‘When I think of disability I also think of the fearless disabled campaigners activists and non-disabled carers who fight for those they love, or as disabled people refusing to be downgraded to second class citizens just because of a feature in their DNA or an accident in their life’
~ Nicky Clark
The run up to Paralympics seems to be going rather well so far. C4 have run a series of strikingly good adverts and a cheeky poster campaign thanking the Olympics for warming up the crowd. The public also seem to have sustained their enthusiasm for the Games from non-disabled to disabled participants to an unprecedented degree.
Moreover, the inclusion of learning disabled athletes and their presence in the games marks a watershed moment in the changing of attitudes.
At the moment Oscar Pistorius is everywhere.
The breathtaking blade runner has been sharing his thoughts on Britain’s attitude to disability in the media and whilst I don’t agree with him, you wouldn’t disagree with him in terms of Paralympics pre-coverage, which has been outstanding in the main.
This week has also seen many complaints as Atos are sponsoring the Paralympics. Some campaigners and activists have taken to the streets to protest, as the IT giant have the £100m government contract to carry out tests that decide whether claimants of incapacity benefit are “fit to work”. I personally am totally behind peaceful protest – as long as they don’t scupper years of training for the athletes.
There has been much talk of lasting legacy from these Games, and for me as a disability rights campaigner who is highly vocal about disabled people becoming a permanent fixture on our TV screens and in advertising, across the board, I hope that any reticence broadcasters might have had will be obliterated by the enthusiasm of the public, so wrongly deemed to be discombobulated by difference.
There will always be a difference of opinion when it comes to the superhuman tag of inspiration, and disability as the elite can so easily overshadow the majority. But this issue needs addressing in the same ways as non-disabled athletes. Some can, some do and some can’t and some don’t. The equality of this is as important as recognising that disability comes in many forms.
A tangible or visible sign of disability is not the only sign, and as hearts harden in these days of austerity perceptions of “faking it” are everywhere. This isn’t just in the issue of welfare reform, but something I’ve been fighting against for my children with autism throughout their lives. Hidden disability, whether in mental health, autism, dementia or all of the various forms of learning disability, means that tolerance goes hand in hand with education. Just because no one can see it doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
Katharine Quarmby, the writer and campaigning journalist talks of mate crime and hate crime in her books, and she demonstrates with recent surveys that these horrors are very real, and equally hidden. This fact shames us all and crucially allows hatred of difference to propagate and permeate, as so many turn their faces away from the truth of the lives of others.
Whilst Frankie Boyle gets a second series with his childish disablist humour, talented disabled stand ups like Laurence Clark don’t even get asked to appear on comedy panel shows. Disablist humour is embraced as free speech, but it actually reinforces stigmatizing, damaging attitudes and misconceptions, normalising a belief that mocking and laughing at disabled people is ok. He calls it satire, I call it hate speech, because laughing at people over something which they can’t change, is hate speech. That’s why last year I launched my second national campaign People not Punchlines.
As the paralympians prepare to compete to their best ability they do us all proud. I’ve seen equal bravery from both of my children in dealing with bullying and in moving on from it. I saw great bravery from my mum as she lived through the worst effects of Alzheimer’s disease and from my brother in 1978 when, after being diagnosed with a terminal heart and lung condition, he refused to be defined by the bullies who taunted him.
When I think of disability I also think of the fearless disabled campaigners activists and non-disabled carers who fight for those they love, or as disabled people refusing to be downgraded to second class citizens just because of a feature in their DNA or an accident in their life.
I think too of Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson who moved on from being a paralympian to a peer in the House of Lords fighting just as hard for others as she ever did for a gold medal. People generally may not be able to name a disabled actress singer, stand up or TV presenter but everyone knows Tanni. Sport gave her to us, and hopefully many more to follow.
My hope is that the coverage of the Paralympics, the joy in attainment and the equality of spectator pride, signals a change in attitudes towards disabled people, and that more people stand up to bullying when they see or hear it happening around them.
Most of all my hope is that we collectively refuse to see disabled people as “superhuman” or as “inhuman”, but rather as fellow humans who we value equally in word, thought and deed.