What is this word ‘able-bodied’?

I am currently enjoying watching the Paralympics, even more so than the Olympics as some of the popular finals are on before my bedtime (8.00pm) 😀 I do, however, find myself getting cross at the use of the word ‘able-bodied’ by Channel 4 when referring to the Olympians. Ok, so it’s just a word, but words shape beliefs within society. The year of London 2012 has brought the Paralympics to the forefront of popularity and could, therefore, be used as a platform to level out the hierarchy of ‘difference’, of which language has a huge part to play.

By describing the Olympians as ‘able-bodied’, the subconscious meaning is that the Paralympians are not…but who is more ‘able-bodied’; Ellie Simmonds or me? I think the gold medal around the neck answers that one! It is the world in which we live, the behaviours and expectations of people within society, and the language we use which disables people and builds up a perception of ‘them’ and ‘us’, one group appearing superior to another.

Surely, whilst watching the Paralympics, disability should be talked about as the ‘norm’ (the ‘us’), and the Olympians referred to as ‘non-disabled’ athletes; the athletes that have not had to overcome as many barriers and challenges as their Paralympian counterparts in order to achieve their peak, their golds and their status in life.

For now, the country is celebrating diversity, and diversity is making the country proud to be British. We should not miss this opportunity to challenge prejudices, people’s perceptions of others and the language we use, and to value individuality. The complex classes of athletes in the Paralympics demonstrates alone that people can’t be slotted into 2 groups, the ‘them’ and ‘us’!

That’s it, I’ve got down off my soapbox now…. 😀



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