Dr. Andrea Bundon on the importance of community conversation

Dr. Andrea Bundon joined the School of Kinesiology in 2016. Part of the sociocultural research group and the Centre for Sport and Sustainability, her research focuses on the intersections of disability, sport, and inclusion – or exclusion. “I’m really interested in how people with disabilities are engaged in physical activity and sport, what are the conditions of their participation and what are their experiences both positive and negative in these environments,” she says. “That’s the overarching theme of all the work I do, and it’s very important to me that my work is grounded in the individual’s experience and that they’re speaking for themselves. Although my methods vary across projects, the consistent theme is that I’m going to try to engage with community members in some way.”

Currently, Andrea is working on a partnership project between UBC and viaSport British Columbia called Level the Field, which looks at how the BC sport sector can be made more inclusive for people with disabilities. Within this larger project, there are several sub-projects on which Andrea seeks community input and feedback, including conducting open houses where the community members come out and can share their experiences and provide comments on sports facilities and recreation programming.

“We’ve had community conversations with older adults with various age-related impairments who are living here on campus and we have invited campus partners including BodyWorks, the Wesbrook Community Centre, Athletics and Recreation, and Access and Diversity to the table to discuss what’s being done on campus and the conditions of participation for older adults with impairments,” she says.

These community conversations have had immediate and lasting impact. Andrea says that when her team has discovered actionable things from the meetings, she shares what she can. “One of the things that the older adults wanted was aquatic programming in their building where they had a pool since the aquatic centre was quite far from them, and most of them said they could walk to the centre but then they didn’t have the energy to do the class,” she says. “They were able to work with UBC Athletics and Recreation to find an instructor to come to their building to offer classes there.” Though Andrea hesitates around taking credit for these changes, she says that her team can take credit for making the conversations that led to these changes happen.

When asked where her interested in inclusion began, Andrea cites her Masters, which she completed here at UBC. For her Masters Thesis project on athletes using alternative medicine, she was recruiting national team athletes, and, in doing so, she came across a group of cross country skiers who were trying out for the 2010 Paralympic Games and training at Cypress Mountain. Through this process, Andrea met Courtney Knight and became her guide – Courtney and Andrea competed together at the 2010 Paralympic Games. Through this experience, Andrea began to learn about how people experienced sport differently. “Courtney and I had parallel lives in many ways – we were about the same age, we’d both been on provincial teams since age 12, we’d both competed at numerous Jeux du Canada Games, we had even been at the same Games staying down the hall from each other,” says Andrea. “But in other ways, our experiences had been very different – she was telling me many stories about having to advocate for herself, of things that weren’t fair, of things that I really took for granted, that she had to fight really hard for. So it was looking at the similarities and the differences in our stories that opened my eyes to the fact that this sports experience isn’t the same for everyone and she was the one that really pushed me to start researching the Paralymic Movement specifically.”
Together Andrea and Courtney became interested in the Canadian sport system and the movement toward mainstreaming athletes with disabilities into sports organizations – i.e., instead of representing disability sport organizations such as Canadian Blind Sport most blind athletes are now part of national sport organizations. “This had many positive benefits for athletes with disabilities – they had more access to competition and to sport science and coaching,” says Andrea. “But it also took them away from having a really tight community of blind athletes, for example. So we started wondering how do you get back some of that sense of community, that ability to do collective advocacy, to tackle things together, when you’re dispersed in these mainstream clubs, and we decided to turn to blogging – we started a blog called Athletes First, and we tried to get a community and conversation going online, and share articles and resources, but also to create a space to call out discrimination and more generally, policies that we felt were oppressive and prevented full inclusion in sport.” This blog became the focus of Andrea’s doctoral research also at UBC and Courtney was one of the community co-researchers.

This opportunity to create community spaces to speak about issues that pertain to her work has been a focus of hers throughout her career. Her work with her colleagues at the Centre for Sport and Sustainability (CSS) has allowed her to continue this conversation in other realms as well. “There’s a real desire within the CSS to think more about how we communicate our work, where we communicate our work, to what purpose we communicate it, and then in so doing we also learn about the work that others are doing. That’s the exciting part for me, when we think about how we are making sure our work is used to actually benefit the communities we’re working with instead of continuing their exploitation.”

As Andrea grows her research in the coming years, she says she’s excited to dive into what she calls the deep work of it all. “I can start thinking in different ways, I can start asking myself, ‘what if I had five years to spend on a project without being concerned whether it will produce any serious outputs in the first year.” Andrea says this is important because when you’re trying to see policy changes at the sport sector level, it doesn’t happen quickly.

She says her research has definitely informed the way she thinks about physical activity in her own life. “When I was doing my PhD what became very evident to me was that I actually have to be in a specific space to research it, so for me that meant going out skiing with Courtney and later with Margarita, the athlete I guided at the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi” Doing so made sure Andrea’s research was really grounded in the community in which she was conducting her research in service of. “I’m no longer working with that group and that project has ended, but I’m still involved in sport and it’s community members that I get my research ideas from, they’re what give me the drive to continue this work –making sure that others have the same opportunities really drives me, so I feel privileged that I have so many opportunities to be physically active and with that comes the responsibility to make the sport system one that I want to be a part of.”