• Lucy Bennett-Baggs

Superhuman or human?

Updated: 2 days ago

The 3am diaries by CEO & Founder, Lucy Bennett-Baggs

Our next hit of enthralling, dramatic and sporting action has kicked off in some serious style at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games this week, with all the stories of impossible feats and nations being inspired by their athletes already taking the spotlight. However, amid the adoration and heroism, voices from activist groups have raised concerns over the media tendency to sensationalise Paralympian accomplishments and at the same time, play down and focus enough on the daily ‘real-life’ struggles of the athletes and others living with disabilities. One of the key issues with the notion of disabled people being singled out as ‘superhuman’ is that it can detract from the sometimes truly dire situations that individuals face around the world in relation to stigma, lack of action in building an inclusive society and environment, as well as access to the appropriate support programmes and facilities and ultimately can draw attention away from the countless personal and societal barriers that people living on the broad spectrum of ‘disabled’ deal with on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the games only allow the public to see a small spectrum of often the most able-bodied individuals, leading to a glossy impression of life as a disabled person.

The US’s Regas Woods competing in the long jump at the Rio Paralympic Games.
The US’s Regas Woods of competing in the long jump at the Rio Paralympic Games.

Another problem with the notion of the superhuman Paralympian is that this reinforces disability as a tragedy that must be overcome. It promotes the idea that a ‘normal’ physical life is something that exists and needs to be strived towards, rather than each individual being comfortable with their own ideas about what is possible. Additionally, and somewhat controversially, activists argue that this attitude gives rise to disabled achievement merely being a source from which non-disabled people seek gratification. Coined by the late Australian disability activist Stella Young, the idea of ‘Inspiration Porn’ is that disabled people are courageous yet pitiable, and only serve the purpose of making non-disabled people feel better about life. This is of course a totally valid point of view, yet to flip this, many disability activists also argue that high viewing figures globally mean heightened awareness and celebration of disabilities in general, which of course is hugely positive. In fact one of the supporting factors for this, is the new global campaign ‘We the 15’ is aimed at removing discrimination faced by disabled people. Launched by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the International Disability Alliance along with a host of other sports, human rights and business organisations. With the goal to create more opportunities and greater accessibility for people with impairments and ultimately create a more inclusive society through the Paralympic Games.

Jaryd Clifford is an Australian Paralympic, vision impaired, middle-distance athlete. He is running with his guide runner.
Jaryd Clifford is an Australian Paralympic, vision impaired, middle-distance athlete.

But can an elite sporting event that lasts two weeks, every four years, really achieve meaningful social change?

Whatever the argument, it all points towards a need to embrace disability as part of everyday life; an acceptance that the norm is different from person to person. Though the Paralympic coverage has its critics, there is little that can match the unity and awareness raised by this eclectic and vibrant celebration of disability around the world. We simply hope that the games will continue to remove the societal blinkers that sustain the stigma surrounding disability.

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