Thursday, 30 August 2012

My Problem With The Paralympics #2

In December of last year I wrote a blog post called 'My Problem With The Paralympics'. It was, as I stated within the post, written with a degree of uncertainty. This uncertainty stems largely from the fact that because I'm still struggling to come to terms with having a severely disabled daughter - who is still very young - I find anything to do with disability emotionally (and intellectually) difficult. Every single day of my life is filled with sadness, frustration, bitterness... actually, if you've read this blog before you'll know what every day is like.

That said, I find that nine months later I stand behind most of what I said - or, rather, felt. I don't expect people to agree with my view, by the way. I suppose all I was hoping for was an understanding of why I - personally - might feel that way. And thankfully, most people, after reading the post - maybe after putting themselves in my shoes - did see why I might feel that way, even if they disagreed with me. Which was great.

I mention all of this because tonight on Twitter one of my followers tweeted a link to that old post to make his own points, to give some kind of credence to his own problems with the Paralympics. Actually, what he said was: "I don't like the paralympics. At all. In complete agreement with @paulsaxton. Makes me uncomfortable."

As a result of that, there were quite a few replies from people who were a bit outraged by the 'uncomfortable' bit. Of course, they didn't actually read the blog post. And why should they? They were just replying to what looked like a provocative and rather stupid tweet.

I have no idea, by the way, why that person who co-opted me in their tweet is uncomfortable with the Paralympics. But whatever the reason, I'm quite fucked off that he dragged me into it. If he's uncomfortable with the Paralympics, why doesn't he write his own post? So yes, I'm annoyed that he's made me look like some insensitive, contrary dick who's just mouthing off about the Paralympics for no reason.


As time has passed, I'm a little more open to the idea that the Paralympics will be a force for good. It's been great to see so many people enthused by it. I hope our Paralympians do well - I'm as impressed with their personal achievements and stories as anyone. Good for them. And I hope it goes some way towards changing attitudes.

That said, let's not forget that in the run up to these games - during a time when the media was full of great stories about the Paralympics - that hate crimes towards the disabled greatly increased. (More here.)

So we'll see.

1 comment:

  1. So, what do you think now it’s all over?

    I don’t have a lot of enthusiasm for lympics, whether Para or O, but I did catch a couple of events. What struck me was that, at heart, people were actually enjoying a bloody good contest, rather than re-evaluating their attitudes. In fact, Oscar Pistorius exhorted people to do just that when he said ‘don’t focus on the disability – focus on the ability.’

    The spectacle was so compelling that it felt like we were swept along on a wave of exultation, where the differences between abled and less-abled had been magically effaced. (You talked about this in your first post.)

    Watching David Weir’s triumphant lap of honour, I had to remind myself that he presumably still needs a lot of physical help just to live his day-to-day life, let alone train to become a top-class athlete.

    That’s not to take anything away from the Paralympians. In themselves, they’re magnificent. What’s questionable is the narrative of ‘inclusion’, ‘tolerance’ and ‘legacy’ that gets spun around them.

    As we watch them, it’s a, yes, ‘inspiring’ revelation to see how much they’ve achieved given the cards they’ve been dealt. But is that the right revelation for us to be having? Does it give us the right preconceptions to carry into our next (or first) encounter with a disabled person – someone whose abilities and background might be markedly different from theirs?

    On one level – the purely individual, chosen level – ‘anyone can do it’ is an inclusive and empowering maxim. But when it’s used to compare an ‘achiever’ with a ‘non-achiever’, it becomes Thatcherite. ‘On yer bike,’ said Norman Tebbit, admonishing the jobless to find work when there was none – a narrative that continues today. In the same way, it feels like we’re shaping up to encourage the disabled to ‘achieve’, regardless of circumstance or inclination.

    In the context of physical disability, such sentiments feel dangerously fascist – deliciously and liberatingly so, perhaps, for some people. At last, a licence to chivvy the undeserving disabled! They did it, so why can’t you? What the bloody hell is wrong with you?

    Of course, ‘what’s wrong with you’ could be any number and combination of things, as reading this blog makes painfully clear, heartbreakingly clear. As you’ve noted, ‘disability’ is such as broad church that the word is practically useless, including as it does everybody from the paraplegic to the bloke who’s somehow blagged an orange badge for his Mercedes.

    Taking a cue from literary analysis, we can see that it really just denotes what we might call the ‘differently-abled other’ – meaning ‘someone over there whose abilities are different from [i.e. inferior to] ours’. As with race and gender, we will know the divisions and inequality have gone away when we no longer need the words that reinforce the distinctions. And also as with race and gender, we will probably be waiting a long time.

    Perhaps this is why physical attacks on the disabled are increasing. We resent the ‘real’ disabled for embarrassing us with their manifest difference; their in-your-face physical reality. They expose our callous lack of compassion, and show us how we squander our own ability. Away with them! Who do they think they are?

    It’s ridiculous, of course. We don’t walk up to some lardass in a tracksuit and tell him to be more like Mo Farah. But that’s because we see fat guys day in, day out. The experience is moderated and normalised by familiarity. When most people’s experience of disability (and I include myself) is limited to the Paralympics and one or two wheelchair users on the street, then distorted perceptions are all but inevitable.

    Despite all that, it’s probably good that the ‘legacy’ of the Paralympics will include ‘greater awareness’ of disability, of whatever type and at whatever level. Personally, I just hope we can avoid the selectivity and hypocrisy that always seems to be close at hand. As your blog makes clear, there are plenty more disabled people, and those who care for them, who are just as worthy of our applause.