Lucy Catchpole -‘I love the Paralympics, but we can’t all be superhumans’

Disclaimer: Although I detail Lucy Catchpole’s argument here, I also write my opinions on it down below. This is clearly marked in the ‘what I think’ section.

Read ‘Lucy Catchpole’s’ article on The Gaurdian here.

And for a definition of ‘inspiration porn’ watch Stella Young’s ‘I’m not your Inspiration’ TED Talk. Stella Young is now no longer with us.

First Lucy Catchpole argues that there is indeed such a thing as can’t. “It’s in the dictionary. It’s also a useful word. My daughter “can’t” become a mermaid… I can’t stop people I love from dying. I also “can’t” walk.”

She argues that living happily and well with a disability means accepting those can’ts you have to accept. For example “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?”

Lucy’s husband (while NOT a Paralympian, just like there are obviously able-bodied sports-people who are NOT Olympians) is an amputee footballer. Lucy Catchpole writes that there is a large difference in the way society sees people like him, and the way society sees “other types” of disabled people, like Lucy. “Those who society approves of, and the rest of us. My husband, James, is an amputee footballer – a “supercrip”. I am not. (I don’t think there is an accepted word for my group – “feeblecrips”? “scroungers”?)”

Lucy describes how the ad may affect someone like her husband. “My husband knows how this ad will affect him. He will attract more interest when he’s kicking a ball about or cycling with our daughter. People will ask if he’s a Paralympian. Sometimes this can be inconvenient, patronising or even irritating for him, but generally the effect is positive.”

However, Lucy says that people think very differently about disabled people like her: “But then we come to people like me. The majority. The totally non-inspirational disabled people. What does “no such word as can’t” and “yes I can” mean for me? It means I am a failure. I can’t walk, and I accept that. I can’t function without serious painkillers. I am a wheelchair user but could not be further from the wheelchair jumper in the film – just negotiating a kerb is extremely difficult for me, often impossible.”

This links back to years of negative stereotypes in the media that imply there are some disabled people who deserve benefits and some disabled people who don’t, going to ‘there are people who need help and people who don’t’. Eventually this can lead to ‘there’s no such thing as can’t’, meaning that some people may believe that people with a disability can LITERALLY do anything, ie that someone like Lucy could be like the wheelchair jumper in the film.

Lucy Catchpole argues that this makes people think: “if I just wanted it enough, or was positive enough, I could be one of those shiny talented people too.”

What I think:

I agree with Lucy’s argument that able-bodied people (and other people with a disability for that matter!) shouldn’t be led to believe that disabled people are “magical creatures” who can suddenly do everything. (Able-bodied) society (in general, I will link specific examples when I can) has caught up and realised there are some things that people with different types of disabilities can do. But this doesn’t mean that everyone can automatically do everything.

Personally, I feel as if both I and this blog have unfortunately benefited from the ‘inspirational’ narrative.
I am not purposely perpetuating it. I am not asking readers to be what I’d call Grade 1 Inspired, which is: ‘Oh wow, she/he/they are disabled and they can do X! Yay! I had literally no idea this was possible! Go them!’ This can get patronising for people. It can also mean that some people who don’t like ‘special treatment’ of the patronising variety would want to hide the fact they have a disability, so that it doesn’t ‘get in the way’ of who people believe they are.

That type of inspiration says that ‘disability = inspiration’… and it doesn’t necessarily. Because there’s the other side that is: ‘IF disability (=NOT) inspiration THEN disability = benefit scrounger.” Or “THEN disability = unproductive worker.” Depending on where you live and what kind of people you meet, and what kind of opinions they have, this may be completely different.

Instead, ONLY if you really are, go and be Grade 4 Inspired, which is “I GENUINELY want to do X too. I see that he/she/they uses X to portray Y, or uses A, B, and C techniques in X. Wow! Let me try that.” As in genuine inspiration, that light bulb moment which doesn’t normally come from watching a 3 minute 12 second video. It might. But not usually.

I also think that every person with a disability is different. Every type of inspiration is different. Every person without a disability is different. All these spectrums of difference react in different ways, one of which can be ‘I think I like that you are patronising me at this moment in time, because I’m an 8 year old and I might need some encouragement. And you may find other ways the encourage me too. And I may find other ways to BE encouraged, and to encourage myself.”

Or; “Don’t tell me that was amazing, I’m 8 and although I’m visually impaired I know it sucks… And the fact you think I don’t know you’re being patronising is kind of weird. Because I can tell.”

Or “I don’t want to do this thing because everyone will automatically think it’s amazing because I have a disability.” Like come on, who thinks that?

Or “Yes, I have a disability, but I’m not EXACTLY like her/him/them. Especially if she/he/they are only seen through a TV or computer screen, presenting a certain version of themselves.” This one should be obvious too.

Or it could even be “Wait. You think I’m faking having a disability to get sympathy/the benefits I need to have reasonable adjustments in my job. What? You think I’d do that? Really?”

Or”You don’t have to be automatically sympathetic to every person with a disability you know. Thanks if you do.”

Or “If you’re sympathetic, can you actually mean it please?”

Or “there is such a thing as can’t, and I can’t walk 1 hour to that workplace, so either give me a mobility car or we can find another option. If not, I really can’t work here.”

Or “There is such a thing as can’t, however you not having any disabled students/employees/friends before doesn’t mean I can’t, it means we need to work together to find solutions.”

Or “Because I ‘visibly look disabled’, you treat me differently and I know this.”

Or “Because I don’t ‘visibly’ look disabled’, you treat me differently and I know this.”

Or “People with a disability are just about as ‘magical’ as people without one, that is to say not at all.”

*(All of the above are hypothetical quotes which I just made up. Feel free to disagree.)

The other side of the coin, that ‘disability (=NOT) inspiration/anything EVER’ is also entirely wrong, but you knew that already.

Discuss. Leave a Reply section is below.

ALSO read the comments on Lucy Catchpole’s article if you’re interested.


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