The last few years have been great for raising awareness about disability in sport, and indeed, action sports. A spotlight on the Winter Paralympics, Disability Snowsport UK going from strength to strength, and a rising commercial interest in those superhumans who go above and beyond what society would expect of them. Combined, this has allowed disabled people, in all their shapes and sizes, to slowly emerge and show the world what they’re capable of.
But it seems as if regardless of how well we ride, how well we speak and how well we dress, the second that the word “deaf” or “disabled” is thrown into the mix, people’s attitudes almost instantly change. My friend’s younger sister, born deaf due to complications in pregnancy is an avid skier and we discussed how you can almost read in their eyes and facial expressions that they’re processing the inner conflict of: “But you don’t look like a deaf person?!”
Someone, after a few drinks, will probably be slurring their words as they say: “Oh honey, you are just so brave.”
Being confronted by the unknown can bring out some interesting characteristics in people, and it seems like the main one is that even the nicest people can descend into becoming hilariously, awkwardly and bumbling-ly patronising when faced with someone with sensory disabilities. More often than not, people think they’re helping when they reach out to you and offer to shadow you down the mountain, or, embarrassingly, take enormous steps to repeat everything that everyone is saying to you on the chairlift, in a painfully loud and slow voice.
Someone, after a few drinks, will probably be slurring their words as they say: “Oh honey, you are just so brave. I wish I had an ounce of drive and bravery that you have.” Which reinforces that rather odd assumption that we struggle with being the people that we are.
Then there’s probably a bloke who opens a conversation with something like: “Having been out on the mountain with you today, I am impressed. You’re pretty good… for a deaf person.” And then proceeds to give you everything he knows on hearing loss, his carefully planned consensus on how deaf people just need to listen more, and he might even throw in a few wizened old tales about how he once knew a deaf person. And no, it definitely wasn’t his Gran.