Michey Peckitt: Triumphing over adversity since 1978

As I write these words, we must be coming to the end of day four of a little thing I like to call ‘Oscar Watch’, as Paralympian and Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius is charged with murder of his girlfriend, Ms. Reeva Steenkamp[1].  I shall not be discussing Pistorius directly here; I feel that even a blog must be respectful of matters which are sub judice.   However, it got me thinking about ‘super crip’ narratives.  

When we tell stories about disabled people be the stories true or fictional, disabled people tend to come out in one of two ways.  They either triumph over adversity, overcoming their disability in the process, or they seek to destroy the world, blaming it for their disability.  Basically, as disabled people we are all Tiny Tim or Richard III.  As a young disabled boy growing up, it was quite depressing, these were my role models, and they really are very two dimensional characters.  When I watch representations of disabled people in fiction, I always wonder – why can’t they just limp and it not be explained, why does disability always have to be used for character development?  I guess not to explain it would be confusing to those who do not have a disability, and it’s not all bad – I have a great regard for George RR Martin’s ‘Tyrion Lannister’ from A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones, here seems to be character with a disability that neither ‘triumphs over adversity’ and he’s no Richard III.  However, for the most part the situation is pretty bleak.

Google any article on Pistorius prior to his arrest and you often get ableist imagery[2]  – even his nickname ‘Blade Runner’ I found a little condescending.  For political reasons, disabled people are meant to eschew these images as part of the agenda of ableism.   And for the most part I agree that we should.  I certainly don’t think of myself bravely triumphing over adversity, nor do I seek to kill my brother and take over the kingdom, I certainly do not blame the world for my impairment.  And yet, even as I write these sentences, I am troubled by something.  Whatever else he may be, Pistorius can run very fast, I am sure you’ve noticed.  I can’t run like that.  Surely we can say then that his ability to run is not an ‘overcoming’ of his disability, it simply a triumph.   And as I look back over my own life thus far, there are experiences I have had, which are related to my disability at least, which it might be said, I had to overcome.  Being told at age fourteen, that I would be never be able to study A Levels (go to High School for my non-UK readers), was a definite set back.  Then spending two years after passing my GCSE’s at a college doing a Computers Studies course (basically learning to type), as I convinced my teachers I was capable of doing A Levels at age eighteen is something of which I am quite proud.  If only the nay-sayers could have seen me as I passed 1st in my class at undergraduate level, and get my PhD in 2010, their faces would be so red. 

Should I not feel proud, because it may fall foul of ‘an ableist agenda’?  Because let’s be clear about what I ‘triumphed over’, an education system that simply is not set up to deal with disabled people.  Inasmuch as disability is a social oppression, I triumphed over it.  Surely it’s OK to say that, just as it’s OK to say, even now, that Oscar Pistorius can run really, really fast.


[1] Oscar Pistorius: South Africa stunned by murder charges http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-21475513

[2] Oscar Pistorius: Salvaging the Super Crip Narrative http://thefeministwire.com/2013/02/oscar-pistorius-salvaging-the-super-crip-narrative/ is a notable exception.

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2 thoughts on “Michey Peckitt: Triumphing over adversity since 1978

  1. Agree. I wrote a column on Ouch a few years back called “Can we be heroes?”. I think despite the stereotypes (the tragic, the evil, the supercrip), the point we are making is that we are just ordinary folks. And sometimes, ordinary folks do extraordinary things. We should judge them on what they achieve, for good or bad, rather than associating it with disabiltiy. Having said that, I am generally impressed that the coverage of the Pistorious tragedy so far has, as far as I can see, not centered on his disability, but on his disturbing fascination with weaponry.

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    • Firstly, thanks for your response. It is difficult not to be starstruck when Tom Shakespeare comments on your blog. However, I can say one thing, there are certain cultures that seem to fascinated with weaponry – Italian and Greece to name by two. I also have a friend who is South African, apparently thus far Pistorius’ behaviour is typical.

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