Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
LE11 3TU
+44 (0)1509 263171
Loughborough University

Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport

Team members

Emma Richardson

Emma Richardson

Postdoctoral Researcher

Emma is a PHC associate now working as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Alabama.


  • BA Hons (1stClass) Sport and Physical Activity from the University of Strathclyde in 2012.
  • MSc Sport and Exercise Psychology from Loughborough University in 2013

Current research interests

Emma’s qualitative research will examine how being trained as a fitness instructor can improve the quality of life of people with a spinal cord injury. Working with Aspire, she will investigate the psycho-social impact this has on the individual, improvements in relationships with significant and how the attitudes towards disability of gym managers, administrators, able-bodied gym goers and instructors is impacted. 

Research has shown that spinal cord injury has a detrimental effect on an individual's psychological and social wellbeing. This includes increased levels of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and isolation. Sport has numerous physical, psychological and social benefits which could improve spinal cord injured people’s quality of life. Research has shown, however that people with spinal cord injury (or indeed other disabilities) find the gym environment very unwelcoming in regards to attitudes as well as equipment. Aspire wish to change this by training people with spinal cord injury to become gym instructors, thereby inspiring other disabled people to undertake a more active lifestyle. Conducting this research could inform future practices for spinal cord rehabilitation programmes. Moreover, original knowledge generated from this PhD could inform interventions and policy for promoting physical activity, health and wellbeing. This will also impact future practices in the leisure industry through encouraging inclusion by employing instructors with a disability. 

Previous research and experience

Although her background is in competitive sport, Emma originally became interested in disability studies through her undergraduate degree after volunteering at various sports events for people with learning and/or physical disabilities. This interest developed in her MSc year when she investigated the impact of wheelchair tennis of psycho-social wellbeing on physically disabled people in developing countries. This work was done in collaboration with the International Tennis Federation’s Wheelchair Tennis Development Fund. This research was presented to shareholders of the WTDF in the form of a report and presentation. The WTDF published this report in the hope of garnering more funding for wheelchair tennis in developing countries.

Selected recent publications

  • Richardson, E., Papathomas, A., Smith, B., & Goosey-Tolfrey, V. L. (in press). The psychosocial impact of wheelchair tennis on participants in developing countries. Disability and Rehabilitation.
  • Richardson, E. V., Smith, B., & Papathomas, A. (2017). Crossing boundaries: The perceived impact of disabled fitness instructors in the gym. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 29, 84-92.
  • Richardson, E. V., Smith, B., & Papathomas, A. (2016). Disability and the gym: Experiences, barriers and facilitators of gym use for individuals with physical disabilities. Disability and Rehabilitation, 1-8.