Disabled people aren't 'Superhuman', let's stop saying it

In 2012, Channel Four’s coverage of the Paralympic games in the United Kingdom was rightly praised for being bold and encouraging debate with programmes like The Last Leg. However, their recent advert for the Paralympic games -depicting anyone with an impairment as 'Superhuman’-  is damaging and has upset many disabled people.

Not only is it patronising to the extreme, but it is a lie. 

We know that the isolation that disabled people face, and the stigma surrounding disability in Africa, is among the worst in the world. Nonetheless, disabled people in every country across the globe, face discrimination. Writing for The Independent, James Moore said that in the UK:

“You’re not so much a superhuman as you are a subhuman. A second class citizen in a country that claims it wants to offer opportunity for all.”

He went on to explain that after the 2012 Paralympic Games, David Weir, a Paralympic athlete, “had to take to the press to shame housing chiefs into providing him with a home with a downstairs toilet”.

Therefore, the problem with treating people with an impairment as ‘Superhuman’, is that when they require support from the Government or local authorities, they are rejected or treated as though they are dishonest. A ‘scrounger’. Superhuman is a lie that disables people and increases isolation.

Lucy Catchpole argued in The Guardian that implying “there’s no such thing as can’t”, creates anger and resentment in the minds of the non-disabled:

“Many can’t walk. It may be that some, like me, can’t have a shower without assistance. Isn’t it more likely that for many it is precisely because they have accepted those can’ts that they have become successful? If the wheelchair athletes had spent their disabled lives refusing to accept that they can’t walk, how would they have had the time and energy to develop their skills and become wheelchair athletes?”

“The problem is that the hashtag and the way the advert has been marketed encourages society’s frustration with people like me.”

Furthermore, by placing disabled people on a pedestal, we define an individual by their impairment. We are told that someone is ‘special’ because of their impairment, forgetting that someone with an impairment is a person first and foremost. When we say ‘Superhuman’ we are saying someone deserves recognition because of their impairment, not because of their achievements. A Paralympic athlete shouldn’t be an inspiration because they have an impairment, they should be an inspiration because they are a phenomenal athlete. 

This has been described as ‘inspiration porn’ by the late Stella Young. She believed that by placing disabled people on a pedestal, disabled people are seen as people who should inspire others (normally non-disabled people). This results in a group of people being objectified in order to benefit another group. 

An impairment is the condition which an individual might have, which limits their capability, therefore, we should recognise that a person with an impairment may need support; some people can’t do certain things. That does not make them a burden. 

Nor should we see someone with an impairment and decide that they are an inspiration merely because of that impairment. 

It is society that disables people, therefore, it is society that can stop disabling people. This starts with a fundamental change in our attitudes. 

Image via YouTube Screengrab