Paralympics: Some are only watching to get the gory details of how athletes acquired their impairments
It finally happened about two seconds into the opening ceremony intro show. I’d been feeling iffy for a few days but Jon Snow finally made the inevitable happen: Abuse of the word “inspirational” triggered my gag reflex.
These Paralympics are responsible for many great things: They’ve brought disability sport to the national consciousness (and Channel 4 are largely responsible for this) and they’ve helped highlight some of the brutality of the cuts aimed at disabled people. But they’ve also shown us some of the most condescending and ridiculous attitudes to disabled people I have ever seen.
“Inspirational”, “overcoming”, “against the odds”, “brave”, “suffers from” and other such nonsense are spewing forth from the mouths of anyone allowed near a microphone. While many of us are glued to the telly wanting to see amazing sport, there are some who are only watching because they want the gory details about how athletes acquired their impairments. The whole nation have turned into those people on the bus who demand my medical history on the grounds that I use a wheelchair; and people are tuning into the Paras less for the sport, and more for Embarrassing Bodies without the genital shots. Or with the genital shots if the Paralympic uniforms are as tight as the Olympic ones.
When I was a swimmer I didn’t do it because I wanted non-disabled people to think “She’s so inspirational. If she can swim that fast with a skeleton like that; then I’ve got no excuse to avoid the ironing. I’m so inspired.” I did it because I wanted to swim in the Paralympics.
When I was doing a training set of thousands of metres; did I do it thinking constantly “gosh, I’m so brave. I hope the world notices how brave I am”? No. To be honest I was a teenager and I mostly spent long distance sets pondering “so how do I tell everyone that I’m gay?”
I didn’t get up at 5am to go training so that the nation would collectively go “pretty good swimmer. Now, tell me what’s wrong with her! I demand to know her back story! Did she have an accident? That’s so much more interesting than her swimming!” I got up at 5am because I wanted to swim faster than I’d ever swum before.
I just tuned in to five minutes of dressage. As Lee Pearson appeared on my screen did one commentator turn to the other and say “now, tell me about his accolades?” No. The commentator asked the other “now, tell me something about his disability?”
Richard Wilson talked to the BBC at the Beijing Paralympics about how all these athletes are so fascinating for having come back from accidents rather than succumbing to depression. I think I actually said “I don’t believe it” as I was so astounded by his ignorance.
“Against all the odds” is another ludicrous one. Oscar Pistorius, Im Dong-hyun and Natalia Partyka made it to the Olympics “against all the odds”. With only one in five of the population having an impairment – thus Paralympic eligibility – a disabled athlete’s odds aren’t too bad. Don’t get me wrong, Paralympians train just as hard as Olympians to make it to the top – Ellie Simmonds was living away from home to train aged only 13 while Nyree Kindred trained right up until the day she was due to give birth. In no way are Paralympians taking it easy compared to Olympians. But with only 20% of the population eligible to compete, “Against all the odds” is non-disabled non-sense.
“Overcoming.” It technically means “to prevail over” or “to defeat”. Over the next 10 days you’ll hear the sentence “overcoming her condition” more times than at any other point in your life. Of course, if someone trained so hard that they literally did overcome their impairment and made their arm grow back they wouldn’t be at the Paralympics.
“Suffers from:” When you saw all that excitement at the opening ceremony, when you saw people pulling faces at the TV cameras, when you saw Team GB showered by glitter, did you really think “look at those poor people suffering”? When non-disabled people break world records, do you consider that they’re suffering too? No? Then it’s pretty safe to assume that there’s no “suffering” going on in the minds of disabled athletes either. If you must talk about people’s diagnoses (I’d urge you not to, but it is occasionally relevant) try “has”. It works great and doesn’t come with a dollop of prejudice on the side like manky mayonnaise.
I’ve got tickets to the Paralympics because I want to watch people at the top of their game swim fast, throw far, and in the case of wheelchair rugby – beat the crap out of each other. Unfortunately it seems like more people are more interested in a freak show/inspiration porn combo.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are plucky disableds on my telly. I’m so overcome with inspiration because of their bravery that I may wet myself.Tagged in: Atos, benefit cuts, channel 4, embarrassing bodies, olympics, paralympics, Sport
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