With the haul of gold, silver and bronze medals in Rio mounting almost by the hour, there are those disabled people who feel that this festival of sporting talent and excellence does not always serve the cause of disability rights. Mik Scarlet is one.
I was going to call this article ‘Why I Hate The Paralympic Games’ but if I’m honest that was a bit too strong. I don’t hate the games, but I have many issues with them and what they mean for disabled people.
The major issue I have with the Paralympics is that they exist at all. I have spent my life fighting for equality and inclusion yet everyone involved in the games wants to maintain their ‘parallel’ status to the Olympics. They claim it wouldn’t work if the two games where combined and the disabled athletes would be swallowed up with the Olympics. What this does is continue the perception that disabled people are different and other. How can we make people understand that disabled people are equal and deserve to be included in all walks of life if the most famous example of disabled people proving what we can do is exclusive and special?
Some of the sports within the games, shooting and archery for example, could be played by disabled and non-disabled competitors alike and even those sports which need categories and adaptation to ensure fair play should be played as part of an inclusive Olympic games.
I dislike organised sport as a whole as I do not like what dwells at its core, the drive to be the best through physicality. I cannot shake the worry that focusing on separating people based on their ability flies in the face of everything disabled people have been fighting against for decades. The Olympic and Paralympic Games have this at their hearts and reinforce society’s belief that ability can be measured in success. It’s strange that while the non-disabled community seem to be fine with admitting that most of them could never achieve the level of physical perfection and achievement of an Olympian, an expectation that disabled people could all do more if they just tried has developed alongside the public’s interest in the Paralympics. While I am sure that much of the blame for rise in hate crime towards disabled people can be laid at the feet of the government and media, I feel that it is also part of the legacy of the Paralympics and the perception that if disabled people aren’t seen to be able to surpass their impairments they can’t be trying hard enough and must be scroungers.
Another element which I find troubling is how some Paralympians seem unwilling or unprepared to use their status to highlight issues that disabled people face. I get that excelling at sport does not equal a deep understanding of disability politics, but I very much doubt that not one member of Paralympics GB has not been touched by discrimination in some way or other. Yet the pressure to be a positive role model that doesn’t rock the boat means that the media is filled with a flood of disabled people who seem OK with things the way they are. I don’t just blame the Paralympians as I am sure they are pressurised by the IPC, their national sporting bodies, the media and their sponsors but when it is so rare for so many disabled people to be so positively featured in the global media it’s a chance too good to miss. I wouldn’t expect all of them to make a protest, but surely more could break ranks and raise issues that the majority of disabled people face on a daily basis?
How the media, and especially Channel 4, are portraying both disabled people and the Paralympians themselves raise concerns. The concept the we are either Superhumans or doomed to experience No Go Britain paints disability as either triumph or tragedy, and is in no way the giant leap forward in portrayal they claim. The mantra “yes I can” dismisses those who can’t, or can’t without help, and ignores that many of the things disabled people just can’t do are not due to our impairments but due to the physical and attitudinal barriers thrown up in our way. No amount of positivity will make me walk up stairs for example.
This almost makes me believe not being on the Paralympic bandwagon is becoming an impairment in itself. Debate around the games gets little exposure as there is so much money behind things staying as they are. I don’t want a world without disabled people being able to compete in sport at the top level, but I also want an inclusive world where all disabled people get a chance to thrive and are seen by the wider society as all valid and equal, while being listened to about their own wants and needs.