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Turning Paralympian’s into Super-humans – Article Analysis

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Published: Mon, 04 Sep 2017

Critical Analysis of Pepper, P. Turning Paralympian’s into ‘super-humans’ is no help to disabled people, The Guardian, 6 September, 2016

In Penny Pepper’s article “Turning Paralympian’s into ‘superhuman’ is no help to disabled people”, which was originally published on the guardian website on the 6th of September, Penny Pepper contends that while characterising Paralympian’s as superhuman detracts away from the real issues that disable people have to deal with. Penny pepper highlights how disabled people are not being helped by the government and that the system in place doesn’t do enough with regards to care and support for those who are disabled. The article Turning Paralympian’s into super-humans is no help to the disabled as Penny Pepper has been a writer and disability rights activist for over 20 years now and has an in depth knowledge of this subject. Pepper’s knowledge leads to an informative and insightful article creating much for the reader to consider in their day to day lives where many may not spend adequate time looking at how difficult the daily lives of those who are disabled can be and how much of this is possibly down to a lack of infrastructure or down to unfulfilled promises from the government (Bagenstos, 2009). I think that this article does highlight issues that maybe do not get enough consideration and deserve a lot more examination in today’s society.

The main points of this article are, firstly, the campaign with which the author, Penny Pepper, has been tirelessly been fighting for. This is the fight for the independent living of Disabled people, which has gone again unnoticed after multiple campaigns for the independent living movement. The article then goes onto mention the cuts in funding that has led to terrible suffering for the disabled and also that there have been regular and consistent broken promises by the government which have led to these. Penny Pepper mentions the terrible living conditions that these situations have led to she says “left living in their own mess and sleeping in vomit.” (Pepper, 2016) The article then goes on to talk about how the majority of people on the committee simply cannot understand the reality of disabled lives and the inequality that there is. Pepper talks about three left-wing politicians and their support for her campaign. Pepper then goes onto discuss her concerns over whether labelling Paralympian’s as superhuman creates an image in which the only disabled person that’s acceptable is a Paralympian. Which creates incredibly deep wounds for those who are disabled without being Paralympian’s. But, Pepper in the article, goes onto talk about how temporary this focus on the issue is and how it shouldn’t just be highlighted for four weeks while the Paralympics goes on. Another one of Peppers points in the article is that of what is the social construct of disability and what, where and who came up with this social model of disability and whether it is outdated and need to be updated to be considered properly in a modern day sense. Pepper concludes with a look at the lack of government support and interest in helping the disabled within society and refusing to input finances into infrastructure that would help those who are disabled and how sadly within society there are still barriers with which those who are disable have to encounter and overcome. For example trying to get a job despite attempts by those in power (Wilson‐Kovacs et al., 2008). Pepper concludes with her hopes for the future and where she hopes progress may take the disabled in society. Pepper concludes with the quote “let us be ordinary, let us be every day and let us at least have rights. Rights to independent living.” (Pepper, 2016). This returns the article to what Pepper started with which was the right to independent living.

It is apparent throughout the article that there is an agenda behind what Penny Pepper is writing and that becomes visible while reading her article. Pepper uses her activism in everyday life to help support her article and by doing this she creates an article that is meant to be firstly informative about the struggles of disabled people within society(Quarmby, 2012). Peppers first hand experiences of what a disabled person has to encounter every day. Pepper manages to highlight how on a day to day basis there is a need for those in society who have this label of being disabled to be considered and a need for activism (Rhodes et al., 2008). This activism is anything from peaceful marches to articles to disabled or hacking a website which Graeme Ellis. Ellis sabotaged the conservative party website after he claimed that George Osborne’s budget had gone some way to completely ignoring the plight of those in society who are disabled. This led to Graeme Ellis taking down the website for The Conservative Disability Group. In my opinion I find this article to be an attempt to persuade the reader of the plight of the disabled and an attempt to get the reader to join the attempt to follow her attempts to create a better life for the disabled. However, I feel like it could be a stronger argument and if there was a bit more decision over whether her article was supposed to be informative or persuasive.

The problem with this article is that, what was supposed to shed a positive light on the Paralympics. It was supposed to be a celebration of the abilities of those who are disabled. When Channel 4 released the “We’re the Superhumans” advert with the backing song “yes I can” by Sammy Davis Jr. performed by a big band composed of musicians with disabilities. All these attempts were in an attempt to celebrate what people with disabilities can do. It was not supposed to be an illustration or an attempt to shame those who have disabilities that haven’t become Paralympian’s. This article tries to suggest that this advert was an assault on daily lives of those who are disabled. I fail to see how this is advert is anything else than an attempt to celebrate the achievements of those that are disabled. When Penny Pepper wrote in the Guardian editorial that “The hyping of disabled athletes into superhuman status by Channel 4 only deepens our wounds, inflicted by continual assaults on our daily lives.” She portrays this as all negative, but through this advert the public in the UK became increasingly more excited and involved in the Paralympics. I believe that this is therefore not a bad thing as it creates a society where disability is in the forefront of societies mind.

However, one of the strengths of this article written by Penny Pepper, is how she considers the idea of what the social construct of disability is. Pepper says “Many disabled people know that disability is a social construct. This is a kindergarten-level social model of disability” It is easy to forget the role that society plays in helping those who are disabled deal with everyday life. This is summed up well by the quote “It is everyday socio-spatial environments which di-able people” (Sawadsri, 2012). This includes the lack of ramps into public buildings and the presence of steps throughout towns and cities across the United Kingdom. These are factors that Pepper argues creates disability, but it goes so much further which I think Pepper tries to state. It is forgotten that so much of disability comes down to the attitudes of society.  Penny Pepper has been an activist for this and has regularly talked about these social “barriers” that disabled people have to deal with. These can be split into three sections environment, attitudes and organisations. Under environment pepper talks about inaccessibility to buildings and services and this ties into what Pepper says with regards to the lack of governmental investment with regards to infrastructure. As Pepper says in the article “while the unending fact of inaccessible environments and savage attacks on our services continues to invalidate such proposals.” (Pepper, 2016) This goes onto how the attitudes within society makes it difficult for those who are disabled. Another example of these social barriers that Pepper mentions in her example. This therefore shows one of the strengths of Pepper’s article in highlighting what is regularly overlooked when attempting to help those who are disabled in society. The article highlights the role of society and how there is a way of helping those in disabled situations and creating a situation where disabled people are not represented as other but as just someone fully integrated into society. (Garland-Thomson, 2002)

Another feature of this article is its political aspect, which becomes apparent in the first quarter of the article. All the politicians that are mentioned are inherently left wing, including Jeremy Corbyn who is one of the stauncher left wing politicians in the United Kingdom today. This displays an attitude from Pepper that falls in line with popular opinion today suggesting that the right wing parties in the United Kingdom, the Conservatives, do not care about those who are disabled. It also suggests that she feels that she may be able to show that in her writing the left-wing politicians are the only people in government who are willing to help those in society who are disabled. It certainly displays an aspect to her writing where Pepper is trying to convince the reader that if they care about this issue then they must, almost, vote and identify with the left wing in the United Kingdom. Another columnist from The Guardian, Amelia Gentleman wrote “it is simply no longer possible to be disabled and a Tory” this was a quote from Graeme Ellis a life-long conservative voter and disability activist. This does however highlight the cuts that the conservative party has made since being in power to disability benefits. This therefore suggests that this article has a political agenda and thereby suggests that this article is aimed at a specific audience. This could also be explained by the publication being The Guardian newspaper which is renowned for being a more left wing newspaper in the United Kingdom.

Finally, it is important to consider whether Penny Pepper has accomplished what she set out to do with writing her article. I think that Pepper does essentially achieve what she set out to do, which was to highlight her disagreement with Paralympian’s being labelled as superhuman but also to disagree with how the disabled are treated and supported in today’s society (Wolbring, 2016). I think that Pepper could have created a more effective essay if she had considered fewer problems within society rather than have such a broad range of topics including social construct of disability and how politics is not helping those who are disabled in society. Therefore it could be said that to some extent Penny Pepper has achieved what she set out to do when writing this article with a well-researched article with a powerful conclusion.

Therefore, it can be said in conclusion that this article is useful because it brings to the fore issues that may not be given enough thought in society today. I believe that this article does a good job of highlighting these issues and educating the reader in what could be done and what every person in society could do to help eliminate the social idea of what disability is. I think that one of the particular strengths of this article is Penny Peppers real life experiences of the challenges that disabled people face every day and what the responsibility of society is in the hope for progress as the year’s progress. For these reasons I think it can be said that this is a strong article with both well researched information and that is directed at the right audience.

Word Count 1960

References

Bagenstos, S. (2009). Law and the contradictions of the disability rights movement. 1st ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp.146-150.

Garland-Thomson, R. (2002). Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory. NWSA Journal, [online] 14(3), pp.1-32. Available at: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/37970/summary [Accessed 13 Mar. 2017].

Pepper, P. (2016). Turning Paralympians into ‘superhumans’ is no help to disabled people. The Guardian. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/06/paralympians-superhumans-disabled-people [Accessed 14 Mar. 2017].

Quarmby, K. (2012). Scapegoat. 1st ed. London: Portobello, pp.30-33.

Rhodes, P., Nocon, A., Small, N. and Wright, J. (2008). Disability and identity: the challenge of epilepsy. Disability & Society, 23(4), pp.385-395.

Sawadsri, A. (2012). ‘Do I Look Like an Object?’ A Quest of Exploring Person – Place Relationship of Disabling. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, [online] 50, pp.418-428. Available at: http://research.ncl.ac.uk/forum/v10i1/4_Antika.pdf [Accessed 15 Mar. 2017].

Wilson‐Kovacs, D., Ryan, M., Haslam, S. and Rabinovich, A. (2008). ‘Just because you can get a wheelchair in the building doesn’t necessarily mean that you can still participate’: barriers to the career advancement of disabled professionals. Disability & Society, [online] 23(7), pp.705-717. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09687590802469198 [Accessed 13 Mar. 2017].

Wolbring, G. (2016). Employment, Disabled People and Robots: What Is the Narrative in the Academic Literature and Canadian Newspapers?. Societies, 6(2), p.15.


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