Thursday, 4 August 2016

Olympics, Paralympics, Superhumans, and me.

I loved the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics and can't wait for Rio.

The athletes' skill, dedication, courage, determination, and single minded years of hard work all resulting in superhuman feats of strength, speed and/or skill. And I look forward to trying to capture some of those moments in 'stickman'.

But while I have been looking forward to The Games, I have also heard people with disabilities react very negatively to the 'Superhumans' advert for the Paralympics.

Yesterday I saw the advert for the first time.


For 95% of the ad, I loved it. One minute these people with disabilities were doing normal things (working at a computer, brushing their teeth - And by the way, keeping your teeth clean is a life-skill. There is nothing superhuman about it whatsoever, whether you use the standard technique, adapted technique, or have someone help you.). The next minute they were doing something extraordinary. Racing, climbing, competing at the limit of human capability, having dedicated huge amounts of time and effort into building that super-human skill.

Like superman. One minute he's Clark Kent doing the mundane, everyday stuff. The next he's doing something extraordinary in his superman suit and saving the world (his lycra suit makes the parallel with sport even closer :D)

I loved that concept.

I loved it because it took difference and made it normal.

I loved it because when my normal is accepted as my normal, then my achievements can genuinely be appreciated.

I loved it because it gave people with disabilities the chance to be both ordinary - and extraordinary.

Then we approached the end of the ad...

And I realised that the concept I 'saw' in the first part of the ad wasn't the message of the advert as a whole.

Lots of the people shown were only doing normal stuff - the girl on the trampoline, the kid having a drink, the boy kicking a football. All every-day stuff. Many of the people shown had cool adaptations and ingenious ways around problems, but that's not superhuman. Why? Because the capacity to adapt to the situations we are in is totally human. A child with disabilities playing in a way that works for them should never be seen as superhuman - it should be seen the same as a non-disabled child playing in a way that works for them: normal, healthy and human.

And being human isn't superhuman.

Elite athletes (whether disabled or not) are another matter entirely. They do normal stuff - but in their chosen field they are truly exceptional. Being the fastest person on the planet without an engine in pretty much any context is definitely something I'd class as superhuman!

Perhaps this message of 'all people with disabilities are superhuman' was unintentional. Without that aspect, I would have loved the ad, found it positive and empowering. But as it is it leaves a unpleasant taste.

I get that depicting someone with a disability as superhuman for getting on with their life is better than seeing disability as sub-human.

And yes, the 'yes I can' attitude of 'I want to do this, I just need to find the way that works for me' is praiseworthy. But not superhuman.

By seeing the 'different normal' and all the ingenious solutions that allow us people with disabilities to function in a world designed for non-disabled people as 'superhuman', hard won achievements are reduced to the same level as routine tasks that come easily.

And with the 'superhuman' label comes the problem that I am not allowed to just be human.

And that makes me sad.

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