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Posted by Philip on 5 November 2013, 10:19 am in , , , , ,

On needing to run a marathon to feel fully human

On 4 November 2013, 3 News' Mike McRoberts quoted Peter Loft, the head of the Achilles Foundation, which has been sending disabled athletes to the New York marathon for 20 years:

"They come here with disabilities — and they leave feeling like full human beings."

Some may find this statement inspirational. I found it objectionable at the very least. Judging by the 25 or so comments on my Facebook post, I was not alone.

A friend of mine messaged me saying, "Out of context it sounds bad but for people who lost a limb etc, they would probably feel less whole at least for a while." Perhaps, but the question is not whether they may feel "less whole", but why. The answer is because people like Peter Loft and others say these sorts of things and the media broadcast them.

Would the media quote someone saying any of the following?

"They come here women — and they leave feeling like full human beings."

"They come here Maori — and they leave feeling like full human beings."

"They come here gay — and they leave feeling like full human beings."

Probably not, because people wouldn't say them and the media would recognise the absurdity and offensiveness of the statements. So why not with disability?

To his credit, Mike McRoberts replied fully and openly when I direct messaged him on Twitter, and his response answered my question. Feeling emotional and needing to find inspiration are how we are socially conditioned to respond to disability.

My friend's observation that people who lost a limb would probably feel less whole is true. But I don't think this response is inherent. It's conditioned. If everyone knew that losing a limb isn't the end of the world, they'd also not feel any less human.

But Peter Loft seems to think they do — and the media keep reinforcing this mindset.

I replied to Mike, thanking him for taking the time to respond. I didn't want to shame him, but wanted him to be aware of the growing sensitivity to how disability is portrayed by the media. I told him we need the likes of him to spread the word.

And we need to get to grips with the fact that our response to disability, or altered function, isn't inherently good or bad, it's what we make of it. Just as being gay was a mental illness only a few decades ago and is no longer, we can change the meaning of disability in society.

But, as I said to Mike McRoberts, it's going to take quite some time and more than a few courageous people to start spreading the word.

(Image source: 3News)



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