How The Perception Of Disability Is Being Challenged By The Achievements Of Paralympians In The UK

The Tokyo Paralympics of 2020 which came to a close last week has filled the hearts of spectators, athletes and crew members across the world. There have been a plethora of uplifting moments during the Paralympics, such as the performance of the 13-year-old wheelchair-user Yui Wago as a one-winged aeroplane in the opening ceremony. Yui Wago said “I want everyone I’ve ever met to see me as I am now.” Wago's performance embodies the mantra that disabled does not mean uncapable or without any ability.

Disability is a word that by definition suggests an inability to do something, however as that something could be a variety of things, disability has developed to mean an inability to do a lot of things. This is problematic for disabled people who are more than capable of conducting a variety of activities including sport, however they are defined as being unable to do anything due to their physical or mental condition. I personally detest the word due to these connotations and feel 'differently abled' would be a far better replacement as it would encompass the extraordinary talents of disabled people in the fields of sport, art, music, etc.

A common theme throughout the Tokyo Paralympic games was the astonishment and wonder of abled people watching disabled people achieve unbelievable things. Dame Sarah Storey who was born without a functioning left hand is a swimming and cycling champion. The owner of 17 Paralympic gold medals is famed for her success both in the pool and on her bike, Storey is the most successful Paralympic athlete, known for her phenomenal performances and humility. With multiple media outlets in the UK highlighting their amazement at her performance, Storey became the face of success in the Paralympics this year.

However, it is important to question just why the general public and media portray such astonishment at the incredible achievements of disabled athletes. Disability has such a negative connotation to it that when a disabled person achieves something, media and the general public react with dramatic astonishment and shock. Personally, I can only hop that the consistent achievements of Paralympic athletes give way to a more flexible understanding of disability that includes the fact that disabled people can achieve great things!

How do you perceive the word disability? What does it mean to you?

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