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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Paralympics Highlight Giant Cultural divide

With the Paralympics about to start in London I have been reading much more about not only the athletes but the plight of people with a disability in Britain. The use of the word plight is chosen for a specific purpose--the British government under David Cameron is literally attacking the rights of people with a disability.  I am not exaggerating. The government is trying to get 500,000 people off the Disability Living Allowance.  The social situation is dire. According to Owen Jones, writing in the Independent on August 26 Cameron:

leads a government that is systematically attacking the rights of the sick and disabled. Their financial support is being confiscated; their ability to lead independent lives attacked; they are subjected to humiliating tests; they are demonised as "scroungers" and drains on the public purse; and abuse towards them is soaring. Keith Robertson, from the Scottish Disability Equality Forum, is warning that so-called welfare reform is leaving disabled people feeling "suicidal".

Here is the link for Jones' article, I urge everyone to read it.

Very few people will be exposed to the Paralympics in the United States. Coverage will be taped delayed and limited to highlights. I believe NBC Sports will broadcast the games for about an hour every night. Sadly, this is more than what NBC had planned--the games were originally only going to be streamed online at the Paralympic website. In short, virtually no one will see the games. I find the contrast between the Olympic Games and the Paralympics striking. Total media saturation versus virtually no coverage or reporting. Worse yet, is what is reported in the mainstream media. The formula seems to be set in stone: The paralympian has a great and horrific background story. The athlete overcomes huge obstacles, the larger the obstacles and the more visible the disability the better. The athlete of course then wins an event, pictures are taken and a corporate sponsors feels ever so good. This is nothing short of perverse. It undermines the humanity of the athlete in question and reduces them to a "feel good story". Worse yet, is the fact one of the corporate sponsors is ATOS. This corporation is leading the drive to eliminate the benefits people with a disability receive. ATOS is being paid $100 million pounds this year to "test" sick and disabled people and decide if they are fit for work. Who is fit for work: a person with cancer who takes oral chemotherapy, a person that can move a wheelchair, a person with a visual impairment that can distinguish a word or two of braille. Of course all testing has been designed by a computer--the same reason why ATOS is a sponsor--they provided computer technology.

 Groups such Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) and UK Uncut correctly maintain the entire process designed and operated by ATOS is degrading. I anticipate major protests will take place at the Paralympic Games. The fact ATOS is a sponsor of the games is unethical even by corporate standards.  I find the sponsorship surreal. I  am flabbergasted the International Paralympic Committee was willing to accept  ATOS as a sponsor much less a "major" sponsor. But then again money has a funny way of changing things. The press is of little help, both here and in Britain. I am sure when the highlights are shown on American and British TV not a word of dissent will be uttered. Instead CAmeron and ATOS will get exactly what they want--to appear as though they support people with a disability. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. 


Elizabeth said...


I'll venture to say that much of the Olympics is a giant farce, too. Think the "glory" of the first Saudi women entering ("allowed") the Olympics, permitted by a country that doesn't let them drive. The rampant commercialism, the bullshit -

But the picture behind England hosting these games and what they're doing socially is so awful, I can barely read about it.

What are we all going to do if this is the wave of the near future?

william Peace said...

Elizabeth, I think the International Paralympic Committee really screwed this up. I suspect at the elite adaptive athlete level there is a disconnect from what the daily lives of ordinary people with a disability. Perhaps the disconnect is similar to those in disability rights and those in disability studies--the gulf between these two groups is very wide. Regardless, the sponsorship in this case is wrong--very wrong.

Katja R. said...

This is a great blog. I came here because of MeTaFilter.
I am disabled as well. You make some very good comments on the Para-Olympics. I never saw them until my year in Sarajevo, when I watched coverage on BHT1 of the ParaOlympics in Beijing.