For the last few weeks I’ve watched on the sidelines and listened to the reporting on the Olympics and the Paralympics. Those of you who know me, or have been reading my blog, should know that I am not one for jolly hockey sticks and am very allergic to Land Of Hope and Glory jingoism. However, I have watched some of the Paralympics and made a special effort to tune in for the tennis and wheelchair rugby AKA murderball. I like wheelchair rugby as it is aggressive, physical and testosterone charged. It challenges the stereotypes of people with physical disabilities as being passive and “wheelchair bound”. These men and women are in control of their lives and their wheelchairs and it is wonderful to watch. If you get a chance I recommend you watch Murderball, a documentary about wheelchair rugby.
There has been a shift in attitudes to people with disabilities thanks to the Paralympics. Many people, including some of my friends and David Cameron, have used the word “superhuman” to describe some of the best Paralympians. They are the elite. The dedicated, the passionate and an example to us all about the strength of the human spirit. Thanks to their efforts people now understand more about physical disabilities and the barriers people face in their everyday lives.This is not enough though.
There are many people for whom just getting through the day is extraordinary. They include my friend’s son, a young man of amazing intellect but with very complex health needs. Another friend lives with depression and for her the decision to stay alive another day is a choice she has to make every day. There are people with hidden conditions, such as autism and mental health conditions, who might not be able to join a group but face daily struggles you or I could never imagine. They are the Superhumans too.
I worry when Cameron uses the term Superhuman, especially about his understanding of what it means? Are these people to be put on a pedestal and used as examples of the finest that others should attempt to imitate? We know in Cameron’s Britain, people with disabilities are being subjected to ATOS assessments to determine whether they need support. Cameron pledged to support the most vulnerable, but we all know of many people who have been deemed fit to work despite living with long term conditions and impairments which severally affect their daily lives.
We all know so many super humans, rather than letting Cameron and his Tory friends measure ability by a narrow description lets let people know about those we know and love who do extraordinary things every day. The single person who manages to survive on £60 a week. The parent who goes hungry so their children can eat. The carer providing high quality unpaid care in the middle of the night. The “society makers” not the “game makers” who make our world and communities a better place and were around long before The Big Society was just an idea and justification for Tory Cuts in the dreams of Thatcher and her followers.
The Olympic bubble has popped now. The show will begin again in four years time. There is much to celebrate, much back slapping and praise in high places. From up here in North Britain, I cast a cynical eye on the goings on down South and wonder what will be used next as a distraction from the cuts and dismantling of the Welfare State and the NHS. It is going to be a very hard act to follow. I wonder what the next media distraction will be? Panem et Circens my friends, but this lot are leaving the Panem to the food banks…..