The Guardian view on the Paralympics: focus on ability, not disability

Published in The Guardian, 9/6/2016

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This week, we are once again invited to meet The Superhumans. When the Paralympics open in Rio on Wednesday, they will surely once again help to challenge the stigma that people with disabilities face worldwide and that can bar them from education, jobs, a decent standard of living and even a family or social life.

For many, London 2012 marked the first time that the Games were treated not as an afterthought but an event in their own right (they are so competitive, incidentally, that participants are willing to dope or to manoeuvre their way to advantage). As important as London’s record 2.5m ticket sales and the cheering crowds was Channel 4’s coverage, the tone set by those irreverent posters at the end of the Olympics (“Thanks for the warm-up”) and a trailer highlighting the sheer thrill of the sport.

The focus was not on the athletes’ disabilities, but their abilities; instead of poring over their back stories, it celebrated their extraordinary prowess. The broadcaster’s new trailer is another beautifully produced, attitude-shifting work, this time including people in daily life as well as the sporting arena, set to the song Yes I Can. Perhaps inspired by Channel 4’s success, NBC will show 60 hours of coverage in the US this time – a fraction of its Olympics broadcasting, but a dramatic improvement from the 5.5 hours last time round.

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