I’m a disabled athlete: but I aim to inspire simply as a swimmer | Elizabeth Wright

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The inspiration porn debate creates important matters about the Paralympics. But when I go into schools I want people to see the competitor , not the disability

My business, some “ve said”, is steeped in the concept of inspiration porn. I go into schools, speaking to pupils about my Paralympic story with the explicit aim to inspire and motivate I won bronze in 1996, and a bronze and a silver in 2000. However, the current debate around inspiration and what it means within the context of disability has given me pause for think perhaps it is not always the best style to accurately describe the experience of disability.

As a former Paralympic swimmer for Australia, I have been watching Channel 4s coverage , not to be inspired, but to cheer on the Aussie team( and Team GB, of course ): to watch the hope, the frustration, the pleasure and the despair, to feel lightnes and sadness, exhilaration and frustration. This whirlwind of emotions seems synonymous with the Paralympics, that idea of hope in overcoming the odds, the narratives that may be sad, tragic, and moving. But are those same emotions not also synonymous with the Olympics?

Simone Biles comes to mind one of the most inspirational narratives from this years Games. There were two particular things that were mentioned with regards to her backstory: she is a black gymnast in an overwhelmingly white athletic, and she is adopted. This became a part of her myth, raising her to the most inspirational gold medal. Then there were inspirational moments, such as the moment when the US athlete Abbey DAgostino fell in a womens 5000 m heat. Nikki Hamblin, a New Zealand runner, helped DAgostino up, and they finished the race together. Even I teared up reading about this show of sportsmanship.

Even that was topped by the Refugee Olympic Team. They were not admired as the medal heroes of the games, or for the ease with which they violated world records; they are looked at with a mix of awe and pity. Their stories of fleeing war-torn countries, of terror and dread, eclipse their sporting prowess, just as the disability of Paralympians comes first, then their identity as upper-class athletes.

Elizabeth Wright takes silver at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney – video

Inspiration porn is definitely a problem in the disabled world, but it is not restricted to disability. In fetishising difference and/ or tragedy we fetishise all change and misfortune, and feed off it whether to feel intense emotion or to induce ourselves feel better about our own lives.

Most disabled people dont fetishise themselves, or others; what you will find in the day-to-day living of disabled people is that every normal action, routine and supposed is exactly that: normal. As I sit here typing such articles, utilizing my left to right with a finger missing, and my shortened right arm, I dont think of this action as heroic in any way, it is just getting on with life, as somebody with 10 thumbs does. Thats not to say that life isnt harder for those with disabilities I loathe stairs, and have to deal with blisters and pressure sores from my prosthetic. But that is all normal to me, just as having two running limbs and two running legs is a possibility normal for you.

How does this normalisation of my disability fit with the fact that I am an inspirational speaker and Paralympian? In my current role I try to help people forget the disability and insure the swimmer. My objective is to help people ensure their own potential, just as I considered mine, and to work hard to lift themselves up to fulfil that potential. I do address my disability, but it is addressed first, described and normalised as much as possible, and then my Paralympic story is tell, without overt including references to my disability. To inspire I am simply a swimmer.

Most importantly, we have to remember this when it comes to inspiration porn and the Paralympics: just as only a few able-bodied athletes make it to the Olympics, so only a few disabled athletes make it to the Paralympics. The truth that not all able-bodied people are athletic applies equally to disabled people. So not all disabled people are inspirational. We dont judge all able-bodied people against the achievements of Usain Bolt, or the valour of the refugee team, so we shouldnt expect all disabled people to live up to the achievements of Sarah Storey or Jonnie Peacock.

Inspiration has its place I feel inspired by people all the time but it doesnt belong as the default category for disability.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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