I read this headline in the Independent today – and find that my blood, for some reason, boils:
The lasting legacy of the Paralympics should be to see disabled people as equal
The truth of the matter is that this headline should read as follows:
The lasting legacy of the Paralympics should be to see able-bodied people as equal
We shouldn’t be trying to make disabled people like the rest of us – but, rather, be bringing the rest of us closer to the realisation that, sooner or later, we all will need the support the disabled are generally accustomed, quite rightly, to demand.
To not be able to do everything easily for yourself should not serve to define yourself in infirmity but simply form part of what life eventually throws at everyone – except, of course, the very very lucky few who may end up dying on their feet, playing a round of golf, with a full set of their own teeth and 20/20 vision.
But exceptions to the rule should not define how we run or contemplate our societies for the vast majority. For to say that people as able-bodied as the paralympians competing over the next few days should be defined by the rest of us … well, this is as wrong-headed in its approach as anyone, or any society, could get. It is, rather, the rest of us – individuals of varying ages whose ways of living generally choose to ignore approaching support needs, especially when, in our relative good health, we vote selfishly for governments, welfare systems and health services – who need to accept we should instead be defined by the disabled.
The disabled are not less than us, it is true. Nor am I saying that.
What I am saying is that the so-called “able-bodied” need to accept that their destiny – one day or other in their lives – is almost certainly to face a similar set of circumstances.
Perhaps the best way to describe how I feel about this would be to say that those we describe in English as “disabled” are actually relatively youthful prodigies in the experience. As a general rule, we arrive at their very same battles – at least psychologically speaking – when we contract a condition, which complicates life, more appropriate to late middle-age.
But that’s possibly only because we are luckier. Or, even, simply late to the occasion.
And it’s not because they are essentially different from us, and in their difference must be seen as equal.
It’s rather because we are the same as they are – only we refuse, most of the time, to understand this.
In short, it is not they who are equal to us.
It is we who are equal to them.