Saturday, September 01, 2012

A Day Late A Dollar Short

"... the ability not the disability ..."

Years ago, for some reason I don't remember, there was a television special broadcast from the United States that had something to do with diversity. How's that for vague. At one point they had several comics together on stage doing material related to their own difference and how they experienced it in America. Again, I don't remember the comics, I do remember that there were women comics, comics of colour, and gay comics. They were funny. They made their point.

Some fifteen or twenty minutes later Geri Jewell, a comic with cerebral palsy, stepped on the stage. She began by saying something like, "Remember the other comics that were here a while ago, well we started out at the same time, I just got here now." I remembered being really taken aback by her "out and proud" approach to disability. I think in some way watching Ms Jewell over the next few minutes changed something deep inside me. The impact was so great that though I don't remember much about the show, I don't remember who any of the other comics were, I do remember Ms Jewell, and I do remember the power of a sense of humour that rose out of a deep sense of self.

Al this to say that we came upon, by accident because we'd seen no promotion for it, the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies for the 2012 games last night. True, the opening ceremonies were on Wednesday and this was Friday, but ... "they just got here now." We came to it late so we missed the thrill of seeing Canada enter the stadium but we enjoyed watching the parade of athletes from all the countries after "D". What was interesting, and highly distracting, was listening to the commentary that went with it. I don't know who the fellow was who was helping us understand what we were seeing - as commentators always seem to think they are doing - but it was clear that he didn't understand what he was seeing. More, he stumbled a bit trying to talk about disability while seeming really uncomfortable fitting the word into his mouth. Not that I blame him for it, "disability" still is a way of being "that dare not speak its name."

I did hear a lot of "... the ability not the disability ..." kind of talk. Everyone seems to feel very self congratulatory when they say this. They focus on " the ability not the disability." They celebrate "the ability not the disability." They acknowledge "the ability not the disability." It's like "Rah, us, we can look past the disability and see the ability."


Why can't both co-exist?


As a disabled person I am very aware how the world celebrates "ability not disability" ... um ... look at the fact that I'm watching a taped version of the opening ceremony of the Paralympic games days later than when it happened. Look at the fact that Canada won a gold medal straight off and I've never heard it mentioned in the media, amongst friends, or in chats at work. Yes, I'm familiar with the "ability not disability" way of life. The "we value this not that" way of thinking.

Well, from me here at Rolling Around in My Head to Paralympians worldwide. I celebrate your ability AND your disability at the same time. They coexist. You demonstrate that. Thank you.


helencs said...

We're getting good coverage here in the UK (although coverage is on a commercial channel so interupted by ads unlike the main olympics). was shocked to hear that NBC are going to be showing a total of 5 hours coverage when here we have 3 channels showing it throughout the day. Feel really sorry for the successful athletes from the USA who aren't being celebrated at home. Our gold medalists will get a gold post box & a stamp, just like the athletes from the main olympics. From the chat online & on the bus/in the street, people are really getting behind the athletes. Personally I'm pleased that athletes with ID are back in the paralympics after many years absence, even if only in a few sports whilst the sort the testing criteria out.

Penelope said...

Since there's even less coverage in the US, I've been watching the Paralympics streaming on which, for the events where there is commentary, seems to mostly be using retired Paralympic athletes or people who understand how to commentate on sport without having to stumble on the impairment/disability side of things. I think they're archiving everything (I know they were archiving the opening ceremony), if you're at all interested. Their video should be available worldwide.

I suspect it doesn't help the commentary that the head of the IPC (a former wheelchair racer, himself) made a comment about how he doesn't think the word "disabled" should be used in the commentary for the Paralympics. He says his point is that it's sport not "disabled sport", but it comes across as if he isn't comfortable with the term being used at all for description of anything.

There is also the problematic sponsorship from Atos, but I doubt that impacts the commentary at all.

Happy said...

I had the same reaction when they said "the ability not the disability". It made me feel sick. And even worse was the comment about how the word "disabled" shouldn't be used.

We are disabled. Some of us, like the athletes, can do sport. Some of us, like Stephen Hawking, can do amazing science. Some of us, like the opening ceremony performers, can entertain millions. But most of us? Most of us just live our lives from day to day - just as the non-disabled population does.

I will watch as much of the Paralympics as I can, and support the disabled community with my admiration and cheers, but I will not pretend that we aren't disabled or be ashamed of it. We exist. We should celebrate it.

Tamara said...

Having a child with Down syndrome, I've heard the phrase a lot. I do understand what you're saying, but for me, I also feel that it's a useful phrase when navigating the world of education for students with intellectual disabilities - at least here in the US. Some school administrators and teachers want to only discuss what a child with an ID cannot do. They can't or refuse to see what the child can do. So, we push and push to look at the ability.

That really doesn't get anyone to set aside the disability, it only allows for a more balanced approach to the child's education and goes beyond education to living an adult life with more options.

But from some things I've read that mostly parents have written, I think it is very often taken way too far and to the point of ignoring the disability, trying to act like disability doesn't exist or doesn't matter. It's easier to see when a person uses a wheelchair. Without the wheelchair, living is very limited. I think it's harder to see with ID. If you expect a student (or any person) with an ID to do everything a more neuro-typical student does, then you're just setting them up for failure. But, without pushing the ability side of things, you're reducing their opportunities.

Everything is better with balance. I push for less limits on my son's education, but I also push for teaching methods, etc., that allow him to succeed. So, I'll still push people to see the abilities, but it's not in my child's best interest to ignore disability.

And refusing to use the word - trying to change the term to "differently-abled" or some other cute term - that reeks of denial.

Mary said...

I'm enjoying the UK coverage. Channel 4, the Paralympic broadcaster, are making a pretty good effort.

Did you get to see the final section of the opening ceremony, after all the athletes had got into the stadium? It's well worth watching if you can scare it up on YouTube (I don't know if Channel 4's YouTube channel will be available in Canada, but there must be a way).

The only moment that made me sick was when our (expletive) (expletive) excuse for a Prime Minister got his (expletive) shiny and oh-so-punchable face on the pre-Opening-Ceremony show and (ab)used the opportunity to keep repeating a line about "seeing what people CAN do, instead of what they CAN'T do." This is the exact phrase which is being used every time his ministers need to justify the decimation of disability support (welfare, practical support, projects to improve physical access, community services, etc) in the UK and honestly I wanted to set fire to the opportunistic, self-serving, odious little SLIMEBAG.

As if the fact that, with appropriate equipment, assistance and/or support, an athletic disabled person can whizz around a track, has any bearing on whether they and other disabled people need equipment/assistance/support to wash, dress, eat, keep their home clean, use shops and services, hold down jobs, and properly manage their conditions.

Myrr said...

Did anyone hear about the protest the GB team held (totally denied of course) where they wore their ATOS lanyards inside their clothing - because of the wind lol. Well done folks!

I am enjoying the paralympics, I love the paracycling but have winced a few times when one commentator referred to people "suffering" from CP. The language is difficult and it is interesting that Chanel 4 is running a programme called "The last leg" where "difficult" questions can be asked.

I've also been challenged as well, did anyone else see David Toole dancing at the ceremony. I'm not really into dancing of any sort but he is so graceful and sensual.

Now if only the general attitude to people with disabilities will change as a result

Nan said...

A great example of the ability AND the disability is the artist/scubadiver/wheelchair user who (I think?) was part of the opening ceremonies. Both (ability/disability) are integral to this piece! You gotta see this!

Anonymous said...

Once again I cringe when I hear Dave speak of celebrating disability. Really? What is there to celebrate. Acknowledge it exists, accept it, have respect...but celebrate? BS! I'm not celebrating my disabilities. No way. I didn't do anything to earn them, I don't encourage them, they don't cure cancer or help world peace. They are what they are. Most of the time they make me angry, some times sad, most times frustrated. Celebrated??? No way.

I rather have the focus on what I can do than what I can't. I'll save my celebrations for things that bring life and joy.

Glee said...

Hear hear Dave. And in Australia we have around 8 hours of Paralympic coverage on free to air tv ABC every day with no shit commentators. I hear thaat the USA has NO free to air coverage. Bastards.

Tamara said...

Just heard a story on CNN this morning about a boy born with one hand who wants to be a baseball player. They talked about all the things he could do and how they never tell him he can't do something he wants to do. Do they really think the rest of us with kids with disabilities tell our kids what they can't do?

As for the US not covering the Paralympics, I do wish they did; however, we have a hurricane and two major political conventions going on right now. I doubt that they would have been covered by the major networks even if they were so inclined.

I did hear an NPR interview that some of the Paralympic athletes are getting some good endorsement contracts after the games. I thought that was a tidbit of good news.

signed "one of Glee's Bastards" :-)

Myrr said...

Anon your post made me think a bit. Most of the time my impairment is a struggle with pain and mobility however...

I mentioned that Channel 4 was doing a programme after the main events called the Last Leg, last night I was unashamably crying because Adam Hill was showing pictures of kids who were telling their parents they wanted to be disabled, even to the extent of making cardboard prosethis for themselves after Richard Whitehead's win. Is it about celebrating disability or about recognising that people can achieve something regardless of who or what they are. I have spent hours and hours working with young disabled people with no self confidence now I just want to sit them in front of a TV and see some of the people winning medals or dancing so beautifully.

I know I will never cycle for TeamGB but people watch me as I cycle by on my powatryke.

Karen said...

I'd be curious to know how disability loathing Anon feels about gay pride. Should gay people, especially those who suffer prejudice and homophobic violence feel sad and wish it away?

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for this. I tried to say something that I think was sort of similar before to one of the disability workers at my college, but I don't know if I got my point across.

May I send that person a link to this blog post?


Amanda said...

So human diversity shouldn't be celebrated just because some diversity is unearned and some of it has an unpleasant side? And it's BS that other people should celebrate it just because you wouldn't? Not a world I want to live in.

Anonymous said...

"able-bodied" gets me more riled up. I had to laugh and choke down a gag everytime they spoke of Oscar Pistorius racing "able-bodied" athletes in the Olympics. I know it is the parlance of our times but seriously? It's a ridiculous thing to say. His body is clearly able, too.