25 Oct 2012

A legacy to stand on? ‘Dis-abling’ attitudes

Have attitudes changed towards disability as a result of the Paralympic Games? Presenter and wheelchair basketball player Jordan Jarrett-Bryan takes a look, in the latest in our week-long special.

A legacy to stand on? Dis-abling attitudes (Getty)

What people think about disabled people and what people think about disability are two different things. The word by definition and almost default is a negative because of the inclusion of the “dis”. Nothing positive starts with “dis”. Disrespect, dishonour, disgusting and disaster.

Like any description, tag, label or name, there will be people that are comfortable with it and others who aren’t. But disabled people must not fight the word disabled, just as much as they shouldn’t embrace it – merely accept it.

That doesn’t mean accepting the negative connotations that have existed for many years. The Paralympics have shown the wider public that a person with no arms and one leg can swim faster than a person with all four limbs.

Channel 4 Paralympic Reporter, Sophie Morgan, who is in a wheelchair, reckons there has been a slight improvement in the job market for disabled people since the Games.

Not every disabled person is a ‘superhuman’, but no disabled person is sub-human either. Most are just human.

“Employers now – because of the Paralympics – have seen not only the physical strength disabled people posses, but the mental and emotional strength too,” she says.

A product Sophie has been working on for years has finally been approved by a high street retailer – something she feels wouldn’t have happened six months ago.

“There’s definitely a bit of disability being ‘cool’ and how long this momentum lasts, I don’t know – but we definitely have to use it to our advantage,” she says.

Not all superhumans

Which brings me onto the Paralympics. What did the Games do to change perceptions? Not every disabled person is a “superhuman”, but no disabled person is sub-human either. Most are just human.

Channel 4 did a great job in showing the amazing sporting ability our Paralympians are capable of. But has it made us think that if you are disabled, and not running the times Jonnie Peacock is, or swimming the lengths Ellie Simmonds did, you are somehow a failure?

A legacy to stand on? Read more in the Channel 4 News special report

Sophie reckons it is too soon to gauge any change in mentality towards disability, but is frustrated that most people assume that if you’re disabled, being a sportsman or woman represents the height of achievement.

“I’m asked at least three times a week if I’m an athlete or people wanting to have in depths conversations about sport, assuming I’m a huge a fan – which I’m not,” she adds.

Too soon?

I also feel it is way too early to detect any kind of change in attitudes and think it is a question to be asked in September 2013, a year on from the Paralympics.

Channel 4‘s mission with the coverage of the 2012 Games was to normalise disability in society and I’m confident this will happen.

But let’s not be naïve enough to think that there will one day be a time when people don’t stare at a man with cerebral palsy, or a female amputee – no more than we all stare at someone we deem really unattractive. It’s just life. But you wouldn’t not give a job to a man because he’s slightly unattractive or overweight, would you?

The famous line that came out of the Games, coined by Oscar Pistorius, was: “Judge us by the things we can do, not the things we can’t.”

That’s all disabled people want.