Weekly Reading List: The Paralympics

Two shelves of multicolored books

The 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio start tomorrow. I wrote a bit about the Paralympics back in July and again in August. Tonight, instead of trying to sum up all of my thoughts and come up with a Grand Unified Theory of disability sports, I’m just going to collect some of the more recent articles that together I hope present a varied picture of what to make of the Paralympics. The central issue is that they instinctively feel like a Good Thing for the disability community, but there are many contradictions about the games themselves and how they are understood both by the disability community and mainstream society.

Rio 2016 Paralympics Games logo

Let me start out by quoting Sam de Leve (@ChaiKovsky), who left a comment on my first post on the Paralympics:

"A note: Paralympics are super-duper NOT run by disabled athletes. There are a significant number of disabled people involved in the running of it (though with a very limited range of impairments), but athletes have very little influence over the problematic policies of the Paralympics.

"From an inside perspective, the Paralympics are also medical model af. Athletes are regularly required to submit to intrusive physical exams, and only those who can "prove" their impairments can participate. And only certain types of impairments: whole classes of impairments are considered ineligible for participation, in part because the IPC considers those impairments more fakeable. Rather than try to determine disability, or even just believe disabled people are disabled, the Paralympics excludes all disabled people with those impairments. Those athletes are left in a limbo: unable to compete against able athletes, but prohibited from competing against their peers. There is minimal ability to appeal such decisions, and very little leverage to use against the IPC to encourage them to become more inclusive. The IPC is terrified of the prospect of disability faking, and with that comes punitive policies, just like *every other disability policy* we encounter in our lives.

"Ultimately, regardless of whether or not the Paralympics are better or worse than the Special Olympics, they're regressive as hell to a modern disability politics."

And now, some other readings about the Paralympics from several different perspectives:

Paralympics preview: A look at all 22 sports
CTV News - September 5, 2016

An overview of exactly what sports the Paralympics include …

A Paralympian Races to Remove Obstacles for the Next Generation
Kelly Whiteside, New York Times - September 1, 2016

The kind of personal story that both the Paralympics and Olympic games seem to thrive on … interesting and uplifting from an individual perspective, but hard to interpret in terms of sports news OR an understanding of disability in society …

Media cautioned over use of 'superhuman', 'brave' and 'heroes' in Paralympics reporting
Tony Connelly, The Drum - September 5, 2016

Finally, an explicit recognition that it’s quite easy to lapse into a type of “inspiration porn” that often overshadows the positive messages about disability the Paralympics are partly designed to send …

The Olympic & Paralympic Games? Excellence Divided
Mik Scarlet, Huffington Post - September 5, 2016

Why don't we just add the Paralympic events to the Olympics and be done with it?

Rio Paralympics 2016: When 'The Superhumans' came to London
Saj Chowdhury, BBC - September 6, 2016

Looking back at the 2012 Paralympics in London, and whether they really changed popular perceptions about disabled people in everyday life. The answer, an equivocal “yes and no.”

James Corden's Ode to The Paralympics
Channel 4 (UK), YouTube - September 2, 2016

The Olympics of all sorts are pumped full of splashy emotionalism and uncritical enthusiasm, so maybe it’s okay for the Paralympics to be overly poetic and yes, “inspirational.”