Short ranty blog post warning…..
I’m watching the Paralympic Opening Ceremony and following it on twitter, and also catching comments on facebook. It’s impressive, I’m delighted to see so many athletes and proud that London are hosting. I’m also morbidly curious, as an obsessive people watcher, watching people who are different to the norm is just that little bit more interesting. I’m comfortable with disability, always have been, I think I’ve always been naturally curious in people, my parent’s chose our Primary School because it had a PHU, Partial Hearing Unit – not that I think that’d be what it’s called nowadays, (I suspect it would be something like a ‘Resource base for hearing impaired pupils’ or maybe for ‘pupils with hearing impairments’). My parents wanted us to know from a young age that people came with all sort of abilities, strengths, interests. I would spend my breaks hanging out with the deaf kids (or Deaf kids) and learnt to sign before it was fashionable – unfortunately I lost that ability when I stopped practising, although I learnt Makaton at university.
Annnnnyway, what am I on about. Well I have always been as comfortable with people who are disabled as I have with those who aren’t. As a primary school kid when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I’d answer a Special Education Teacher. I was quite inspired by Mrs Renton who ran the PHU. I dallied in wanting to be a Blue Peter Presenter for a while, then special ed teacher training was cut and I ended up going to university to study for an Education degree. I volunteered as a teenager, and again at university, spending time with people with disabilities in various ways. I was fascinated by the Psychology of Special Education as an undergrad and ended up doing a PhD looking at education for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties.
All of this is context, I am comfortable with disability, I have spent a lot of time around people who communicate differently to how I do, who move around differently to how I do, who physically are different to me, who think differently to me. Some of these people may self-recognise as being disabled, others would not. I also have a lot of people in my twitter stream who do, some who don’t.
So what’s the headline about, well I happen to think we have an opportunity right now, an opportunity to engage people with disability sport, with disabled people and with what they can achieve in life or sport. There is an appetite, an opportunity, an excitement from the general public. A chance to, dare I say it ‘normalise’ disability, I know, I know, but the point I’m trying to make is that many people who only ever glance out the corner of their eyes, and those who blatantly stare at someone with a disability strolling down the street, have the chance to see what disabled people can, and do, achieve. They have the opportunity to learn, to watch, to engage. I think we should all be welcoming this chance.
….and yet my twitter stream has lots of people complaining about language, about how people refer to disability, about people getting it wrong. There are concerns about being too patronising, or claiming people are superhuman when really they’re just getting on with their lives. I thought Georgie Bingham summarised it quite well in her blog post about reporting the Paralympics. There have also been a couple examples of athletes getting into trouble with other athletes for dissing their sport or their efforts.
I know language is important, I know it *is* worth considering how we communicate. I also know that many, many people are currently engaging with the Paralympics who don’t have every day contact with people who are disabled, or don’t know that they do. People are interested, they are ready and waiting to be inspired. Some of them are alo nervous, worried about getting it wrong, offending someone or misunderstanding them. Please, please can we focus positively and educate people but let’s not get all huffy about people who get it wrong, not the first time anyway. I think as a society we have a long way to go until people are comfortable with disability, there is lots that needs to improve, but let’s take people with us on that journey. Let’s educate not bitch. I think we’re far more likely to change perceptions and have a lasting legacy if we bring people with us and do so positively.