Ellie May, who is based in the University's International Centre for Research in Events, Tourism and Hospitality will have full access to London's Olympic Park and stadium between August 28-September 6, during the 2012 Paralympic Games and will interview at least 20 volunteers - also known as Game Makers, as part of the research. The project was one of just six worldwide to be accredited to take place during the 2012 Paralympics by the International Paralympic Committee.
"The Paralympics is the perfect avenue to address social attitudes and perceptions of disability," commented Ellie. "I'll be conducting four interviews in total with each of the volunteers; before, during, afterwards - and then the final interview will be six months on.
"The idea is that I get to engage with the volunteers and record the journey that they make in terms of their volunteering experiences and attitudes towards disability. With some people I might find that their perception doesn't change at all throughout the experience, but I expect with others I'll find dramatic differences between what they think now and what they think when I interview them for the final time.
"There is so much research that has been done surrounding the Olympics - but when you look at the Paralympics, the volume of research pales in comparison. I hope my research will help to increase the profile of Paralympic research. My research has a dual purpose, first to focus questions around volunteering. For example, I want to find out why these volunteers are doing this. Have they volunteered before? Are they doing it to bolster their CV? Did they put their names forward to volunteer in the hope they'd be selected for the Olympics - or was it always their intention that they'd volunteer for the Paralympics? More broadly, I also want to explore how the volunteers understand disability and athletes with disabilities. Perceptions are important and have impacts far beyond sport. There are so many questions to be asked, and I'm really looking forward to sharing my results with sports organisations."
Ellie, added that she had found there to be a vast age range in the volunteers that she had interviewed so far - with one woman in her early twenties and a retired couple in their sixties.
And while Ellie's PhD won't be completed until 2015, she has already been asked to contribute to the publication - Eventful Volunteering: International Perspectives on the Volunteering Experience at Events, edited by Karen Smith, Leonie Lockstone-Binney, Kirsten Holmes, and Tom Baum.
Ellie added: "My completed study will be timely for Rio 2016 - the next Paralympics. Hopefully the findings will be of use to the volunteering organisers of those games and other key international disability sport events. It's fantastic to think that this work could actually have an impact and make a difference."