Jackie Ashley, writing in The Guardian, 13/8/12 tells part of the story of what the Paralympics means today. On the one hand it means a far greater acceptance that people with disabilities, both physical and learning disabilities, are just people with the very same complex natures and the very same aspirations as the non-disabled . They are people first and foremost, who just happen through birth or accident, to have a specific disability to contend with. Those that excel at sport are exactly like those Olympians we witnessed over the past few weeks outstanding athletes who push themselves to the extremities of human possibilities and sometimes beyond. In fact, I wish it were logistically possible to integrate the Paralympics totally into the main Olympic programme, not necessarily in the same events, but in the same overall programme. One day that may indeed be possible and that will complete a journey for the world at large. The journey I speak of is not specifically related to disability. No, the journey I refer to is the celebration of human diversity.

Without specifically mentioning it, but inherent within the spirit of the thing, the Paralympics is a global festival of diversity. It says to those with a different sexual orientation to the majority, that you are equal but different in just one respect. And we celebrate that difference. It says to those with severe learning difficulties, that you are equal but different in this one respect and we celebrate that difference. It says to those that hold views that differ from the majority, we respect your right to dissent from the majority. Of course, globally we are a million miles from that enlightened perspective. And in Britain too, we still have a long way to travel. Ashley informs us;

Official government figures show that the number of disability hate crimes reported to the police in England and Wales has reached a record high there were some 1,942 last year. That figure has doubles since 2008 and, given the likelihood of the most vulnerable and scared people reporting such crimes, is only a tiny tip of a big iceberg. Other surveys suggest that a fifth of Britain's 10 million disables people have suffered abuse or harassment in public.

They are truly sobering statistics as we count off the days to the Paralympics.

My own experience in coaching young people with varying disabilities proved quite instructive to my own evolving perspective. Anyone can claim to be free of prejudice and narrow-mindedness, it is a pleasant thing to claim. But it is only when you are confronted with concrete situations and a definite and personal challenge, that your much heralded enlightenment is put to the test. All went swimmingly well whilst I was the teacher and they the humble and grateful students. As time progressed each student developed in their own way and at their own pace. One or two showed a distinct aptitude and enthusiasm and so inevitably more time, resources and effort headed their way. No different to any group of students in any sporting scenario. A relaxed report developed and then, due to changed circumstances, we had to part company.

Some two years later, and totally out of the blue, one of my former students turned up at one of my training sessions. After the usual pleasantries and catching-up we decided play a few games of ping. What a shock I was in for. No longer was I the teacher and he the grateful student. Now, resplendent in his new sports-friendly wheelchair, he proceeded to give as good as he got. With he in his wheelchair and me seeking to extract every bit of advantage from my standing position, each game was a fifty-fifty proposition. Every time I lost a game it hurt. Very quickly his wheelchair evaporated from the equation. It was a battle on equal terms his skill pitted against mine. He won a few and I won a few but the significant thing was that we competed as equals. 


It was both a wonderful moment and an unsettling moment. Wonderful that an ex-student of mine had reached a level of proficiency that he could mix it with his former coach. Wonderful, that he was highly ranked at an England level, and that he has a realistic prospect of making the Paralympic Team GB at Rio in 2016. But unsettling, because I had pigeon-holed this young athlete as a disabled athlete rather than an athlete with a disability. It may seem a small matter of semantics but when you think of it clearly, by seeing the wheel chair rather than the athlete I was, in my own way, limiting this person's possibilities. It is a limiting process that no doubt takes place a thousand times a day to every person with a disability, by their teachers, by their sports coaches and by society at large.

Of course, this limiting process, this erecting of needless barriers, is exactly what takes place for every person of colour by the dominant and arrogant Anglo-Saxon world. Yes, hasn't he done well (for a black man)What a great achievement (for an Arabic woman)Who would of thought he would become Prime Minister (given his Indian background). It's always the bit in brackets, the unspoken bit that stands in the way of each individual fully realising their potential. The open taunts and abuse are bad enough but the unspoken barriers are probably the hardest to surmount. That, and the economic injustices that the marginalised must forever contend with. Women at work no doubt experience it every day of their lives the glass ceiling. 

So there it is. Limited by class, limited by gender, limited by ethnicity, limited by sexual orientation and limited by disability. The Paralympics will silently speak out against this backward, limiting mentality, but it will not be enough. Humanity can only begin to fulfil its potential by ridding itself consciously and decisively not only of its debilitating class structures, but of its age old cultural prejudices, and in its place adopting a duel culture of diversity and inclusivity. That is an essential part of the dialectics of our human condition. That is what it means to be fully human.


End JPK Copyright 14/8/12

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 26 May 2018 07:56 )