A new perspective through the 2018 Paralympics | Guest blogger Amanda Mcgrory

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on March 14, 2018 # Mobility, Adaptive Sports

The Winter Paralympics are FINALLY here! NBC is providing unprecedented television coverage of the Games (find a schedule here), so there will be plenty of opportunities to watch, cheer, cry, celebrate, and be inspired! But as a three-time Paralympian myself, I caution those touting the “inspiration” factor of the Paralympics to tread carefully. The word “inspiration” leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many Paralympic athletes, and for good reason.

Incredible athletes are inherently inspiring based on their athletic performances alone. They display enviable fitness, skill mastery, stress management, and calm-under-pressure. In addition, every person comes with a story. People are dynamic; they triumph over adversity, break down barriers, and move beyond their personal struggles. They embody self-discipline, sacrifice, and internal motivation in ways most people can only dream of.

It’s easy to look at Paralympians and find those inspirational stories - they’re staring you in the face. The media is inundated with stories about brave individuals overcoming their disabilities and beating the odds - from completing high school, to driving a car, to qualifying for the Paralympic Games. Oftentimes, these stories are about people defeating their disabilities to accomplish a basic daily task that the general population takes for granted.

While it seems like a harmless, feel-good kind message or a reminder to be thankful for the small things in life, there’s some behind-the-scenes damage being done here. Stories like this are known as “inspiration porn” because they reduce individuals with disabilities to objects that exist for the benefit of those who look upon them with pity. By transforming everyday actions into grand, inspirational acts, it’s being recognized that the expectations for these individuals are significantly less than those for everyone else. And, to make it worse, they can only accomplish these activities if they “overcome” their disability.

The stories are harmful because their purpose is inspiration, and inspiration alone. And unlike our Olympic counterparts who have the privilege of being see as an athlete first, Paralympians often lack the ability to exist beyond the narrative in the media. Athletic achievements take a backseat to the human-interest story of the athlete.

I challenge you to look at it from a new perspective. Let’s consider the idea of disability as functional diversity. And consider achievements as independent entities - not tied to the perceived limitations of a disability or the idea of conquering and overcoming those limitations in order to be capable of achieving.

In this framework, each individual (not just those with disabilities) exists on a spectrum of functional ability, and each individual must push the boundaries and work within their abilities to achieve. There is no “overcoming” one’s disability in order to accomplish goals, or reaching goals despite one’s limitations. There is no reason an individual cannot be high achieving AND live with a disability. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Let’s keep “inspiration” tied to athletic achievements, not daily activities. I want to read stories about game winning shots at the buzzer and the underdog sliding in for victory by 0.01 seconds. Those stories can, and will, be punctuated with anecdotes about the athlete’s life and their personal journey to get to the Games, but let’s not allow those details to overshadow the astonishing athletic ability that we should be celebrating.

Over the next two weeks, join me in cheering on some of the best athletes the USA (and the world) have to offer. Through struggles and triumphs, together we can all celebrate the achievements of these athletes and their unique experiences that led them to compete at the Paralympic Games. And remember, while inspiration may be a part of the story, it’s not the whole story.