21 August 2012

The Paralympic Games: Resourcefulness, Determination, Spirit, Courage, Integrity

Wednesday, 29 August 2012 sees the start of the Paralympic Games. Guest writer Danny West (left), trainer, coach, mentor and leadership consultant shares his thoughts and hopes for the games – and what their legacy might be for everybody.

In contemporary society and in the context of the law disability encompasses all disabilities and health conditions. .

I am living with HIV which remains a highly stigmatized health condition. HIV raises all the taboos in society which creates discomfort and fear. Society on the whole holds prejudiced and stereotyped views of people living with HIV as it does about disability. During the recent Olympic Games an Australian Gymnast had the courage and integrity to be open about living with HIV.

Over the next few weeks we will witness the largest, most watched and attended Paralympics ever. This is a unique and exciting opportunity to engage with the world and demonstrate to the world what we can do. We can utilize this opportunity to tap into society’s fascination about the ways in which we now live our lives.

This is not just about athletes and sports people: it is about all of us. So let us embrace this opportunity and promote who we are. Let’s attend the Olympics, watch it on TV, invite our friends over and talk about it down the pub.  Most of all let us use this opportunity to demonstrate how proud, unique and competent disabled people actually are.

The Paralympics is also an opportunity to challenge stereotyped views and medical and charitable model based thinking about people living with disabilities. Soon, disabled athletes from across the globe will demonstrate again that we are fully able and capable. The Paralympics will showcase our resourcefulness, determination, spirit, courage and integrity.

It is my firm view that people living with disabilities will not experience total equality as an actualized reality unless all of society and disabled peoples’ communities work in partnership to take action. The Social Model of Disability was developed by disabled people and explores the ways in which society needs to change the way it thinks about disability and the way in which it creates barriers for disabled people.

The participants of the Paralympic Games and disabled people take action in all sorts of ways - the Social Model of Disability is just one way in which we can challenge societal attitudes. This however will not happen unless we continue to take a proactive and resourceful approach and give society a helping hand. We need to remember that society as a whole does not understand or have an awareness of the issues associated with living with a disability.

We do not teach our children about disability as part of the school curriculum and it’s not something that we are exposed to as we are socialized within the family unit (unless we have a family member who lives with a disability).

So what’s the answer?

Well I don’t have all the answers but here are some of my thoughts. I believe that we can do many things; we are after all a very resourceful, resilient, creative and determined community.

Firstly we must of course continue to educate, campaign and advocate for our human and equal rights; this is our birth right.

Secondly we must continue to and increase our profiles within our local national and international communities. We must challenge stereotypical role models and have the courage to demonstrate positive role models in sport, at home, at work and in every aspect of our lives. We must take leadership not just in the context of our activities within disabled people’s organizations but also in terms of all of the very different things that we can do, the very different people that we are and in the context of the many different roles that we occupy.

We are able to be equal contributing members of society and we must promote ourselves at every opportunity and take leadership not just in terms of the disability agenda but in terms of enabling society and inspiring change.

Finally, I want to share with you a personal experience which occurred in my life about 18 months ago the outcomes of which never fail to inspire me even when I am feeling at my most powerless and hopeless. A young friend of mine, who was about to become a father for the first time had both legs blown off when he stood on a landmine whilst on active duty in Afghanistan. Over the past 18 months I have witnessed his rehabilitation; his resilience, determination, courage and absolute passion to live a full and equal life has been truly inspirational. He has reminded me that we and our communities are unique. We are fortunate because we have some very highly developed skills and attributes.

Many of us may not see total equality in our lifetimes but the stage is set for us to contribute in many, many ways, we are all capable of contributing and of leaving our own personal legacies which will inspire and affect positive change into the future.

During the 2012 Olympics equality has been at the very heart of the games and women have for the first time experienced equality by ensuring that all nations teams contain women participants; history in the making. The Paralympics will form part of disabled peoples’ history.

We will be seen to win gold, silver and bronze and we will change the way in which society thinks about us.

To contact or read more about Danny, please visit his website.

First Image Credit Flickr User Jonas in China