I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Paralympics. On the one hand it does give elite disabled sportspeople a platform and raises awareness, but on the other the coverage is often surrounded by a lot of inspiration and trauma porn.
That for me can put a dampener on the whole proceedings, so when I heard that Channel 4 had set out its most ambitious ever Paralympic plans I was excited. With an over 70% disabled presenting team, live subtitles, audio describing and sign language it sounded like a real effort was being made to break the mould.
However the advertising campaign has let it down.
The main TV advert for the Paralympics is titled Super. Human. and shows the reality of living with disabilities both in everyday life and whilst training for the Paralympics.
It shows pain, families being frustrated with them and accessibility issues, but it also borders slightly on inspo and trauma porn by showing the Paralympians overcome these challenges.
Then there’s the messaging. In the advert we see “to be a Paralympian there’s got to be something wrong with you”, which was enough to make every disabled person who’s ever been asked “what’s wrong with you?!” bristle.
At the end of the advert we see the words “Super. Human.” and the world super is shattered. This is a reference to the backlash the channel got for their inspiration porn riddled Rio 2016 games advert We’re The Superhumans which received so much backlash the YouTube comments were turned off.
I know disabled people who can’t even watch the Paralympics because of the whole “supercrip” narrative, it makes them feel inadequate about themselves. But it’s okay, Channel 4 have gotten rid of that by putting a crack over the word Super in Superhuman.
There’s also a billboard and bus shelter campaign accompanying the Paralympics which uses the slogan “It’s rude not to stare” which garnered plenty of backlash on Twitter over the weekend.
I understand that they’re trying to subvert opinion and make you think about the phrases, but when you’ve grown up being told you don’t fit in, that there’s something wrong with you and that if you don’t control your disability people will stare at you, they cut differently.
There’s also the fact that it only makes an impact if you get what they’re trying to say in the first place, which many won’t. Most people seeing the advert won’t have experienced bias and hate because of their disability, so to them it wont read as “pay attention to these amazing athletes.” It will read as “idolise disable people.” Again.
I was chatting to a former Paralympian a couple of weeks ago (I know, get me) and one thing they said that really stuck out was that Olympians are never seen as what all non-disabled people should aspire to be so it’s really infuriating that Paralympians are held up as the pinnacle of disability.
That right there sums it all up. The Paralympics have the potential to be so much more and do so much more for disabled people but while they still pander to a majority non disabled audience they never will.
Channel 4 needs to focus less on subversive marketing and more on providing a Paralympics that disabled people can enjoy and will be proud of.
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