In 2012, it was “Meet the Superhumans,” with images of heroic para-athletes.
In 2016, it was “We’re the Superhumans,” heroic para-athletes mixed in with images of everyday folk.
In 2021, it’s “Super. Human.” with the emphasis on Human.
Channel 4, the official broadcaster of the Paralympics in the UK, has, since the 2012 Games, captured and shaped the pop culture view of the para-athlete, and in a broader way, those with disability. Through the eyes of Channel 4, our view of the disabled has evolved.
In 2012, we needed our attention grabbed to even think of the circumstances of the disabled. For many, the para-athlete had to be portrayed as superhuman, placed on a pedestal so we could start a conversation about how inspiring the disabled are.
But the para-athlete no longer wants to be your inspiration, no longer desires to pose on your pedestal.
As disability rights activist and writer, Penny Pepper said in reaction to the 2016 Superhumans video, “the superhuman shtick is a tiresome diversion away from what is important. Let us be ordinary, let us be every day and let us at least have rights. Rights to independent living.”
People with disabilities want you to know that they are you, and you are they – just another person trying to get along in life.
A recently released video captures that tone perfectly: a man in a wheelchair responds to adoring statements of how inspiring the disabled are, with a single word of defiance.
That short film is the clarion call for the “WeThe15” campaign, symbolizing the estimated 15% of the global population that are disabled. Launched on the eve of the Tokyo2020 Paralympic Games, WeThe15 “aspires to be the biggest ever human rights movement to represent the world’s 1.2 billion persons with disabilities.”
If people with disabilities had its own country, it would be the third largest in the world.
In other words, one out of every seven of your own family members, friends and colleagues have some form of disability, who may be marginalized or discriminated in some way.
It’s possible that you are treating people with disabilities in ways that are perceived as patronizing, divisive or hurtful without realizing it.
As the WeThe15 film explains, people with disabilities are not “the other.” They are the same as you.
People call us special, but there’s nothing special about us. We have mortgages. We kill houseplants. We watch reality TV. We get sunburned on holiday. We get married. We swipe right. We go on first dates, and get lucky too.
WeThe15 is a broad-based alliance of global organizations related to sports, human rights, policy, business, arts and entertainment, led primarily by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the International Disability Alliance (IDA).
“WeThe15 is a decade long campaign bringing together the biggest coalition of international organizations ever to work towards a common goals: to end discrimination and transform the lives of the world’s 1.2 billion persons with disabilities who make up 15% of the global population,” said Craig Spence, IPC Chief Brand & Communications Officer.
“This could be a game changer of a campaign looking to initiate change from governments, business and the general public. By doing so we can place disability at the heart of the diversity and inclusion agenda.”
The goals of WeThe15, which are aligned to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, are to change attitudes and create more opportunities by:
- Putting persons with disabilities at the heart of the diversity and inclusion agenda,
- Implementing a range of activities targeting governments, businesses, and the public to drive social inclusion for persons with disabilities,
- Breaking down societal and systemic barriers that are preventing persons with disabilities from fulfilling their potential and being active members of society,
- Ensuring greater awareness, visibility, and representation of persons with disabilities, and
- Promoting the role of assistive technology as a vehicle to driving social inclusion.
During the Tokyo Paralympics, you will see many references to Wethe15, including public light ups in purple, the symbolic color of inclusivity.
It is time to stand up for the 15, not because they are special, but because they are just like you.
So while the pedestals are nice, and the pity tolerated, we are not “special.” That’s not what it’s like. That’s not our reality. And only when you see us as one of you, wonderfully ordinary, wonderfully human, only then can we all break down these barriers that keep us apart.
– from the WeThe15 campaign film