AFJ Replies: Able Bodied People Do not Learn What It’s Like To Play Sports With Disabilities

Champion News Paper Article from the 27th of January 2016 Headline reads Students learn what it's like to play sport with disabilities The article text is as follows Sixth form students from crosby got a taste of what it's like to compete in disabled sports after taking part in wheelchair basketball and blind football The group from Sacred Heart Sixth Form College wanted to find out more about how those with injuries or special conditions are able to take part in sports One student Poppy Law said Participating in the disabled sports day really educated me on how those with a disability struggle with daily life yet still have the determination to participate in sport I now have more admiration for those with a disability Another student David Brewis added I enjoyed the disabled sports day it really broadened my mind and taught me the challenges disabled athletes face It really made me think how easy it is for me to play sports so freely and easily

This is an article that was featured in The Champion, sefton’s free local newspaper, a couple of weeks ago. I’m going to address this article systematically. I wanted to go full outrage, but that would have involved an unhelpful graphic of loads of arrows pointing to the article, and big words, made in Word Art no less, saying “What is this ignorant BS!?!?!?!”.

But no. I’m calm, i’m collected and i’m ready to use my words to explain how wrong that whole thing is.

1) Holy Awkward headline, Batman! In the words of Dan from Sports Night, we’ve got all sorts of sentence construction here. Was the sport disabled in some way? Where the students? Was it the father all covered with cheese!?

I know what they meant. They meant Able bodied students learn what it’s like to play the sports that disabled people play. Here’s why their headline is wrong at the basic level.

2) These able bodied students did not learn what it’s like to play sport with a disability. They learnt what it’s like to play a “disabled sport”, whilst being able bodied. Was their mobility somehow temporarily compromised? Did they suddenly lose dexterity in their hands? Were they paralysed and given nerve damage and muscle loss or muted sensation?No? So they didn’t become disabled. They had all of the strength they already had, their mobility that they already had, their ability to reach, focus, sight? When you’re disabled, your body gives you obstacles, and disabled athletes learn to work with these obstacles or go around them.

Yes, it’s true, these perfectly able bodied students might find it a challenge to suddenly use different muscles, find it off setting to be at half the height they were. But these students? Not disabled. They did not learn what it’s like to play sport “with disabilities”.

3) “Special conditions”. Special? Okay, I went to a special needs school. I actually have no problem with the word “special” in relation to disabilities, but I take a very serious dislike to it’s use in the phrasing “special conditions”. Like, special conditions are conditions in a contract specific to a project under consideration that do not fall under any other conditions. They have used the word disabled many times in this article, it makes absolutely no sense on any level to use the phrase Special conditions there. I went to a special needs school, okay. Needs can be special, but unless someone’s been bitten by a radioactive spider and they turn into a hulk every time they’re hungry, there’s no such thing as “special condition” in this context.

4) I hate things like this. I always have, and I’m not the only one. It goes right up there with a person who once had a broken ankle which perfectly healed, telling me they understand how hard it is struggling with crutches because for 6 weeks they too used crutches. “Oh but don’t your arms get tired!”. Not after 3 years of being on crutches, love, no. (Bruised, is what they got).

And it’s right there with taking a wheelchair around a hotel to make sure it’s wheelchair accessible. A perfectly able bodied person who has good strength, grip, height, leverage decides, in a rickity old NHS wheelchair that they found on the corner of a canal, whether their hotel is somewhere someone who is 3 foot tall, in a heavy duty electric wheelchair, with osteogenesis imperfecta can comfortably stay for 5 nights. It happens with toilets too. Some team of able bodied so called experts decide what we need, and we’re left with doors too heavy for us to open, no space to manouver around in, no way to dry our hands after we wash them, because the advisors were a husband and wife team and the husband has decided he could hand the paper towells to his wife if she was ever in a wheelchair.

These people don’t learn about the disabled experience. These people are not disabled. If people want to know about the disabled experience, I’ve got the absolute best idea for them. For everyone. Come a little closer, It’s a trade secret.

You ready?

They should ASK US. We know. We’re literally the experts. I am sick of people playing disabled for a day, in this case a few hours, and thinking they suddenly know it all. They don’t. If people could just stop for a second and listen to us, we’d all get a lot more things done. I blame the tories.

I know I’m being harsh, these are just young minds, only just on the brink of adulthood. In that sweet age where they think they know better. (They don’t) They were, hopefully, just following the idea that came out of a ~feel good think tank~, where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter. These ideas belong in the Thick of It, thought out loud by Nicola Murray.

But it’s so patronising and condescending, and it’s why I hope a student hasn’t gone all Well Meaning Ideas on us and come up with it themselves. I mean, look, the student they interviewed first literally says they now admire disabled athletes more, because they ~understand~. It’s inspiration-porn-by-proxy at least. And why do people always have to experience things for themselves before they can understand anything? Where did empathy go? That was a good way to go about things. “I am not you, so I don’t know exactly what you’re going through, however I am human and therefore, I can empathise”. This is othering, it’s not helpful.

Admire an athlete for being an athlete. I don’t see anyone trying out a toned-down heptathlon like Jessica Ennis would and saying they have more admiration for athletes now, do you? Change disabled to woman and see where that gets you. Here’s an idea, try out black face in a bid to understand what it’s like being Black!

I just want people to stop thinking that they can ever have any real understanding of what it’s like to be disabled, when they live without any disability at all. Just because you have the option to use a lift does not mean you know what it’s like to depend on the existence of lifts to go from one floor to another. You do not have the same devastation when you are blocked out of using the lift because other people choose to use it en masse, you don’t face the same worry that one day you’ll be on the third floor of a building and be led into a back office because the fire alarms gone off and you can’t use the lift, and you can’t use the stairs. And I’m just scratching the surface, and I’m only focusing on the physical disability aspect. There are so many things that people just go around taking for granted. A day in a wheelchair isn’t going to fix that. There’s a known temporariness to it. There’s the novelty factor. In real life, it never ends, life long disabilities don’t just go away, and sometimes it all just gets you down. I miss how simple my life was when my only problem was bruised forearms from my crutches.

Here it’s sports games, but I have seen talk of teachers suggesting students hire wheelchairs for a day and try going about every day life for a week in a wheelchair, instead.

Don’t do that, that’s disruptive on all accounts. You will be taking a needed mobility aid from someone who might need to use it. You will be using accommodations saved for the convenience and assistance of disabled people, who already have very little accommodations available. You will be using our spaces and putting is out in a world that already puts us out enough. We’ve got able bodied people using the disabled toilet for selfies, and parents using the wheelchair space for their buggies. Nobody is clarevoyant, yet everyone has faith that nobody is going to roll up within the next ten minutes and need these things, and then they’re so surprised and angry at us when we turn up and need those things. We’re already in competition for that one wheelchair space, we don’t need anyone else making it harder.

Don’t do it. And whilst you’re listening, do me a favour, everybody. Go and watch that episode of Saved by the Bell, where Zack goes on a date with Melissa, a girl in a wheelchair, and they end up putting on a wheelchair basketball charity match. Take note of everything all of the regular characters do in that episode.

And then repeat these words “This is the most ignorant thing you can do. Don’t do it. Ever.” And then live by those words. Teach those words. Become one with those words.

This is AFJ, calm and collected as ever.

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