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‘Superhumans’

This campaign takes the fragility outtk-superhumans4

By Louise Kinross

My husband loved this ‘We’re The Superhumans’ ad about the British Paralympics team as well as everyday folks with disability. It was produced by UK broadcaster Channel 4.

I wanted to like it, I really did. But while I got caught up in the Broadway style show and the catchy “Yes I can” cover, something about the “I can do anything” lyrics, when paired with elite athletes as well as regular folks with disabilities, who just happen to be independent, didn’t sit right with me.

Most of the adults and children in the ad have amputations and they’ve adapted by using a different limb or a prosthesis.

This is how a story in Advertising Age described it: “Paralympians make high jumps, score goals, lift barbells and shoot arrows while everyday folks pump gas, take notes, eat cereals, fly airplanes — just as easily as their counterparts who happen to have arms and legs would.”

Is that statement true?

Is it “as easy” to do competitive sports and everyday activities with a disability as without one? Isn’t that a ludicrous over-generalization? And just how are we defining “disability?”

One of the everyday Superhumans featured is Jessica Cox, the first armless pilot who flies with her feet on the controls (she’s an American, by the way).  She’s able to fly the plane with her feet because her physical disability is singular — she was born without arms. What if she also had low or high muscle tone that limited use of her feet, or chronic pain, or an intellectual disability? Would flying be so “easy” then?

What kind of expectations does this ad set for all people with disabilities, including those with multiple disabilities? The ad suggests that disabled people can do anything AND that they can do it on their own. All of the everyday Superhumans act independently. Most have amputations, and we see how they play a guitar, steer a car, drive a plane, care for a child and pump gas with their feet.

What about people who have conditions that affect many parts of the body and their ability to function? What about people who require help with bathing, dressing, toileting, moving in their wheelchair or communicating? What about people who require round-the-clock care? How do they fit into this “I can do anything” realm? They don’t. That’s why they don’t appear in the ad. “Being a Superhuman is a state of mind,” says the ad’s creative director. “It’s time to stop focusing on disability and focus on superability instead.”

What? Is a physical environment designed for bipeds and not wheelchairs or walkers a “state of mind” on the part of the disabled person? Are unconscious biases against disabled children detected during implicit association testing in adults a “state of mind” in the children? What about North American health protocols (I imagine they’re the same in Europe) that bar children and adults with disabilities from admission to intensive care during a pandemic?

Disabled people have historically been stereotyped as “less than” human. This ad, pairing some of Britain’s finest athletes with everyday disabled folk who are independent, suggests they are Superhuman.

Will people with disabilities ever be allowed to just be human, in its full spectrum, which includes different degrees of interdependence and dependence over a lifetime?

Louise Kinross is editor of BLOOM and special projects manager at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

This article originally appeared on BLOOM, a magazine and blog on parenting kids with disabilities by Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. hollandbloorview.ca/bloom

Reprinted with permission.

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