So, the Tokyo Paralympics kick off on Tuesday August 24 and we’re 100% here for another fortnight of sporting tests, triumphs and Team GB medal tallies.
The world’s pinnacle showcase for disabled athletes wants to put sport front and centre stage for the next 10 days – while also seizing every opportunity to promote year-round equality for disabled and non-disabled people.
As comedian Rosie Jones, part of Channel 4′s presenting team in Japan, told HuffPost UK: “We’re at a point now as a country where we’re just as excited for the Paralympics as the Olympics, but we shouldn’t be grateful that for four weeks, we’re equal to able-bodied people. That should be happening all the time.”
Which is why Paralympic gold medallist and disability campaigner, Liz Johnson, is here to debunk 10 common misconceptions about disability for us to keep in mind as we tune into events from Tokyo.
10 Myths About Disability, Debunked
Myth 1: Our best career hope is to be a Paralympian
“It goes without saying that I love the Paralympics. Winning gold at the Games was all I ever wanted at one point, and being able to fulfil that dream was truly special. But not every disabled person shares it,” says Liz Johnson.
“While the Paralympics help to shine a light on incredible disabled talent, sport isn’t all that we can do; that myth limits opportunities for the rest of the disabled workforce, as well as for retired Paralympic athletes. Just like able-bodied people, there are many different ambitions and skills among us, and we’re capable of working in any sector of our choosing.”
Myth 2: We are a small minority
“There are over 14 million people living with a disability in the UK today: that’s one in five of us. We’re not small in number. Yet, because disability is so underrepresented, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
“Except for once every four years when the Paralympics are shown, we rarely hear or see disability in our governments, or on our stages or screens. That needs to change. Disabled role models in every sector must be given a platform if we are to normalise disability.”
Myth 3: You’re necessarily born with a disability
“Many people dismiss disability because they’re not directly affected by it. But this may not always be the case. Only 17% of disabled people were born with their impairment. The vast majority acquire disability later in life, with hearing, vision and mobility impairments all increasingly common with old age. It’s in all of our interests to make accessibility and inclusion a priority.”
Myth 4: All disabilities are visible
“For most, the word ‘disability’ immediately conjures up an image of a wheelchair user. This enduring stereotype has helped to instil the belief that disabilities only exist if they are physical, or if they can be seen. In fact, just 8% of disabled people in the UK are wheelchair users, whilst invisible disabilities account for 80% of all disabilities. Examples include chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and depression.
“Mental health issues in general are increasing at an alarming rate. Yet lack of awareness around all of these conditions ensures that disabled people stay in the shadows, unable to get the support they need.”
Myth 5: You only get a Blue Badge for a mobility issue
“Competition for parking spaces can be fierce. And thanks to the common misconception that only those with mobility-related disabilities are entitled to Blue Badges, disabled people are often the subject of angry motorists’ abuse. The truth is that there are many different reasons why Blue Badges are allocated, including chronic pain and certain mental health conditions.”
Myth 6: We can’t do ‘normal’ jobs
“The seeming absence of disability in workplaces contributes to the myth that disabled people are unable to do ‘normal’ jobs. But plenty of workers with invisible disabilities simply choose not to disclose them to colleagues, and that’s totally their choice.
“The reality is also that, because public transport and workplaces are largely inaccessible, disabled people often have to work from home – even pre-pandemic – or not work at all. While disabled people are perfectly capable of doing the jobs that anyone else does, barriers to access mean that they’re twice as likely to be unemployed.”
Myth 7: It’s expensive for employers to accommodate us
“Often, the reason that offices are inaccessible (and that disabled people are unemployed) is that employers believe adaptations to be unaffordable.
“The government’s Access To Work scheme exists for this reason, but it’s hugely under-utilised. This funding is reserved for companies to make the reasonable adjustments disabled staff need in order to work safely and comfortably. This might mean installing a lift, or simply providing a standing desk or speech-to-text software.”
“At the moment the onus is on disabled people to apply for the funding. It’s time we shifted that responsibility, and let employers know that help exists.”
Myth 8: It’s offensive to talk about disability
“Many people are reluctant to engage in conversations with disabled people for fear of offending them. But while it’s right to be wary of stereotypes and ableist culture, the majority of us are only too happy to engage in conversations about our disabilities where they promote more awareness and understanding.
“In my experience, people are just genuinely curious about the reality of living with a disability. Misunderstandings, assumptions and taboos stem from the fact that we don’t talk about disability enough.”
Myth 9: Disabled people should still wear masks
“When mask-wearing was compulsory, people who were exempt but did not have visible health needs were often subjected to questioning for not wearing face coverings. Now we’ve got the opposite problem. People who are vulnerable and more at risk may still choose to wear face masks. But it’s important to remember that people with visible disabilities are not necessarily among this group.
“Health conditions which categorise people as clinically vulnerable do not necessarily correlate with physical disabilities. So rather than make assumptions about people’s needs, we should respect that each person knows what’s best for them. By respecting individuals’ choices moving forward, we can avoid the need for any further myth-busting on this front!”
Myth 10: We’re different or brave
“Disabled people are just people. We are only ‘disabled’ because of ableist barriers that exist in society, such as the lack of wheelchair ramps, the absence of subtitles on screens, or over-crowded tables in restaurants that make it difficult for wheelchair users to get through.
“Our disabilities don’t define us, but these issues alone are holding us back and must be addressed. We don’t want to be treated differently and we certainly don’t want sympathy. We just want to live in a society which is inclusive of our needs, and to be given the same opportunities as everyone else.”