#IsItOK? What I’ve Learned from the Paralympics

Hannah Cockroft wins T34 100m
Hannah Cockroft wins T34 100m (Photo credit: ian_fromblighty)

I have never been a big fan of televised sport, so I was not terribly disappointed that I contended with a number of pressing publishing deadlines and a heavy teaching assignment during the Olympics.  I did watch the opening ceremony with delight and did happen to see the cycling event as it sped through Kingston upon Thames, but in all honesty, my knowledge of the games was largely confined to what I learned from friends’ texts about favourite Olympians.

But that was until last night, when I found myself gripped by the Paralympic men’s wheelchair basketball.  It was absolutely astonishing to watch, and certainly more exciting than the games of basketball I have seen in the past.  I stayed for repeats of Hannah Cockroft’s 100m victory (that was surely the clearest win in sporting history, right?) and the downright incredible five-a-side blind football game.  Claire Balding’s majestic coverage of the events added to the enjoyment, and I will certainly be following the coming days with an unexpected new interest.

Yet the most exciting part of my night’s viewing was what came next, Channel 4’s The Last Leg.  Fronted by comedian Adam Hills,  it’s a typically irreverent roasting and roundup of all things Paralympic, which has no problem discussing disability honestly and humorously.  I appreciated it for demonstrating how to speak about disability without being patronizing, and, indeed, how to laugh about disability in sensitive and appropriate ways, just as we would about anything else.In a somewhat off-handed comment, the show introduced the hashtag #IsItOK as a way to ask about the serious, if somewhat uncomfortable, questions that many people have when watching the Paralympics.  A quick scan of Twitter has shown that many people are using the hashtag in just that way: to learn about disability without being offensive.  There are, of course, some people who are using the hashtag for less stimulating reasons.  And there are, of course, many other issues at play (see Lisa Egan’s blog on The Independent for more on that).  So it is perhaps naive of me to think that The Last Leg really is a way help people understand the Paralympic games and to respect the achievements of the athletes–especially in light of the significant controversy surrounding Frankie Boyle and his jokes.

The Last Leg seems a wonderful addition to Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics and I would like to think that it is demonstrating how to speak about disability in an honest and open way.  What do disability studies scholars think of The Last Leg? Is it as positive as it seems, or are there some serious issues that I have missed?  How far is too far (e.g. Frankie Boyle)?

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