Paralympian v 'normal' disabled person - have attitudes really changed.....? — Scope | Disability forum
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Paralympian v 'normal' disabled person - have attitudes really changed.....?

With the announcement that the gold medal winning amputee athlete Johnny Peacock was to be the first disabled celebrity to enter Strictly Come Dancing, the Paralympics held last year in Rio de Janeiro, the World Para Athletics Championships held in London earlier this year and last week, we would be forgiven for thinking that attitudes towards people with disabilities would be changing but according to a leading disabilities charity, we've still got a long way to go.

A recent survey by the charity Scope found 38% of disabled people felt attitudes had not improved towards them since 2012. Some 28% of the people surveyed said the Paralympics had not delivered a "positive legacy for disabled people", while three-quarters (75%) had not seen improvements in the way members of the public talk to them. (HuffPost 25/08/17)

So why am I as a wheelchair user, completely not surprised by their findings? 

Is it because, in my experience, that the world now seems to have split the 'disabled community' into two completely different camps? 

In Camp 1, the amazing, dedicated, hardworking athletes who do their country proud, train hard and overcome their disability to achieve greatness. These people are exalted (quite rightly!), praised, called, "extraordinary", "amazing" and "inspirational".

In Camp 2 sits the rest of us, the 'normal' disabled people who just get on with things on a day to day basis but do not achieve greatness, cannot train hard due to pain, fatigue or anxiety and sometimes struggle to get through the day. We are not praised or exalted, we are the "scroungers", the "lazy", the "feckless" and the "workshy".

The word 'overcome' intrigues me; it is not simply a matter of 'overcoming' your disability if your chronic pain is there 24 hours a day and just managing to get out of bed and dress is the best you can do on most days of the week. You cannot 'overcome' your anxiety just by well meaning people telling you to breathe slowly into a brown paper bag. To 'overcome' by dictionary definition does mean to "get the better of", to "aim mastery over" and to "defeat" - all of which suggest that there is some choice here. You can choose to overcome your disability or you can choose not to and be labelled as lazy. 

But it also means to be "overwhelmed", to be "struck" and to be "affected"; all of which convey a meaning  that there is no choice. We are not lazy if we are too "affected" by our condition to work or do anything other than get through our day. In fact, that is our own small achievement, we have done the outmost that we can possibly do and we have succeeded. 

But in my experience watching the world around me and the way in which people with disabilities are portrayed by the media, we are definitely still placed into one of the two camps. Paralympic athletes pose nude in the Sunday Supplements and we jealousy view and long for their honed bodies. Unfortunately, those same publications see no issue with then interviewing someone with a chronic mental illness who invariably doesn't look the same. If as disabled people, we are overweight due to the weight gain caused by our medication (I put on 2 stone after taking one of mine) or by our inability to move as much as we'd like, then we are looked down upon. A friend of mine with mobility issues dreads using her mobility scooter as she thinks that people think she is one of those lazy people who are too fat to walk. 

As a wheelchair user due to chronic pain, I find the self same discrimination within my own social circle. They sometimes make comments about the appearance of a disabled person in the news and make assumptions about them based on their appearance. When I jump in to challenge them, they respond with "but you're different, you always look clean and presentable" but they completely forget the hours it takes to look 'acceptable' and the amount of hours I spend looking completely different when the pain overwhelms me and it's too difficult to do anything. 

If we cannot work due to our health issues, we are labelled as workshy and feckless; the attitudes of people who deal with our benefit issues are sometimes dismissive and disbelieving. People still believe that to get these benefits, all you have to do is turn up, feign a 'bad back', go back home and collect your 'winnings'. Not at all! Many of the questions they ask in our regular assessments are degrading and insensitive but when we answer honestly, there is always that split second when we get 'the look' from the assessor - we can almost feel them thinking "really?". It's embarrassing enough to have to admit that some days you can't even move enough to wipe your own a*#e but to then have to have someone raise an enquiring eyebrow before moving on to the next embarrassing question is horrific. 

So do I think that attitudes towards disabled people have changed since the increased exposure of disability issues in our world's media?  

In some respects I think, yes they have. We now have better access, ramps and widened doorways, Braille and hearing loops in theatres and many other adaptions for us to live an equal life and these adaptations have become widely accepted as essential in our more disability aware world. But do I think that the long held, ingrained attitudes towards us have changed alongside these adaptations? No, I'm sorry to say I don't think so; we still are seen as 'different' somehow and along with different goes all those words I used earlier. Increased exposure to 'normal' disabled people is essential if we are to change things further, people like me and my peers can show that we have every bit as much to contribute as everyone else; that we are all 'super' in our own way.


  • thespiceman
    thespiceman Member Posts: 6,389 Disability Gamechanger
    Hello I enjoyed reading your comments and I would like to agree with what you say.  You raise many interesting points.  I have met in my lifetime many people who see us as a burden to society.  Especially in the work place.  I recall a company a lady had set up to employ disabled people and people in our community who also have a range of disabilities and other related conditions.  Started to get issues with employers who did not wish to have disabled in the work place and felt yet it was their sense of duty as a good employer they had no interest in trying to come to terms what disabled means.  This is what happened to me start on the first day the never ending questions and probing.  I mean I was a kid just left school first office job well that did not last long.  It has taken me and my disability plus other health conditions most of my life till now that eventually I am too disabled and ill to work.  All the time wasting away trying to improve myself in the end nothing has became of it.  I am proud I have achieved what I have done but my one issue is potential employers see the disability not you.  Here I am this month celebrating my birthday yet I feel my life is still not fulfilled because others see me different and cast aspersions where ever I go.  I get annoyed with the media who call para athletes super humans.  Which irks me so much I stopped watching any para sport.  I get frustrated at this body image issue we have in the society.  So he or she looks different so what.  All of us have an unique or particular contribution to society.  Every one has a skill or talent can bring something to make their life rewarding.  I wish I could wave a magic wand and make all the pain and misery go away. 
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  • Nystagmite
    Nystagmite Member Posts: 603 Pioneering
    I don't think attitudes have changed for the better. As I said in another thread recently, there's a lot of "well, he's able to do that, so why can't you?" But strangely, (or not) no-one applies the same to non-disabled people - I mean, Usain Bolt runs 100 metres in under 10 seconds, why can't someone with fully functioning legs?

    On a much more positive note: (and please don't tell ATOS / DWP)
    I do something called parkrun for which I require a guide. I had a rather lengthy discussion with my local one about this. They were fine about it. I just need to ask and it's done. I was talking to someone about this one Saturday. He said how amazing it was for someone like me (that is, someone with poor vision) to be taking part in something like this.
  • [Deleted User]
    [Deleted User] Posts: 740 Listener
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