Paralympians inspire many of us – disabled and non-disabled people. I used to call them superhumans, but they are incredible athletes. Let me explain why I have changed my point of view. I used to live with my uncle Michał, who was a person with disabilities. Unfortunately, he spent all his life in bed. I grew up with him and was taking care of him every day. When I was a kid, I did not notice that he was somehow different. He was my beloved uncle.
In 2004 we were watching Paralympics in Athens together. It was the first time when Paralympics were shown on TV in Poland. We were amazed to see what people were able to do. Michał was pretending that he was okay, but I can tell you that I could see some tears rolling down on his cheeks. He realized that other people with disabilities took the most of their opportunities to fight for their lives, for their future. He was also curious and shocked. I guess he was not aware of the possibilities that people had, even though life did not give them much. He called them superhumans.
My uncle was 50 years old back then, he grew up in an environment where people were staring at him on the street, so he preferred to stay at home – to hide from everyone. He did not have any possibilities and knowledge about other people with disabilities. If the media did not talk about them, he did not know that others did not give up. Indeed, they fought for rights, respect and wellbeing.
In 2016 I smiled to myself when I was watching the trailer for Rio 2016 called We are The Superhumans. I was thinking about all athletes with impairments, what they thought about themselves. After many years I realized Paralympians were not superhumans.
They do not want to be superhumans, they just want to have rights and feel good
They did not get any superpower from anyone. Many of them are bullied for their disabilities. Instead of being depressed, they are chasing their dreams. They have enough courage and discipline to face difficulties in their lives. They have found skills that they did not know about before. A disability does not stop them from having dreams, there are other abilities that can shine in the same person. They do not let their struggles to win, having to face many tough situations daily, still they are able to fight, every day. They do not feel sorry for themselves, they have found and created their abilities as anything is impossible. Disabled people have believed in themselves, knowing that they are enough.
It is sad to say that for many people Paralympics is just a sideshow. We do not give it much attention, we talk about famous people with impairments only once per 4 years. What about people with disabilities that are not Paralympians? What do they get from us, our countries, societies, media? Are they able to proceed with their lives? Are they happy?
What about their wellbeing? Are they able to find a proper job? How do they find themselves on the street? Are they bullied? Recently, many individuals with different ranges of disability have received special attention from their societies, mainly the efforts and contributions have been made by the public, social media, private sector. Is it enough?
The disability is an old fashion social construct which creates many barriers in the societies minds. Currently, governments provide specialized services, trained teachers and social workers for people with disabilities. We could say that they receive special privileges, but the level of them is still under a debate.
At present, governments should focus on creating and increasing awareness among the society that people with impairments are members of society and they have their own rights, ability, capability, affordability and skills. People cannot look down at them as useless, which still happens. Also, various facilities and services need to be made available by governments and NGOs. To make it happen, the government’s policies and funds have to be provided. There are many government schemes encouraging employers to employ people with disabilities. Some of those strategies are just useless, while many environments are still inaccessible for their services.
The barriers to our participation, our wellbeing and our existence can be removed and at least improved by financial input into infrastructure, social care and a fully compliant civil rights law. Let us be ordinary, let us be every day and let us at least have rights. Rights to independent living.
Penny Pepper, a writer and disability rights activist from London.
Let’s think about basic things like… going to the toilet. Everyone needs to go when nature calls. Have you ever thought how difficult it is for people with disabilities? An accessible toilet is a fundamental human right. Everyone should have privacy to fulfil this most basic biological need freely and with dignity. Unfortunately, people with disabilities are often denied this in the trains, planes, bars, restaurants, malls. There is a serious point here. I wish to have a toilet available for every disabled person wherever they are when nature calls.
To sum up, as a society, we need to make an effort to redefine what a disability means and improve the lives of people who count on us. I wanted to simply point out the lack of interest in the disgraceful treatment of people whose lives depend on benefits and assistance. We also should celebrate little achievements. I strongly encourage you to watch the link below, which promotes Paralympics in Rio 2016. Maybe I do not like the title, but I love the video. Let’s get inspired.