Deaf geographies, and other worlds.
Following my initial post on the Deaflympics, I went home with something nagging at the back of my mind.
I felt like I’d written a reasonable post, that should have made me feel like I’d settled the matter.
But it didn’t… what was bothering me was a deeper, and more troubling thing.
And I think it is this:
The lack of recognition for the Deaflympics bothers me – but not because I don’t think it’s fair to the athletes.
I don’t think it’s fair – but there’s more than that.
The primary reason that the lack of recognition for the Deaflympics bothers me is precisely because the Paralympics is recognised – and in a particular way… and the difference between the two tells me a story that I don’t like.
I’ll explain, starting with two broad statements:
1. I don’t think the Paralympics did what people think it did… I don’t think it really persuaded people to be more open-minded about diversity.
(and before I get shot down for that outrageous statement…)
2. I think the Paralympics did something very powerful… it showcased the achievements of a group of people who are physically and mentally different from the mainstream. But it did it in a way that essentially reinforced the idea that ‘difference is best overcome’. And that for me is dangerous, because it means that those who don’t join in ‘overcoming’ aren’t seen as ‘diverse’, they are seen as ‘irrelevant’.
Think about it… and about the discourses that were formulated around the Paralympics. From where I was watching, I saw very little discussion of the differences that set the Paralympians apart from their able-bodied peers.
In fact, the major discourses from the Paralympics were about ‘forgetting’ that disabled athletes are disabled… focusing instead on how ‘their disability doesn’t really come into it, and that with some effort, they are all just athletes after all’.
The story wasn’t “let’s explore how people differ”, it was “let’s applaud the efforts of those who have worked so hard, and envisage a single world of sport… which is built on the basic assumption that everyone wants to be a part, and that anyone can be a part, if they work hard enough.
Recognition on that basis doesn’t ask you if you want to be a part of that single world… it assumes you do, and then validates you as part of it by looking at how hard you’ve worked to be there.
Here, I’m conflicted, because part of me applauds this… But, part of me also thinks that it’s dangerous, because you then look at the Deaflympics, and you see a group of people who have also worked enormously hard, and who inhabit a perfectly valid space… but have decided to produce that space apart from that ‘one world of sport’. And because of that, they are ‘irrelevant’.
And that’s why, despite the effort, the training, the investment, the travel… the Deaflympians get no recognition. Because, instead of striving to be a part of the mainstream, Deaf people break the rules.
And *that’s* why I was so struck by the visual starting system that I pointed out yesterday. Because it represents an opportunity that the mainstream, hearing world is passing up.
For Deaflympians, for Deaf people… it signifies something so simple as to be banal… it’s just common-sense, GREEN > BLUE > ORANGE / READY > STEADY > GO.
For non Deaf people, it should be a letterbox-sized lens into a space that is radically different. One that explores why, for all the ‘Olympian’ look of all the athletes at Sophia, the space of the Deaflympics does not want to be the same as that of the Olympics and the Paralympics… and why that’s OK… better than OK, why that’s good for humanity.
Deaf spaces are good for humanity.
The hearing (and hearing, disabled) world desperately needs to see Deaf spaces, and understand that they are perfectly valid, and that the choice to produce them and to produce them apart from hearing spaces is valid, if it’s not to spiral deeper and deeper into a normalising reality that excludes anyone who chooses not to ‘fit’ into whatever structure is defined as permitted.
The Deaflympics is a massive opportunity to tell the world, not just about Deaf ways of being, but about the possibility for different, valid, humanly creative ways of being.
By failing to recognise the Deaflympics, the world is cheating itself… That’s why it’s not fair.
There… I think I got there that time.