2016,  disability,  Paralympics,  Uncategorized

Yes I Can

Channel 4 have a released an advert for the upcoming Paralympic Games.  It’s once again based around the “superhumans” concept they used when broadcasting the Paralympics in 2012.

I like this advert. I like the way it shows lots of disabled people doing both sport and everyday things like brushing their teeth.  I like how it makes disability both an in your face thing you can’t avoid and a normal thing.

I also especially like the fact that signed, subtitled and audio described versions are available making this a really inclusive, accessible advert. That’s fantastic.

At the same time I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of things about how this isn’t a good advert and shows disability in a poor light, makes it seem that we’re all amazing and inspiration and we can do anything.

I agree and I don’t.

I agree that it’s not as simple as wanting to do something and declaring that I can do it.

In my life I’ve done a lot of things people said I never would.  I used to joke that if someone told me I couldn’t do something I’d do it just to prove them wrong.  But there are always going to be things that I can’t do. Some of that’s down strictly to having CP and in other cases it’s a little bit more complicated.

In the advert we see a careers adviser tell a boy in a wheelchair “no, you can’t.” Then we see him playing wheelchair rugby and screaming “Yes I can!”

But here’s the thing: he can play wheelchair rugby in the paras (or at least I assume he’s a paralympian) because the opportunities he needed to learn to play and get good at it were there.

I did adaptive sports growing up – I used the gym, I went horse riding, I swam occasionally and I did archery.  I lived near a brilliant Riding for the Disabled centre and there’s an adaptive leisure centre in Oxford that my parents (and occasionally friend’s parents) took me too at least once a week.  But the one sport I always wanted to do as a teenager was wheelchair basketball. And no where near where I live provided it.

I could – and did – do many sports. I couldn’t do the one I dreamed of. Yes I can only gets you so far when there’s no where to learn, train or play.  I sail now because there are people who give up their time to support disabled sailors, set up the boats, fundraise, man a safety boat, teach people and buddy if support is needed.  And because my Dad and a friend share the driving. Yes I can gets me a long way but if no one could take me it wouldn’t work. As it is most of the sites regattas are held (possibly all apart from Oxford) don’t have hoists so I don’t really take part in those.

Disability is a lot more complex than the advert shows and the yes I can attitude is great but it’s not the be all and end all. It’s just the beginning.

I don’t agree with the idea that the advert is a bad thing because I think for some people (I’m particularly thinking of disabled kids) seeing that number of “people like them” being celebrated on TV could be a really empowering thing.

(I also think the “We’re the superhumans” tag line really should be applied to both paralympian and Olymians because that level of sporting prowess is pretty incredible disability or no. But Channel 4 just have the rights to the paras so…)



  • Fran Macilvey

    Thanks for your post, Emma. Illuminating, as always. I agree that for every good thing we can say about a brilliant advert – it’s eye-poppingly clever and posits people with different abilities in lots of places and ways we might not otherwise see, it’s glamorous and colourful and full of movement – there are other things we might suggest as being less helpful, such as the notion that careers advisors are out of touch ( 😉 ) that any person with a variable ability who manages to do anything more than get out of bed each morning deserves the label ‘heroic’ – the whole notion that competitive sport is a good thing…. but I’m all for cheerfulness, in any situation or context.

    Thank you. 🙂

  • Angeangel

    **** that’s 4 star Do you need to be competitive to keep going? Like you say all Olympians para or no need something really special. How do you encourage people to be involved in ‘healthy activity’ just for fun?

  • Sarah

    Such a good post, I completely agree with what you said about it being good for kids to see. I was 18 at the last olympics and even then seeing the adverts was amazing to me, because like you said it forces people to see disability in a positive light instead of ignoring it or being sympathetic about it, which is so what I’m used to seeing on tv

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