That Channel 4 Paralympics trailer makes my ears bleed. The Paralympics as a sporting event is fantastic in it’s own right, the athletes are clearly talented and have worked hard to get where they are. However the tone of the media surrounding this year’s Paralympics couldn’t be more oppressive, dehumanising and patronising to disabled people.
Channel 4 warned us that ‘The Superhumans are coming!’ Well holy crap! Where are they coming from? Outer space? How will we communicate with them? This year’s trailer We’re the Superhumans: Rio Paralympics 2016 is very different from the 2012 trailer which showed the athletes as talented sportspeople rather than ‘The Amusing Circus of Disabled’ in this year’s ad. Granted, it also used the term Superhumans.
The term ‘Superhuman’ is dehumanising and disabling, it tells us that disabled people are separate, segregated from other humans.
This is similar to ‘Supercrip‘ which is already used to describe disabled people doing human things. That is: achievement is not expected of disabled people because when they do they are branded ‘exceptional’ and ‘inspirational’. Eg: ‘look, Amy’s actually going to uni – in her wheelchair! She’s so brave! Aww!’ *Amy* goes to uni because she gained the entry qualifications, not because she’s brave. And Amy will be fine at uni as long as it is accessible and she receives any reasonable adjustments she may need. Another example would be ‘Look at Mark, he’s actually going to uni and he’s black! Aww!’ Again Mark got in to uni on merit. I reference race examples in this blog to show the contrast of this discrimination as sadly acknowledgement of ableism is so far behind even racism, that some people still don’t understand when it has taken place even when it has been explained.
The term inspiration porn was coined by disability rights activist, Stella Young describing a disabled person objectified for the benefits of the person watching. The audience is the voyeur and the disabled person is the spectacle or the porn. Dr Frances Ryan calls this the ‘Tiny Tim syndrome’ where disabled people exist to give able bodied people a warm fuzzy feeling.
The Guardian: It’s time to stop calling disabled people ‘inspirational’ – Dr Frances Ryan
The words “Yes I can” is reiterated 21 times in the trailer to the point where I feel harassed each time I hear it
A disabled person can achieve anything if they really put their mind to it? If they really wanted to…if they weren’t so lazy. A tiny fraction of the trailer shows athletes in their sport, the rest shows disabled people jovially brushing their teeth, eating cereal and putting petrol in their car, no doubt to show the range of everyday activities disabled people do differently.
But where’s the Codiene dribbles and the Amitriptyline eyes? Where’s the chemo vomit? Where’s the loss of three days to mental brain fog? Where’s the faeces on the public toilet floor spilt from a stoma bag? Or me crying in pain trying to get down the stairs? Or the person being abused in a blue badge bay? Where’s the person losing their job because the government took away their mobility car and only mode of transport?
The activities shown in the trailer are the exact activities used by the government to impose harsh disability cuts, losing roofs over heads and food on plates.
The moment the everyday activities in the ad are trivialised is the moment disabled people are in trouble. Those who need help to cut food on said plate are told they can still eat and lose the care component of their disability benefit. If they can walk the length of three buses regardless of pain, walking stick or stumbling, the benefit gets cut further. If they can put petrol in their car – again cut. If they can put a pen in their top pocket (no joke) cut again. There are even reports of claimants having their benefits stopped because they were seen *smiling* on Facebook. This has all led to a rise in disabled attacks by those brainwashed by the government’s media which scapegoat disabled people as ‘benefit scroungers’ to allow these cuts to become policy.
The trailer negates the need for equity and accessibility for disabled people
When I was discriminated against at The Last Leg at ITV Studios and thus invited back from public pressure, one of the producers was surprised that I wasn’t simply a ‘grateful’ disabled person and annoyed that I actually wanted the access policy for all disabled visitors to be addressed. Wanting equity and equality made me a disagreeable, ‘bad’ disabled person. (See: The Next Leg) The Paralympic trailer shows disabled people living in a utopian world where there is no discrimination to challenge. This dangerously voids the need for equity across all groups in our society.
A protest which brought Downing Street and Parliament to a standstill by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) was the *other* disabled event happening this week, remembering the thousands of people who have died from disability cuts. The protest also demanded Theresa May publish the UN report on the government’s treatment of disabled people. The UK is the first country to be investigated by the UN for breaches on disabled peoples human rights. Where was this on our headline news alongside the Paralympics?
The ‘good’ disabled people get media coverage whilst the ‘bad’ disabled people fighting for their lives are being swept away under the carpet. The #rightsnotgames hashtag doing the rounds on social media is not in protest of the games but to identify the irony between a celebration of disabled people as entertainment but a refusal of their basic human rights.
We have seen this thoughout history. Black people campaigning for equality are seen as trouble makers. Women reporting sexual abuse in the workplace are told they lack a sense of humour and risk losing their jobs.
The trailer’s entertaining portrayal of disabled people reminds me of the singing and dancing Minstrel’s portrayal of black people in the 1960s and 70s.
Could you imagine the Paralympics trailer being aimed at any other section of society? Imagine if it showed a bunch of happy black people kicking their legs and singing; “Yes I can!” during segregation? Disabled people still have segregation.
Disabled people have to ‘warn’ venues way in advance, that ‘DISABLED PEOPLE ARE COMING!!😱’ and even then risk refusal or abuse. We cannot spontaneously access shopping malls, supermarket, hotels, train stations, the Tube or airports. We are segregated in an inaccessible workplace and despite us often being more qualified than our non-disabled peers, employers see us as a problem so we are less likely to get the job. Those who can’t work are tarred ‘benefit scroungers’ allowing inhumane welfare reform. Disabled children are also almost twice as likely to be victims of crime as able bodied children. Disabled women are twice as likely to be assaulted or raped as non disabled women.
This week saw a report of a local council demanding to watch a disabled victim of sexual and physical abuse, shower and use the toilet to assess her care needs. Yet the Paralympics trailer portrays us as empowered, singing and dancing Minstrels.
Below are just a couple Guardian readers who submitted comments on the Paralympic trailer:
The Superhuman stereotype also undermines our Paralympians’ hard work and determination as they are not recognised as great athletes in their own right. Also remember the Paralympics is not open to all disabled people. Funding and specialist training cuts to one of the poorest sections of society mean access to the Paralympics is blocked for many.
At the 2012 Paralympics, athletes were prohibited from speaking out against disability cuts as ironically the Paralympics games were sponsored by ATOS the private firm paid by the government to carry out the humiliating and dehumanising disability assessments. Instead the Paralympians demonstrated silent protest by covering their ATOS lanyards when they won a medal. This time however they are speaking out.
In a Huffington Post report, Ben Rowlings, a 20-year-old track star, said some disabled athletes were deemed ‘too able’ to claim for funds to buy vital equipment. He added that in some cases, athletes had been forced to fight rulings by the Department for Work and Pensions denying them funding for mobility vehicles that were key to their preparations for Rio.
Why are Paralympians on benefits? One reason for disability benefits is an inaccessible society. Just because a person got around a track in a wheelchair does not mean they can grow elastic arms to get groceries off the shelves at Tesco or can levitate a staircase in an inaccessible building and they can’t sprout wings so yes, they still need a blue badge and that Motability car for transportation. That’s right they are not Superhuman!
A Guardian article, reports how 20 year old Freya Levy was on the Great Britain Paralympian basketball team. She has been living in elderly sheltered accommodation since she was split up from her family as the council couldn’t find accommodation suitable for her wheelchair. What other situation would a 20yr old be expected to leave her mother and siblings to live in sheltered accommodation? The home also requires residents to spend every night there, but training involved spending some nights at the Paralympic program in Worcester. Freya was devastated to pull out of the Paralympic games but said the worry of her housing situation would have made it impossible for her to stay motivated to compete. This was not reflected in the trailer which showed the simplicity of being disabled. Channel 4 even tweeted this further attack:
‘There’s no such thing as can’t’. Tell that to poor Freya Levy. This was now slipping far too close to the dreaded words disabled people know all too well; ‘it’s all in your head’. To the able bodied person this expectation is short lived with no repercussions apart from a chuckle that they didn’t make it to the gym. For disabled people we are once again being told to get off our lazy arses and stop being disabled.
No I can’t
Well I’m sorry Channel 4 but no, I can’t. I can’t magic away the pain and damage to my body from my degenerative illness, I can’t ignore the pit of disability cuts, I can’t ‘overcome’ our inaccessible society, just like I can’t turn into a unicorn 🦄 and I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about any of it. “Yes I can!” live up to the able bodied norm? Well my body has a different norm. The purpose of a disabled person is not to seek approval from an ableist society. Like gherkingirl said above, I still have purpose and achievement in life, it’s just different to what your interpretation of success is.
For as long as we have a society that sees disabled people or any other group as ‘super’ or ‘special’ aka ‘subhuman’ and ‘separate’ there will be segregation and our society will never achieve equity or equality as a whole.
Good luck to the Paralympians I wish them all the best in the Rio games, they are incredibly talented people. I also wish them all the best when they return home to deal with the disability cuts wrecking their lives, I hope they get as much public support with that as are now for being a Paralympian.
As for the Channel 4 Paralympic trailer, I’m looking forward to turning on my TV when I’m in the respite of my home, in pain and can’t move, to not being shouted at 21 times; “Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can!”
Because sometimes I can’t and that’s ok.