By Dea Birkett
The film Dolphin Tale perpetuates a myth that swimming with dolphins will ‘restore’ disabled people such as my daughter.
I’ve lost track how many times my disabled daughter has been offered a swim with a dolphin. While disabled people struggle to get a hoist or a few hours’ home help, numerous charities will fly them to Florida to experience the miraculous feeling of frolicking in the water with a friend of Flipper. According to organisations that sell such snake oil, “dolphin therapy” alleviates a wide range of disabilities, from increasing the attention span of a child with attention deficit disorder to curing paralysis. Dolphin Tale is the latest vehicle to peddle this propaganda. This family film is about the remarkable, restorative powers a dolphin called Winter brings to troubled and disabled youngsters.
Two great myths buoy up this linking of a marine mammal with a person with an impairment. There’s the myth that dolphins share human characteristics; in the film, the dolphin Winter conducts lively conversations with people in squeak language. And there’s the myth that all disabled people need to be whole again is a good dose of inspiration – even from an animal.
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