I’m struggling to believe that I have to say this, I really am, but here goes:
The Paralympics tell us nothing about most sick or disabled people.
No, really, they don’t. The athletes taking part in the Paralympics, just like those in the Olympics, represent the elite. They are the people who are lucky enough to have time for training, money for equipment, the physical ability to push themselves that far. Just as you could not expect any person who is not yet disabled to run as fast as Usain Bolt or to dive with as much skill as Tom Daley, you cannot expect a disabled person to run like Oscar Pistorius or swim like Ellie Simmonds.
For sick or disabled people the struggle is not to get to Paralympic standard but to achieve the same standard as most people who are not disabled. That’s what disabled means. For whatever reason the combination of the way that society is arranged and the impairment that a person has means that they are unable to function in the same way as most. Disability makes everything harder. It makes things more exhausting. It makes things more expensive. It makes things take longer. Sickness and disability can require everything that a person has and still not allow them to function. For many when the impairment is too great no amount of adjustment or struggle can overcome that, although technology and the efforts of those around them can provide other means for a happy life.
For a lucky few that sickness or physical impairment is not a barrier to Paralympic greatness. Even then, though they may be able to run or swim or shoot they might still not be able to dress themselves or wash themselves or cook for themselves. We should celebrate their sporting abilities, but we must not think that sporting ability tells us anything else at all about Paralympic athletes or any other sick or disabled person.