Wednesday, 28 May 2008

A Race Apart

I'm -not sure whether to be outraged or amused. I'll settle for a little of both. With England having failed to qualify for Euro 2008 we can all now happily ignore the competition which, aside from messing up the TV schedules, no longer concerns us. Instead those who need their sporting fix can turn their attention to the Beijing Olympics. For a couple of weeks we can watch fit people run around and throw things, jump over things and swim, run and cycle very fast. Great if you like that kind of thing. Many do, and some will even go to the trouble of flying all the way to China to see the games in person. And if they are disabled, don't worry, the Chinese are ready for them.


A special guide has been written for the 100,000 volunteers preparing to work at the Olympic and Paralympics games on how to interact with disabled people. So what sage advice is on offer? Well how about -


"Some physically disabled are isolated, unsocial, and introspective. They can be stubborn and controlling; they may be sensitive and struggle with trust issues. Sometimes they are overly protective of themselves, especially if called “crippled” or “paralysed” Do not use ‘cripple’ or ‘lame’ even if you are just joking.”


That's my comedy routine down the drain. But wait! There's more.


"When you make eye contact, do not fuss or show unusual curiosity. Never stare at their disfigurement. A patronising or condescending attitude will be easily sensed, even for a brain-damaged patient."


The guide for Chinese volunteers at the Games this summer explains that disabled people are a “special group” with “unique personalities and ways of thinking”. They've got me down to a tee. I particularly like this bit -


“They show no differences in sensation, reaction, memorisation and thinking mechanism from other people, but they might have unusual personalities because of disfigurement and disability,”


Unusual personality, yep, that's me again.


To be fair I don't know how much of this is down to translation and credit is due for recognising that many disabled people have special needs and on the whole prefer not to be gawped at. My complaint is that there seems to be an assumption that disabled people are a separate race. The irony in all this is that come the Paralympics it will be the Chinese who lead the medal table.


I'm looking forward to London 2012. Perhaps they'll let me write the guide to dealing with us crips.


“When talking to a person in a wheelchair make sure you pat them on the head and ruffle their hair. Position the wheelchair behind a pillar or behind a row of. people who will stand up and cheer throughout the event. And remember, disabled people are very brave.”