Anything is possible, except an end to these sorts of stories

This wonderful headline came into my email yesterday.

Calgarian In Line For Berth At Vancouver Games; Triumph shows anything possible

This is a disability-centric blog, so yes, you can assume it’s about disability, and not class, or age, or immigration status, or ethnicity, or race. Those sorts of “overcoming adversity” stories get written all the time, as well, and are equally offensive, for many of the same reasons I’m about to lay out here.

I hate these stories.

I hate them because of who they’re written for. They’re not written so that blind children in Canada can be all “Hey! We’ve got a great athlete going into the Olympics, and he’s blind, just like me! Maybe I can be a world-class athlete, too!” (Because the Paralympians, who are also world-class athletes, don’t get much attention. 1) They’re not written so that blind adults can feel a bit of smug pride about having one of their own in the Olympic games to cheer for.

No no no, that would be silly. Everyone knows blind people don’t read the newspapers, and blind kids don’t learn about the Olympics! They’re all too busy leading sad lonely lives of darkness and misery! The only people who read newspapers are Nice Non-Disabled Folks who just need a feel good story about adversity.

Basically, framing this story as “overcoming adversity” rather than “Awesome Olympic Athlete (who is also blind!)” feeds into the SuperCrip story. When the only stories that your average non-disabled person reads about “the disabled” is this narrative, well– Annaham talked a bit about this in her post about SuperCrips over at Bitch:

Supercrip’s main function is to serve as inspiring to the majority while reinforcing the things that make this majority feel awesome about itself. In short: Supercrip provides a way for non-disabled folks to be “inspired” by persons with disabilities without actually questioning—or making changes to—how persons with disabilities are treated in society.

It also, of course, reinforces the stereotype that people with disabilities just need to try harder because anything is possible! Which we will now tell you by comparing all disabled people to an Olympic-caliber athlete!

Hey, able-bodied folks. Why the heck are you not overcoming adversity and becoming an Olympic-caliber athlete? It’s so easy, right? If you just “realize most of your limitations in life are self-imposed”, you, too can do anything!

  1. From reading the article, it seems like that’s the actual stereotype that Brian McKeever was hoping to overcome – that Paralympians aren’t real athletes. Sadly, that is not the actual focus of the report. It’s primarily about how amazing! it is that he might qualify for the Real Olympics. It even ends with this: “To me, it’s no surprise that he’s going to get a spot on the Olympic team,” Goldsack said. “You forget after a while that he has vision problems. He’s just one of the guys.” Well, yes, of course he’s one of the guys – he’s not one of the elephants, after all. Sheesh.

By 25 December, 2009.    anna rants  , ,  



6 Comments

  1. It also, of course, reinforces the stereotype that people with disabilities just need to try harder because anything is possible! Which we will now tell you by comparing all disabled people to an Olympic-caliber athlete!

    Hey, able-bodied folks. Why the heck are you not overcoming adversity and becoming an Olympic-caliber athlete? It’s so easy, right? If you just “realize most of your limitations in life are self-imposed”, you, too can do anything!

    So true, and so frustrating!

    This entire entry is made of win (in geeky teenage speak). I really like it.

  2. Yes!

    I have depression and my limitations kind of are self imposed (or percieved as such by many people including myself). Most of the time when I read stories about people who have depression, they end with them having their happily ever after – they got over it, even if it took them twenty years and a lot of suffering. Depresses me even more because I can’t simply try harder and be optimistic. It doesn’t exactly help that everyone around me insists on telling me that everything will miraculously turn out alright eventually. Because in the stories, it always does. Unfortunately, reality isn’t a story.

  3. It also, of course, reinforces the stereotype that people with disabilities just need to try harder because anything is possible! Which we will now tell
    you by comparing all disabled people to an Olympic-caliber athlete!

    The worst with this stereotype is that sometimes disabled people take it over and use it against each other. When I was first diagnosed with autism, I disclosed my diagnosis on a blindness E-mail list (where most members had been driving me away with stuff about blindness being only a physical nuisance, etc.), and got all these replies about how autism shouldn’t be limiting me in achieving what I wanted, either, with references to Temple Grandin. I ain’t Temple Grandin, thank you.

  4. *headdesk* Yeah, that would be really off-putting, Astrid. (To say the least!)

    What really frustrates me about these stories is that they’re about the only stories you’ll see. These ones, about Overcoming Adversity, and “heart-tugging” stories about how the wee disabled children (or mom, or veteran) are struggling during Whatever Holiday Is Coming Up. And both feed into very irritating and nasty stereotypes about disabled people.

    No wonder everyone thinks it’s such a tragedy to have a disability. What else does the news *tell them*?

  5. What else does the news tell them? It also tells them that if someone with a disability manages to achieve greatness (whatever that may be) that their aid, prosthetic or disability might be an unfair advantage. I lost count a long time ago of the “You shouldn’t be able to do that” reply I get when someone looks at my art (I can draw whatever I see, so long as it isn’t moving, and pretty damn sure it ties into my disability) and then they remember that I’ve a visual impairment and they get rude. I’m also heavily reminded of the track runners and the controversy of them being seen as good as regular athletes. It’s like, “Oh my God, they sometimes win races against us normal people – Is that prosthetic leg giving them an unfair advantage?!” As long as you stay out of their niche they seem to find it inspirational.

  6. Oh, the media also tells people it’s okay to kill us. You know all those stories trying to cover how the murder of someone’s child with disabilities was justified , becuase they were just so much work.