"... 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.