Stop hiring one Paralympian and calling it a day on disability representation
ook, no shade to the Paralympians, you are all great. However, just like with non-disabled people not everyone who’s disabled is born to be an athlete and – frankly – it sucks this is often the only disability representation that we get.
The need for diversity in disability representation
Like great, you thought about adding a disabled person into the mix, well done, but disability representation doesn’t start and end with one kind of disability. The range of disabilities represented on TV and in the media is woefully low, and for disabled people it can be draining not seeing themselves accurately reflected.
For many (I dare say, most) disabled people, becoming a Paralympian is a distant dream, and doesn’t mirror our lived experiences. What about those of us that just want to eat chips in public without someone coming up to us and asking if our legs work? More ambulatory wheelchair users on TV would show that mobility devices aren’t just for people who cannot walk.
And what about those of us whose greatest achievement for the day is managing to crawl out of bed and make it to the sofa without falling over? Chronic fatigue is rarely mentioned as a form of disability but for many people it definitely is, and the impact of invisible disabilities like these is routinely minimised because it’s not widely discussed – a vicious circle.
A greater willingness to include a wider range of disabled people in events, programmes, films and media work would benefit everyone, by drawing on the biggest pool of talent and experts, not just selecting the same people again and again. However, it would be of greatest benefit to the people who need to see this change the most, the disabled community. To put it bluntly: there are plenty of disabled people living, working and contributing in society, and they deserve to see themselves reflected better.
Why the overrepresentation of disability with athletes matters
If your life was only represented by athletes what kinds of assumptions do you think people would make? People might assume that you would only need a mind over matter attitude, that very real barriers in your life are actually just surmountable obstacles on your path to glory. Because if the only disabled people they see on TV can do it, why can’t you? How would that feel when you didn’t live up to those high standards set for you? What if it stopped people from understanding your real life? Or worse, what if you were perceived as lazy, as not trying hard enough, when in reality you are doing the best you can in a world that’s not designed for disabled people.
The impact of representation
Representation isn’t just about buzzwords. It has a real-life effect, on real-life people and the way that others treat them in this world. So, don’t just stop at one Paralympian because not every non-disabled person is an athlete so why would all disabled people be?
And, perhaps most importantly, by limiting yourself to only hiring Paralympians in your disability representation, you’re missing out on a veritable goldmine of disabled people who are experts in their fields – even if it’s not a running field.