The British Paralympics – Destination Unknown
August 30th, 2012
Gregor Wolbring is the purest, cheekiest and most prolific commentator I know on issues affecting people with disabilities. Perhaps it’s his European origins blended with his Albertan sensibilities as Associate Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary. He does not appear to be constrained by the usual nuances of language or moral righteousness exhibited by many advocates. He calls the issues as he experiences them himself and is smart enough to understand the implications and dangerous side effects of society’s mad dance with medical, scientific, nano-technological and genetic advances. He is far too worried for cheap shots.
Gregor has landed a new gig, writing for The Conversation (Academic Rigour, Journalistic Flair) on the Paralympic Games. His first post Expectations for the Paralympics provides a sobering contrast between expectations for the Games by the mainstream British public and those of folks with disabiities and their families. Here are some excerpts:
- Since the Emergency Budget two years ago, disabled people and
their carers have seen a drop in income of £500 million. This is one of
the disturbing findings of Destination Unknown
a report by the think tank Demos outlining the impact not just on
people with disabilities but equally their families. Households in the
study are becoming more socially isolated, and
reducing the amount of activities they engage in – from essentials such
as work and medical appointments to perceived ‘luxuries’ such as
volunteering and training. This is at odds with the Government’s vision
of stronger and active communities.
- 50% of the British public see the Games to empower disabled people but only 23% of disabled people think like that.
- 4% of the British public think the games make disabled people feel like
second class people versus 20% of disabled people who voice that
- A SCOPE news release states further that, “Between April and September this
year (2011) the number of disabled people claiming they experienced aggression,
hostility or name calling saw a dramatic hike from 41% to 66%.”
And Gregor being Gregor offers a bonus commentary, Leg-ism leaves Some Paralympic Stars Out on a Limb. Here are a few excerpts:
Artificial legs are often hailed as “liberation tools,” giving their
wearers the “essential” ability to walk. At the same time, other
therapeutic assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, are demonised
through the use of phrases such as “wheelchair-bound” or “confined to
In 2003 I wrote a book chapter called “Confined to your legs” to question
the leg-ism evident in the discourse around artificial limbs and in
society in general. And the bias against wheelchairs has been questioned by people with disabilities for a long time.
…the media is fast to use terms such as “inspiring” with Paralympians.
But how can they inspire if the reporting of disabled people often
continues to be disabling in so many instances.
Instead of using labels such as “wheelchair-bound” the media should
aspire to inspire people to accept and support ability differences.
Gregor’s is committed to shifting the eye of the beholder from deviancy to dignity. In an age when more and more of us are caught in the needs maker’s grasp his value is priceless.