Awarded misinterpretation

About sports, disability and an award that makes me think.

Deutsch: Preisverdächtige Fehlinterpretation

Just recently a German water sports association which pledges itself to accessibility, won a well respected award. Amongst others, this award was presented by the German president. Wow, great! – one would like to think. Well I didn’t. Actually it even caused me some stomach ache. The reason is the television programme in which the association presented itself.

Don’t get me wrong, it is great that there are more and more initiatives that allow people with disabilities to become more active. Also it is about time that adaptive sports are finally getting some recognition in general public. In this certain case though something doesn’t feel good, at least for me it doesn’t.

Unsustainable passive house

Concerning this particular association I’ve already been conflicted for quite a while. As a matter of fact I do think that it does an important job. But the way this association depicts and seemingly sees people with disabilities, awakens an anger in me that’s probably not understandable for everybody. I can’t shake off the feeling that there is a fundamental lack of comprehension about disability and inclusion. I do not want to imply any bad intentions but good will is not everything. Without a suitable base and the right tools you won’t get anything reasonable built, no matter the intentions.

Stretching the builders-metaphor a little further, this association is trying to build a passive house (inclusion) on a postwar-period-base. At first glance this might look nice but at the end of the day it just doesn’t work. (At this point I want to apologize to all those architects and engineers who are incredulously shaking the heads right now.) If I now clarify that postwar-period-base stands for an understanding that equalizes disability with suffering and reduces people with disabilities to alleged deficits, one thing should become clear: „This ain’t no base for inclusion.“

Stairway to heaven

With that said, it should not amaze that, when I first saw mentioned television programme, my inner voice started screaming …

You with your christian charity are so freaking annoying! Don’t you understand that cripples are not your ticket to paradise?¹

My own personal Jesus.

With objective statements like this I want to reveal a misunderstanding that so many people have succumbed to still today. People with disabilities neither need nor want pity – it’s degrading. Also they are not on this world to pimp the self-esteem or spiritual well-being of able bodied individuals.

Disabled people are in this world– It’s that simple.
… and this is where they belong.
… and when they’re seen and treated as what they are – a natural part of the world and human society – this is inclusion.

Sadly it is this basic understanding that I miss so much in the aforementioned television programme. It seems as if in German (and Austrian) television it is still preferable to fish for viewers with stereotyping coverage instead of reporting neutrally.

But let’s start at the beginning

Accompanied by a melancholic piano jingle, the introduction of the clip shows the founder of the association on a walk on the beach. He then tells us that he „scraped past a spinal injury by a hair’s breadth twice.“² This dramaturgy is emphasized by keywords like emergency operation² and no wheelchair² whilst showing a radiograph. This orchestration suggests one thing to the audience: This clip is about suffering.
But what really made my already little hair stand on end was the following statement by our protagonist:

„For me there is nothing more beautiful then to give just a little more hope or a little more joie de vivre to those people, who haven’t received this favour or mercy by destiny.“²

Do you know that feeling when you lightheartedly enter a bathroom just to be overrun by the olfactory mark of your predecessor and you automatically start to choke? That’s how much this statement stinks to me.

I think by context we all know who is meant by „[…] people, who haven’t received this favour or mercy by destiny.“ Destiny or not, does this really mean that being disabled results from the absence of affection of some kind of higher, godly power?


Now that disabled people are punished by destiny (why else are we talking about mercy?), it seems only logical that they are living a miserable existence. Otherwise it would not be necessary „[…] to give [them] just a little more hope or a little more joie de vivre […]“. For me it is distressing that across the board disabled people are seen as victims and not as subjects of their own lives. As well as anybody else – some better, some worse – they are able to be the architects of their own fortune.

For me there is nothing more beautiful“ underlines that disabled people are basically background actors in this clip. Probably unconsciously the protagonist clarifies like this that it’s more about personal emotions then anything else. So what is it really all about? It can’t be inclusion, as no disabled person gets a word in edgeways within the entire programme.

I still can’t understand how the jury was able to overlook those discrepancies without even rudimentarily questioning these with pathos saturated contents.

I don’t expect that everybody understands my point of view – too deeply root the stereotypes about disabled people in society. But from an association which pledges itself to inclusion, I would have expected exactly this.

Nonetheless I want to congratulate the association on it’s success. This award can amplify its options and influence, while at the same time it entails a certain responsibility. This is why I’d love to see a change of attitude. It is about time to recognize the equality of disabled people and to treat one another at eye level. Maybe like this in the upcoming year the content matches the label: Inclusion.

Finally I want to thank Marcos Costa, a.k.a Jesus, aswell as Sergio Villalba, the photographer. Thanks for being so open and trusting.

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¹ Yes, I have written ‚cripples‘ – I have the etiquette manuals permission.
² These quotes were literally translated to English from the original German version.

Foto by Sergio Villalba:
Instagram: sergiovillalbastudio
Facebook: sergiovillalbastudio


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