The Paralympic Games have shattered and smashed negative stereotyping of disabled people, delivering positive role models, heroes for able and disabled alike to follow, showered us in images of what people are capable of regardless of the barriers they may have faced, do face on a daily basis, we are no longer disabled but ‘capable’, all it takes is pure determination and courage to challenge ourselves, to show our capabilities not disabilities. The coverage by Channel 4 and their presenters has been beyond reproach, delivering thrill after thrill for many millions of people, the most highly viewed Paralympian Games ever. But it delivered so much more, heroes and heroines in our homes, making us gasp, smile, cheer and debate, thrills that would even make Stephen King jealous, I am not shy about saying, and I mean this from my heart, the games have changed my life, changed my views about myself, changed what I believe I am capable of, in life, in business and in awe of the Paralympians one and all, winners and participants alike.
It’s the business legacy for people with disabilities I want to discuss, as for a couple of generations society has really viewed such people as those being on benefit, sometimes rightly supported by the state, but also some views mixed in there of ‘benefit scroungers’, ‘fraudsters’, ‘cheats’, we have all seen the headlines. How many dozens of documentaries have supposedly uncovered people pretending to be disabled, taking money from us all that they are not entitled to, splattering all disabled with their charlatan ways exposed before the nation. Would be interesting to see if such programmes are followed by increases in disability based hate crimes. I personally think that the State should look after those unable to support themselves, are we supposed to let them starve? In some cultures, often studied for their rarity and supposed uniqueness, but historically us all sharing the same origins in the Ethiopian basin of life, they all hunt and grow crops collectively, sharing food regardless of young, old or infirm, as they know the secret we now take for granted. Our humanity is defined by how we treat our most vulnerable, and on a micro level it is best to look after the most vulnerable amongst us as how one knows when we might need that very compassion, we reap what we sow.
Then we have the extreme at the other end, we have had weeks of positive, superhuman images of Paralympians defying their limitations to make themselves limitless, turning ability from the dust of inability, capability from the stereotype most perceive disability to be. World records fell like the shafts of rich golden corn before a combine harvester, and even people with no legs become instantly recognisable in millions of households thanks to the images of the pure speed at which their blades sliced the air, faster than the acceleration of a Formula One car. I even witnessed a man from China destroy the competition in the aquatics centre without arms, in a whole body motion that would have made the most agile of dolphins turn from their silver gunmetal grey to harsh green of jealousy.
So there we have it, the negatively viewed benefit supported disabled class and the pendulum then does a mighty swing to the superheroes of the Paralympic 2012 London Games. So this is my question, where are the disabled working and middle classes, or is that another ‘c’ word we are not supposed to use. Perhaps the Disabled ‘Working Class’ have learnt a survival tool that is commonly used, become the unseen, blending into work places, companies and organisations, supported by Access to Work, Disability Living Allowance, other able bodied people and open minded employers. There may lie another side effect of the Games, to make more employers see people for what they are capable of, not for their limitations, and perhaps even seeing beyond the lumps of metal strapped to ones bottom, the visual and outward signs of disability.
Have the disabled working class found refuge in organisations with a disability focus or taken the maxim out of sight out of mind to a new level, have they become proficient in commercial camouflage, blending into businesses, proving that it is sometimes more comfortable to be in the middle of a peer group that one doesn’t belong to in some ways, than be an outcast. Yes there are the campaigners and the fighters, the disabled proficient at making a noise, an impact, and the revolutionaries who would see every equal by making everyone disabled, so they can appreciate “how we feel”, but the majority just want to be unseen, unnoticed and unobserved. These are the majority of disabled people that just want to be allowed to live their lives, pay their taxes, raise their family and do what everyone else does, but without making waves to break upon the beach of social awareness. Although I cannot condemn people for taking this approach, as it is a valid stance to take, I believe that we have been shown a different way, especially when it comes to disability in business.
The Paralympics have shown that we as a subsection of society, can be counted, can demonstrate our potential that is grounded in disability. We have been shown by people like Ellie Simmonds or Josef Craig a proud way to work, a proud foundation that we are achieving despite our disability and we are proud of it. That we as a group of disabled workers shine because we are not only fulfilling our employment contracts but at the same time overcoming our barriers, we achieve more each day than the majority of our abled bodied colleagues, just by being able to get to work is a magnificent achievement with the barriers, the curbs, the inaccessible buildings and public transport. It is time the working disabled class started to claim their place at the head of the attainment pile, leading the way as we know with every breath we take what it means to achieve every single day, as we have to battle the very structure of the society to even start working.
Over the past 11 days and even the build-up over weeks we have been shown a new path, the flame has been forged into our communities as a symbol of the many achievements of the games, but also committed into our society by 34 hard won Gold GB medals, 120 medals in total, and the utter coverage of them all regardless of nationality. This flame can be the light that we follow to turn to our employers and our colleagues and say yes we are disabled, yes we are successful and you WILL respect us for our courage, our determination and our capability. Capability will be forever the new word for disability, and the disabled working class is proud to be the elite of employees and employers, and we are not in the shadows hiding any more, our darkness has be banished by the light, the raging fire that began with a spark from the 2012 Paralympics, and is now our torch to raise high, as we are the Capable Working Class from this point forward.