Disability is one of those ‘icky’ subjects isn’t it? In the fast-paced, technology driven society we live in, we want results now, delivered by those who are intelligent, good looking, that we can aspire to. We don’t want to think about the slower, less- able folk in our midst, because its just not sexy is it?
Of course last year’s Paralympic Games really put disability at the forefront, and given the massive success in Paralympic ticket sales it would seem that many of us were open to the idea of watching disabled athletes. It actually turned out to be a wonderful celebration of the human spirit triumphing over physical adversity.
In the world of television too, particularly children’s television, there are many disabled faces making appearances all the time. (As a mum to a toddler, I watch a lot of kid’s TV so I know!)
Cbeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell was born with a right arm that ends just below her elbow. She, and others like her have enabled me to have conversations with my three year old about ‘why they look like that’. Watching them daily is normalising disability and disabled people for her, so she does’t grow up thinking of them as freaks, weirdos, spastics, mongs or any of the other disgusting words that were bandied about the playground when I was a child.
Sadly though, in the Asian community I don’t think we are quite there yet. Consider the comments of an elderly aunt of mine who said she wouldn’t be watching the Paralympics last year because ‘looking at those people made her sad’. Never mind the amazing achievement of someone with artificial limbs running a 100 metre sprint; to her these athletes were not the fine specimens that she would expect to see in the sporting world.
Now younger readers among you will take issue with that, saying that is the view of an aunty-ji, and you quite happily supported the Paralympics, even bought tickets to an event. Perhaps. But what about when the disabled person is someone in your own community or family? No I’m sure you wouldn’t cast them out. But the Down’s Syndrome nephew is always talked about in hushed tones. The young woman who has a deformed arm because she was born with polio is always pitied- what are her marriage prospects like? In a culture where we like to fix marriages based on the wealth, education, height and appearance of an individual, what happens to those who have deformed limbs, use wheelchairs or have Down’s Syndrome? Furthermore, where are the disabled British Asian presenters or sports personalities?
As Asians, we need to normalise disability. We need to teach our children that disabled people are the same as us, despite their physical appearance. We also need to start talking about the disabled with compassion. We need to celebrate what is actually a person who lives with adversity everyday of their lives and overcomes a lot in order to hold down a job, maintain healthy relationships, or sometimes simply make it to the end of the day.