Firstly, I think the Paralympic Games are an amazing opportunity for people with many disabilities and so this blog is not about the athletes themselves, or the notion of a Games for disabled people, but rather about the narrative promoted by the organising committee. I believe it creates a 2-tier level of what disabilities are, and are not, ‘acceptable’. This screenshot is taken from https://www.paralympic.org/im-possible
Historically, ‘veteran’ M.E patients know that during/after any Paralympic or Invictus Games, we are faced with ‘get a grip, if that double amputee can do XYZ, so can you!’ and/or ‘the blind marathon runner is inspirational – there’s nothing wrong with you’, etc etc (endless variations of the same thing). To be clear, our community faces this 24/7, 365 days every year but during these sporting occasions it ramps up to a whole new level.
By using ‘IMpossible’ as a slogan the International Paralympic Committee is causing stigma. There is no caveat to say that there are a number of disabilities in existence when mind over matter simply is not possible. Specifically with M.E, (on a very basic level) we do not create or use energy effectively and react negatively to increased activity – that OBVIOUSLY includes taking part in competitive sports.
So, unless there is a competitive sport which requires zero energy to participate in and can be ‘performed’ whilst lying down….M.E patients are excluded from taking part in the Paralympic Games. To be frank, many are too sick to be able to watch the Games on TV or cheer from the side-lines, let alone take part in person.
I would argue that the Games promotes inclusivity within able-bodied society but not within the disabled community. I have previously blogged about ‘Positive Discrimination’ and I feel there is an element of that in play here.
Blog extract –
For years, I have been saying that there is a disconnect between how different disabilities are perceived. During my ‘Visibility Today’ guest podcast session last year, I said that the wider general public is now so used to seeing disabled people fighting against all odds to reach the unreachable, that it must seem strange to simply be told ‘I can’t do that’. It is unfair that we are measured against other conditions but that is how it is. Or at least, how it is whilst M.E./C.F.S. remains a misunderstood and stigmatized disability.
Disability organisations work incredibly hard to raise the profile of disabled people and, as a disabled person, I am grateful for their efforts. However, they should not diminish parts of the community whilst raising others up. I believe that, by including a caveat saying not all disabled people have the capability to ‘push through’, it is possible to include ALL disabled people in the disability movement. It would be the perfect opportunity to talk about those parts of the disabled community for whom it is ‘impossible’.
Let’s talk about the associated campaign – #WEare15 – watch the video. M.E patients with noise sensitivities – beware very screechy music towards the end.
As a M.E (and Long Covid) patient, I do not feel represented, nothing about M.E or similar is included within this promo video. I can understand why the narrative is ‘disabled people aren’t ‘special’ and they are ‘normal’ human beings’. But….is that not a bit ableist? Are they saying that they are ‘acceptable’ because they are ‘just like you’? In the same way that the Paralympics Committee are saying ‘IMpossible’ – anything is possible irrespective of barriers. What about those of us who can’t ‘push through’, reach beyond our limits to be ‘normal’, or train hard to be Paralympic athletes no matter how much we dream of doing so? Do we not matter?
This week, I have seen a disability organisation proudly state, using #Weare15, that they are 15 individuals working full time with their disabilities in tow. So, what about those of us who are physically unable to work full time, or even work at all? Is the ability to work full-time something to be proud of because you are disabled? Does that mean the rest of us should be the opposite of proud ie. feel ashamed when we can’t do the same? I know this organisation is keen to show businesses that (some) disabled people can work just as effectively as ‘healthy’ people, but why step on other disabled people to do so? I believe this helps breed stigma within workplaces, I’m sure it is unintentional, but that’s the effect of their narrative.
Include the caveat! Avoid stigmatising fellow disabled people.
I would argue that the Paralympic Games are for those disabled people who do not feel ‘unwell’ as a result of their disability/impairment. I’m not sure about the drugs policy for the Paralympic Games but I am assuming that if a disabled person requires a truck load of prescribed meds to be ‘pain-free’ they would be screened and eliminated from the competition. Competitor eligibility is then whittled down even more to only being those who can use alternative therapies to control pain. Going back to the screenshot above, does this really ‘make for a more inclusive society for all’?
I enjoy watching competitive sports so will be watching when I can, M.E permitting, and I am looking forward to cheering on Great Britain (quietly and with minimal exertion) from the comfort of my sofa. However, I know without doubt that there will never be a M.E patient participating in the Paralympic Games, wheelchair user or not. We are excluded because of our bodies’ inability to create/use energy, not by an unwillingness to try or lack of hopes and dreams.
Include the caveat!
and Foggy (OBVIOUSLY)