Paralympic triumph?

Jessica Secmezsoy-Urquhart

Unlike the Olympics most of the population are oblivious to the origins of the Paralympics. The games started in Britain at our last games in 1948. It was created by Ludwig Guttmann after he saw the benefits of exercise for disabled veterans in the army hospital he worked in. There are different categories reflecting different forms of disability and twenty sports. Some of these sports might be new to most of us such as Boccia (a ball game similar to Bowls) while others such as swimming are more familar. Some sports such as wheelchair rugby are notorious for their injuries and quickly make viewers realize the real effort and sportsmanship required of the atheletes.

The moment I saw the main Paralympics commercial on Channel 4 sitting with my family the room grew quiet. In a home with an assorted range of conditions and disabilities it was startling.

I was born with Aspergers and in the last few years I seem to have developed an unknown chronic condition and have had to deal with something which will alter how I live my life. I saw the advert during a bad day and therefore it affected me more than it would have otherwise. The athlete featured in the ad stares down the audience to Public Enemy’s harder than it looks. The careful choice of song heightens the commercial as lines like “Keep coming back to live love life like I’m crazy” or “Don’t look at me strange” are sang.

Every competitor is a true athlete. Not an oddity to be pitied. They have harnessed the challenges in their life and used it as fuel in their various fields. As a young person with my own conditions the trailer is inspiring.

This word might be over used in the next fortnight however to people like myself I think it will used correctly. At the centre of the main advert we see a few of athlete’s stories. Soon to be parents crying as the doctor tell them something about their child. A soldier handicapped by war. A car accident.

These stories connect to the use of the phrase Superhuman in the advert by portraying the origins of competitors’ disabilities almost in the style of a superhero origin story. This revolutionises the idea of being or becoming ‘disabled’ or ‘handicapped’ in a positive way. Channel 4 will be increasing the coverage of the games by 400% on previous years and through there media representation of it they seem to have harnessed the talents that made their station great.

However these Paralympics will matter for another reason. For many of the disabled community this is a time of uncertainty. The Indepedent Living Fund was passed  by a Tory government at the end of the 80s and alongside care in the community helped change life for disabled individuals in our country. The Disability Discrimination Act and the Equality Act both built on these foundations, but since the Coalition came into power things seem to have been going backwards.

The welfare cuts are going to make an independent or stable life impossible for many disabled people and have been opposed by activists since the beginning. The government keep mistaking disability living allowance for work incapacity benefit with, Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg even stating that we need to get people off Disability Living Allowance and back to work.

This allowance helps many disabled people simply live life to the same standard as the general public and without it many of the participants saying they wouldn’t have been able to take part. Claims of fraud are even over-exaggerated with a level of 1%. However, media representation of disability has led many individuals to put levels of DLA fraud at approximately 70% when asked. A study from our own university saw this portrayed the effect of these negative depictions when they found that phrases like “cheat” and “scrounger” were being used in connection to disability increasingly in media. Therefore when we cheer on the UK team in the coming days we mustn’t let these facts escape us.

Consequently these games will be both truly motivating on one level. On another though it will be a sign that we need to produce a world in which the next generation of disabled children feel they can reach beyond what they’ve been told they are capable of. As the place the Paralympic flame was first we must keep it blaze alive.