Rio 2016 Paralympic games: a new way to look at disability

After the suggestive opening ceremony which took place last night, today the challenges of the Rio de Janeiro’s Paralympic Games, the 15th in history, quicken. ‘Til September 18th, more than 4.300 athletes from 176 countries will test themselves in 23 disciplines. Italy presents itself with 101 athletes, among who stand out, just to mention some of them, Martina Caironi, Beatrice “Bebe” VioAlex Zanardi, Monica Contrafatto, Giusy Versace, Giulia Ghiretti.

The value of Paralympic Games goes well beyond sports, since, as the athletes themselves underlined, they represent an opportunity to spotlight on disability, contributing to establish that “disability culture” which still struggles to get fully understood and accepted.

Rio Paralympic Games 2016But Paralympic Games are also an opportunity to reflect on the way Paralympic athletes are presented and seen. Mostly starting from London 2012, it- luckily- seems that we’ve finally overcome the “pietistic” view that had been almost dominating for decades: Paralympic athletes aren’t “minor”, but respectable athletes who train, compete, break records, etc.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, there’s another risk, just around the corner: I call it the “supermen rhetoric”, which refers to, starting from its title, also the suggestive video created by the English Channel 4, that broadcasts Paralympic Games in the UK.

Is it right to look at Paralympic athletes as “supermen” (and “superwomen”) just because they compete facing, in addition to their competitors, also more or less severe physical or sensory disabilities? Is it of use to the disability culture cause (for all, not just for Paralympic athletes) look at the mas “superheroes” or inspiration or it risks, on the contrary, to create an additional barrier among us, disabled people, and the others, the “abled-bodied” people?

Tom, the mascot of Rio Paralympic Games 2016

Wouldn’t it be, maybe, more right (and useful) to describe their sport achievements, exalting them as they deserve, but avoiding to mention their supposed “superiority”? sure, it’s indubitably useful to who daily deals with any chronic disability to see other people sharing his own condition (or a more severe one) who, instead of feeling sorry for themselves, put themselves on the line, challenging their own limits. But isn’t challenging their own limits exactly the same thing as able-bodied athletes do? Why do we need to underline this just for Paralympic athletes?

I’ll never grow tired of repeating this: disabled people aren’t better nor worse than anyone else. Disabled people are, above all, people. And they’d be described as people.  Will it happen in Rio 2016, too?  We’ll wait and see and, of course, support our teams!


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