the sporting world to which she had always belonged, and began competing as an able-bodied athlete in wheelchair sport. Three years later, Danielle walked into a doctor's office "able-bodied" and walked out "disabled". In the years to come, Paralympic medals, wheelchair use, athletic awards, heart surgery, encounters with the press, and engagement with scholarship would further contribute to her shifting experiences of both disability and sport, and to her growing engagement with the ways that disability sport has impacted, and continues to impact, upon the rights and lives of Canadians who experience disabilities.

Danielle engages with the relationships amongst disability, sport, and social justice on many fronts. In her master's thesis, written at the University of Alberta, Danielle undertook a critical examination of the Paralympic Movement, entitled "Governing Bodies: A Foucaultian Critique of Paralympic Power Relations". She also collaborated on a number of research projects, including a study on ethical approaches to Adapted Physical Activity, and a study on women's experiences of integrated wheelchair basketball. Danielle has explored similar themes as a video artist, most notably in her video G.I.M.P. Boot Camp: a short satire that illustrates the social construction of disability, and problematizes discourses of tragedy and inspiration. Danielle has also engaged with alternate ways of thinking about both disability and sport through her work as National Ambassador for Muscular Dystrophy Canada, Spokesperson for the Canadian Francophone Games, and Women's Commissioner for Wheelchair Basketball Canada. She is also actively involved in the creation of collaborative social engagement communities, including her work as co-creator of the activist video-collective KingCrip Productions, and co-founder of Sustainable, Political, Accessible Communities of Edmonton. 

For Danielle, it is difficult to distinguish between social engagement, academic analysis, sport leadership and creative pursuits. Her successes, lessons and struggles in each of these areas are integral to her work in each of the other. Danielle looks forward to bringing all these aspects of her life together through her doctoral research project, entitled "From eugenics to Paralympics: Disability sport, human rights and the government of disability in Canada".