Disability Values: Running in the Wrong Direction?

Are people with disabilities judged according to able bodied standards? Is Paralympics an example of a principle running in the wrong direction?

Every four years, the Summer Paralympics is being held almost concurrent with the Olympic Games. The primary goal of this sporting event for the disabled is to foster the concepts on health and human rights for differently abled athletes. That being said, there are people, mostly person with disabilities (PWDs), who think that the Paralympics is a ‘mockery of equality’ and is just a mere sideshow for the upcoming Olympics.

Paralympics and Disability Politics

Disability politics is the core of calls to bring about amendments on policies or changes on customaries that still result to oppression on the part of PWDs. Even if the Paralympic Movement aims to reshape the weak notion on disabled athletes and people with impairment in general, the Paralympics somewhat presents a different context. For instance, the sporting event conveys a message that incapacitated athletes are passive and powerless, but nevertheless plucky. Moreover, the Paralympics gives a wrong impression of empowerment; that PWDs have to rely on able bodied people who will unshackle them from their plight.

Moreover, there are people who feel that the Paralympics is a gross misrepresentation of the actual experiences of a disabled person. Even though the Games show a sanguine perspective, it does not include the verisimilitude of PWDs: their pain and sufferings. It also promotes the wrong sense of inclusion; that you need to have the appropriate impairment for you to belong to the competition’s classifications.

Inspiration from Disabilities?

Reality check: a lot of people are inspired with PWDs achieving things or bringing glory in spite of their impediments. We actually laud them for getting the better of their impairments and regard them as ‘special’. However, little do we know that most of them are irked of being objectified and being the source of inspiration porn. That being said, we can still learn a lot of things from them; that we can still have true happiness regardless of the existence of extremities,  that we don’t have to lose sleep over trivial matters, that flaws and imperfections aren’t always a bad thing, and that we should enjoy each day as if it were our last.

Poverty and the Disabled: The Greatest Disability

According to Center for American Progress, “disability is both a cause and consequence of poverty.” Poverty and disability goes hand in hand. When a person becomes disabled, he/she may lose his/her job, incur extra expenditures, face impediments in education or skills development, and so on. Moreover, a person’s disability can be a result of poverty and limited access to the government’s health programs.

In a recent statistics report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate for Americans with disabilities is 34.5 percent compared to 12.2 percent of those who are not incapacitated. Unfortunately, unless a disabled person is financially supported by his/her family, he/she may find himself/herself in struggle street. In Australia, government disability pensions are rarely enough to survive on, especially as cities in the country become ever-more expensive. That’s why more and more persons with disabilities (PWDs) rely on loans for people in desperate circumstances.

Disability in Worldwide Scale

These statistics from the World Report on Disability will give us a picture of the situation of PWDs:

  • At least a billion people in the world or around 15% of the entire population are living with disabilities
  • 2.2 percent of the world’s population are in serious functional adversities
  • Almost 80% of PWDs are in low-income countries
  • Merely 41.7 percent of women with disabilities have reached primary school
  • HIV/AIDS is more common in PWDs, but a big number of them don’t hace access to HIV/AIDS services

Reasons Why PWDs are Shackled to Poverty

  • Limited Learning Opportunities

Ideally, a person can break free from poverty through education. Your wage depends on your educational attainment; the higher it is, the higher is your salary. Usually, low-income households are the ones who are susceptible to having a family member with congenital learning difficulties or disabilities. These people, who usually live in areas with high poverty rates, suffer from underfunded learning institutions. This problem should be the foremost priority of the country’s future political parties.

  • Discrimination at Work

In the US, even if there is a law that regards PWDs as members of the protected social class, they still get discriminated at work. Some companies prefer employing non-disabled applicants rather than PWDs, even if they are more qualified for the job.

  • Albeism

Albeism is described as the “discrimination in favour of able-bodied people.” Some people feel that they are better than those who have disabilities. This social attitude is the primary reason why PWDs are the first victims of social inequality.

2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio De Janeiro

As of this writing, there are at least 86 days to go before the Paralympic Games. Around 4,300 athletes from 176 countries are vying for 528 sporting events, which will be held in 21 venues spread across Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. On estimate, the Paralympics will be watched by more than 1.5 million people worldwide.

The 15th Summer Paralympics in Rio is an event full of firsts – first country in Latin America to host the Paralympic Games, first sporting events for the recently included sports (paracanoe, paratriathlon), and the first Summer Paralympics to take place during the host city’s winter season.

In busting myths about disabilities, the Summer Paralympic Games are being held once every four years. The event will also bolster the International Olympic Committee’s campaign on supporting the Olympic and Paralympic movements. In fact, the United Kingdom’s Channel 4, Australia’s the Seven Network, and the United States’ NBC will cover the event to reach more audience and raise awareness since this event aims to change the perception of many people to those who have disabilities.

Special Olympics versus Paralympics

Special Olympics and Paralympics are different, thus cannot be used interchangeably. Although both are centred on sport for athletes with disabilities, there are three elements that set them apart. These are the athletes, sporting philosophy and structure.

Athletes

The Special Olympics is participated by athletes with intellectual disabilities aged 8 and above. The disabilities can either be a cognitive delay, intellectual disability or developmental disability. On the other hand, the Paralympics is for athletes who are/have amputees, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, visually impaired, spinal injuries and Les Autres. There also has no age restriction in Paralympic Games. Athletes who join the Paralympic Games go through intensive trainings, which are quite similar to the preparations of Olympic athletes.

Sporting Philosophy

While Special Olympics aims to help all athletes to realise their potentials without meeting certain standards, Paralympics has set criteria and requirements where athletes undergo a rigorous qualification process.

Structure

Special Olympics is an international organisation for athletes with certain disabilities that focuses on establishing a worldwide network of athletes who enter sport competitions while instituting a community that is dedicated in promoting inclusion and acceptance for all people. The global movement has a head office in Washington D.C. in which 170 countries field athletes in 32 Olympics-type sports. On the contrary, the International Paralympic Committee spearheads the Paralympic Games where each member countries have a National Governing Organisation that implements rules and regulations similar to the Olympics.

Sexual Liberation for Disabled People

When you cut away the veneer of polite political correctness most people would rather not think about sexual liberation for disabled people. The majority of abled body human beings would rather turn off the lights than watch a pornographic scene with two disabled people. Why? Because sex is fundamentally linked to procreation; and most folk are hardwired to wish for their own perfect progeny to reproduce. The horror of disability, whether congenital or accidental, is not something that most of us want to see reproduced.

Most human beings are attracted to a conception of aesthetic beauty; which is why the good-looking among us get more sex. If you are a man, it pays to be taller. If you are a woman, physical beauty is probably the single most important quality you must possess if you are to succeed in evolutionary terms. Very few people are attracted to disabled people, and that includes other disabled people. We all wish for perfection in ourselves and in our progeny. We are programmed biologically to act in this way. It does not matter how many online surveys you fill out on dating sites and how well you do in them; ultimately it comes down to what you look like.

Sexual Liberation for Disabled People

Having sex with another human being, rather than merely having sex with yourself, involves the willing consensuality of both parties. This is not something that is always easily achievable for disabled people. Firstly, they are often closely controlled and monitored by loving, but by sometimes disapproving or neglectful family or professional carers; especially when it comes to having sex. Traditionally, sex was not seen to be on the menu for disabled people according to institutional and charitable practices. The world has grown up somewhat and sex is no longer seen to be solely in the repository of perfect human beings.

Escorts who cater for disabled clientele play an important part in the sexual liberation for disabled people. It is, however, still only a commercial service being provided in the same sense as meals and cleaning services are provided. The ultimate power of sex is about love, sex without love is a mere shell of what it can be. Going forward, sexual liberation for disabled people is about breaking down barriers, between disabled people, and disabled and abled people. The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is fear. When we remove the fear around sexual liberation for disabled people, love will flourish where currently sterility abides.

Finding Corporate Sponsorship for Disability Projects

It is, I suppose, an indication of our maturing as a society, when corporations come on-board as sponsors for disability charities and their specific projects. Our conceptions of success and wealth are, perhaps, broadening to include a social responsibility toward those within our communities who cannot run, jump, swim or play at record breaking levels. Corporations have traditionally wanted to be associated only with winners; individuals and winning teams. Buy our product or service and you are part of a winning team. Bank with us and you are supporting your football code. The reality has always been that the vast majority of able bodied community members do not physically excel at anything themselves, but the archetypal illusion of the garlanded Olympic champion lives on in our collective dreams.

Helping those less fortunate has, in the past, been the shared province of church and state. More church when they were at the helm, and as their executive power has waned, government social services have come to the fore. Now, however, in a few cases we see corporations getting involved in things like the Paralympics. Sponsors of this event worldwide include: Toyota, VISA, Samsung, Panasonic, BP, Allianz, Atos and ottobock.  Although, this is still an elite sporting event, which has been transposed to the world of disabled athletes. The message remains we honour those who can run the fastest, jump the highest and so on. Success is predicated on being the best within certain prescribed parameters.

Finding Corporate Sponsorship for Disability Projects

In many instances corporate sponsorship for disability projects is the result of certain passionate individuals driving those projects through their association with that disability; usually because a family member or close friend has that disability. And now, we are seeing courageous individuals with disabilities breaking out of isolation and driving change themselves. No longer as marginalised, these impassioned individuals are crossing the line and reaching out. Often, things like this need strong motivation to succeed in crossing boundaries. Corporations do not traditionally identify themselves with those who are not highly successful; unless the corporation itself operates in the charitable field. Things are, however, beginning to change; as society becomes more inclusive, recognising those of its members with disability as valid human beings. The definition of success may just be broadening to include those who manage a life without the usual support of a fully functioning body or mind. Overcoming adversity and living a rich life, which includes disability but is not purely defined by it.

What things can we then offer a corporate sponsor to encourage them to get aboard? In marketing terms, logos on websites, invitations, brochures and all that usual stationary. Official acknowledgement at all social gatherings and plenty of gracious charm wherever possible. Social media can also be a valuable platform for cross-referencing corporate sponsorship of disabled projects and events. Regular mentions on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can be very valuable as a reminder to all stakeholders of the importance of this corporate sponsorship. Finding corporate sponsorship for disability projects can be challenging, but ultimately is very rewarding for all parties involved. The twenty first century may just be the era of real inclusiveness; and we as a society can begin to honour greater things than mere sporting achievements.

 

Disabilities in Film, Theatre & The Arts

We see a few powerful movies every couple of years that feature characters with ‘disabilities’. But they are most often portrayed by able actors pretending to be disabled. Is this doing the issue of people with disabilities justice? Can disabilities ever be portrayed well in popular culture? Should more disabled people be portraying their own disabilities on film? Will the viewing audience go and watch these films if they do not feature a big movie star? Are we ready for the reality of disability or are we as a culture still at the level where we need to pretend?

Was Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man as good as it ever gets? Or Leonardo Di Caprio’s character of Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot was gut wrenching, even though we knew he was an actor pretending. There are more performers with physical disabilities being seen on our stages. Comics on the stand-up stage have been leading the way for many years. You could argue that many performers with mental disabilities have been with us since the beginning of time. It takes a special kind of mentality to stand up in front of a live audience night after night in the hope that people will laugh at you. Because they are often not laughing with you!

Disabilities in Film, Theatre & The Arts

Word is out that a movie is to be made about Melbourne Cup winner Michelle Payne with her Down Syndrome brother Stevie set to play himself in the movie. Would this be the ultimately satisfying disabled moment in celluloid? What about Down Syndrome actors, singers, musicians and dancers? Will we be seeing more of them, or was it just a fad?

For the most part, our popular culture is full of the ‘so-called’ beautiful people; types of individuals that we lesser mortals would like to emulate. Blonde headed babes and well-built handsome blokes are still more common up on the theatre stage and in the movies. We have a poor track record in how we have treated our brothers and sisters with disabilities in the past. Locking them away in institutions and begrudging them proper care. Not wishing to pay for their carers and not accepting them into our workplaces and recreational spaces. Things have just started to change on this score in this country, but let’s not kid ourselves about how far we have come as a society. How do we feel about disabled people having sex? Do we want to see more open expressions of their sexuality on the screen and in real life? These questions still make some sectors of our community feel uncomfortable.  The more we see all aspects of disability on the big screen and on the streets; the more we will expand our conception of humanity to include all colours, shapes and forms. I love that midget actor in Game of Thrones; not because he is a dwarf, but because he is a bloody good actor. The fact that he is stretching our envelope, when it comes to viewing pleasures, is just another part of the package.