I’m not known for giving opinion on this blog. It’s usually more of an outlet for what’s swirling about in my head. But we have the Paralympics taking place in London right now and I’ve been interested in public reaction to people with disabilities; reaction to the achievements at the Paralympics, media coverage of those Games and to disability in general – including opinions from social media, and the potential reaction of UK Government to it all given their programme of welfare reform.
Prior to the Paralympics, certain strands of the media have taken great delight in portraying all disabled people as “the shirking classes” ¹. Now the Games have begun, the position has shifted slightly towards “Aren’t the Paralympics proof that even the most physically challenged can achieve awesome feats?” ² – with emphasis on “most physically challenged”. I’m not going to link to these examples because I don’t want to drive traffic to their sites. As you can guess, I disagree very strongly with both viewpoints.
Since the start of the Paralympic Games, I’ve lost count of the number of occasions I’ve seen sentiments written on Twitter along the lines of the second example above. Hashtags such as “#anythingispossible” are, I imagine, well-meaning and innocent on the surface. Others like “#inspirational” very accurately describe the achievements of those taking part in the Paralympics.
However, my personal experience of disability, such as it is from a carer’s perspective, is different. I can’t agree with the one-size-fits-all approach to disability (or anything else for that matter). Is it reasonable to think that anyone with a disability can just rock up and be able to perform like that? No. It’d be ridiculous to think that. Those taking part are individuals. And are only representative of themselves, maybe their disability, but they mostly represent their body’s ability to perform despite the limitations they face. Note the words “their body’s ability”.
I’m sorry but no amount of positive thinking is going to make someone’s body do what it is incapable of doing. No matter how determined you are, your thought processes can’t control your nervous system if it’s broken. It’s “#onethingthatisimpossible”. I see MW struggle to do the most basic things, such as feed herself, and it makes me angry that people in positions of influence, i.e. the media, are so blinkered by their particular dogma that they are happy to write articles and “opinion pieces” which all but say that disability is just a matter of attitude. That just isn’t true. My personal experiences tell me so.
When opinion becomes a tool with which to drive Government policy, it becomes a little more insidious. Comments from some Government politicians watching the Paralympics seem to hint at a belief that Paralympians ought to be the example that all disabled people should aspire to. They’re suggesting that disability is something that can be treated in a catch-all manner. It would be very convenient for all concerned if that were true but it isn’t.
I’m not looking to denigrate the achievements of those who are competing at the Paralympics. Paralympians are, like Olympians, the best at what they do. They are elite athletes. We should all note that they are the exception and not the rule.
1. http//www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2018874/Incapacity-benefit-Just-1-14-sickness-claimants-unfit-work.html – by Kirsty Walker
2. http//blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/cristinaodone/100173256/the-disability-rights-lobby-should-think-twice-before-opposing-necessary-reforms/ – by Christina Odone