Friday, 19 August 2016

I'm Not Superhuman: Not All Disabled People Can Be Paralympians


Let me start this off by saying that this is not a post slagging off the Paralympics. The athletes that partake in the games are absolutely amazing and I tip my hat (I'm not wearing a hat, but let's pretend I am) to all of them. My problem is with the media and how Paralympians are portrayed in contrast to those disabled people, including myself, that could never enter the Paralympics. Furthermore, I'm not bitter or jealous, but I know there'll be the odd person reading this thinking the contrary; I can assure you, I'm very happy with my non-athletic life.

The media seem to love representing disabled people as one of two things; we're either incredible athletes/achievers that can accomplish anything despite our condition/s, or we're benefit scroungers. There's absolutely no in between. The majority of my disabled friends don't fit into any of those categories, I don't fit into those categories, so where's our voice? Disabled people are marginalised as it is, but us lot, those of us that don't fit into the above two groups, we're even further ostracised. I don't want to be celebrated, I don't do anything special but I want to be taken into consideration. There is more of us that aren't athletes or scroungers who are completely forgotten about when it comes to the media. There's so many of us that get by, that live a 'normal' (I hate that word) life, but are faced with daily challenges. Surely we shouldn't be overlooked.

The whole 'superhuman' element to the Paralympics is so problematic in my opinion. Not only does it undermine the years of training and effort the Paralympians undergo by implying that disabled people must be godlike to be able to compete in the games, but it suggests that those disabled people that can't participate in the Paralympics aren't good enough. Why are disabled people constantly othered? The Paralympian athletes aren't just human, they're superhuman? What does that make us that can't compete, are we subhuman? Alien? Nothing? 

As for the 'Yes, I Can' advert (link here) that is all over Channel 4 advertising Rio 2016 Paralympics, I have a few problems. It juxtaposes disabled athletes and disabled non-athletes; whilst suggesting to me that no matter what disability you have, if you have the determination, you can be a 'superhuman' Paralympian. This message worries me because it implies that if you can't compete, like I can't and many disabled friends of mine can't, you're a let-down, a failure, a disappointment. It's basically insinuating that you're simply not trying hard enough and you're letting your disability control your life. Some people (including disabled people) get offended when a disabled person says that their disability 'controls' them; but the truth is, for most of us it does, and it's not a negative thing. There's a lot of things I can't do because of my disability, there's a lot of things I adapt so I can do, but this idea of 'you can do anything if you're determined enough' needs to disappear. It's about as helpful as being at the bottom of a flight of stairs in my wheelchair and determining myself to get up them - no, I can't. It's such an unrealistic message. Nobody can do everything.

You can't tell me that the way disabled people are publicised doesn't affect the opinion of some in society, otherwise there wouldn't be ableism. I wouldn't be constantly compared to another disabled person who is deemed to be achieving amazing things with their life. I wouldn't be told to push through the pain because another wheelchair user who doesn't have chronic pain can. I wouldn't be told how I could be 'an inspiration' like disabled athletes if only I tried harder. But let's not forget I'm told I'm 'an inspiration' almost weekly because I'm 'so brave to leave my house alone in a wheelchair' - inspiration porn at it's finest. Anyway, what I'm getting at is no disability is the same, even if people have the same disability, they won't have identical problems.

If there were ten people in wheelchairs lined up in a row, they won't all be able to do the same thing. They might not all be in chronic pain (which is why I use a powerchair). Some might be able to walk. Some have never walked. Some might work full-time. Some unable to work at all. You can't know. And by only having the above groupings I mentioned earlier, (amazing athletes/achievers vs scroungers) consistently referenced in the media, it makes those of us that don't fit into those groups suffer. Suffer negativity from family/friends/strangers because unless they're really screwed on (and/or actually care about you) they presume if we're not 'superhuman' we must be scrounging off the government. Each person deals with their disability differently, and if you can tackle a massive competition like the Paralympics or work a forty hour a week job, massive props to you, but not everybody with a disability can. And that's fine. It doesn't make you a failure if you are simply getting by, and it certainly doesn't make you less than human.

I live with chronic pain; not a day goes by where I'm not suffering but that's my life - I'm not superhuman and I'm not a failure, I'm Sarah. 

14 comments:

  1. The thing is, not every able bodied person can be an Olympian, so it seems silly to assume that every disabled person could be a Paraolympian. Some people's bodies will never allow them to be a super model. Some people aren't smart enough to be neurosurgeons.

    If we all just saw people as people with different skills and abilities then we wouldn't have this problem. But I say that as someone who is disabled.

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    1. Exactly, we're all different. There's a lot of pressure on disabled people and it's not right, we're doing the best we can and that's totally good enough

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  2. Wholeheartedly agree with both yourself and Sorcha here! I hate the whole "oh look if such and such can do it then you can his disability is way worse than yours"- boils my piss! That's like me saying "If Beyoncé can sell a million records then so can you" bloody ridiculous. Bravo for always staying your case eloquently, that's why I love your Twitter xx

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  3. I'm not going to be able to put my thoughts into words as eloquently as I'd like, cos, ya know, brain fog! But I'm going to try my best.

    I totally agree with you! I've recently been wondering how Paralympians do it. How do they manage to compete when I struggle just to push my current chair!?! I haven't been free from pain since I was 11, so I've forgotten what that feels like. Robyn Lambird made a fantastic YouTube video discussing the different 'types' of disability. She compared chronic illness to a birth defect & that's when I truly understood that not all disabled people feel pain & other symptoms every day. The majority of Paralympians are healthy people. Wow - mind blown!

    There is very little media representation for chronic illness or those disabled by chronic illness. I can only think of one example, Cherrylee Houston. With very little representation, it's not surprising that society sees only two options: superhuman or benefit scrounger. Which is a shame & does a dis-service to the majority of disabled people who don't fit these categories. I think it's going to be a hard one to change too. Who's interested in normal daily life or anyone, disabled or not? Reality TV may be the best way to change people's perceptions, but put a disabled person in the Bog Brother House & what's the chances they'll be seen as an 'inspiration' just for getting out of bed!?! ��

    The Paralymians are amazing & they deserve to be celebrated, but the rest of us don't deserve to be torn down in the process.

    Sorry for the essay, I can't stop when I feel passionately! Xx

    Tania | When Tania Talks

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    1. No need to apologise, thanks for the comment :)

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  4. Loved this post, Sarah. I went skiing for the first time this year and there was a disabled skier who had a customised set of skis with a chair on them. It was very clever and I'm thrilled he had managed to find a way to do a sport he loves. But I don't think a contraption like that is available in the NHS! It's all part of the "if you work hard enough" mentality, which just isn't the case for most disabled people, both in terms of ability and resources.

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    1. Completely agree, some things just aren't feasible. And every disabled is so different we can't all be tarred with the same brush.

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  5. Brilliant brilliant post Sarah. You totally articulated what I feel about the paralympians vs benefit scrounging implications. Also Lauren's comments about access to resources to help overcome limitations. Sorry my head is fried so I can't say all I would like but well said everyone.

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  6. Thank you for this post. I struggle personally because I have a disability, but I don't fit what people think of as disabled. I'm trying to study, and because I can't study enough to be considered a student, but I'm also not "disabled enough" apparently, I have to go to a job agency every two weeks who are for people considered to have a disability but aren't disabled enough. They have this large poster of small children with prosthetics about to run a race, and it says something like "if they can do it, what's your excuse?" which I find incredibly insulting and hurtful. I gather that most people that go to this place have things like arthritis, work place injuries, mental illness, etc - which is completely incomparable to a missing limb. But it shows exactly how my government thinks - you have to look a certain way to be deserving of any special treatment (like not having to force yourself to look for work while you study even though it jeopardizes your health) for your disability. And they keep making new rules and cuts. It's messed up.

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    1. No problem. Sorry to hear that you're struggling.

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  7. Just wonderful, Sarah. I really don't have anything to add because you've said it all. I'm going to share this all over the place.

    http://www.sublimemercies.com/

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