Ellie Cole was told she wasn't 'disabled enough’ to represent Paralympians. Here’s her response.

Something strange happened the other day. 

Para-swimmer Ellie Cole – who just so happens to have the most Paralympic medals of any Aussie of all time – was shamed for having “a pretty token impairment”. 

“I've never experienced anything like this before,” Cole tells Mamamia

“In fact, it's always been the opposite growing up with a disability in Australia. Everybody always saw me having an amputation or prosthetic as being quite disabled.

“Over time, with the Paralympic Games having the platform that it has, I suppose the language around disability has changed quite a lot. And now it's gotten to a point where I've gone through the whole range of being perceived as quite disabled, and now [being told] I have a ‘token’ disability.

“So that's been really interesting.”

The comment came after she appeared on The Project to talk about the recent controversy around the official Paralympics TikTok account.

Watch Ellie Cole on The Project right here. Post continues after video.

Video via The Project.

In case you missed it, here’s the TLDR version: The Paralympics account has gone viral with 3.4 million followers for their tongue-in-cheek videos. But some people are angry about the content, which they say is “vile” and “disgusting” for making fun of Paralympic athletes. 


“The videos are actually really funny,” Coles tells us. 

“There are a few people with disabilities who take issue with the content, but most of us absolutely love it.”

She says this kind of humour is prevalent throughout the Paralympic community and something she experienced her whole career. Case in point: this prank they pulled with one of her first swim teams back in 2006.

“All of the amputees in that swim team thought it would be funny to put our prosthetics in an elevator and send our legs up to the top floor. So, whoever was getting in the elevator, the doors would open and they would see an elevator full of legs. That’s the kind of stuff we did on camp. We’d also play jokes on each other, so a lot of this TikTok content for Paralympians is just what we’ve grown up with. 

“But I suppose an everyday person wouldn't be exposed to that side of disability – ever. Able-bodied people will always see people with disabilities as a vulnerable group, and so their first instinct is to protect a vulnerable group. That's just the way that our brains are wired.

“The Paralympics challenges every single social stereotype that there is. We've used our disabilities to become athletes. It's not something that we're ashamed of, or that we hide. 

“In fact, we do laugh a lot about our disabilities with each other. But I suppose [we] Para athletes have been quite naive to not understand that the rest of the world haven't grown up being exposed to that kind of stuff.” 

Cole went on to The Project to share this point of view about the videos. That’s when someone slammed her for having “a pretty token impairment” and questioned whether “she really [is] the authority on this?”


The comment annoyed her for days before she pulled them up on it. As she interpreted it, they were basically saying she wasn’t disabled enough to have an opinion.

Listen to Ellie Cole on Here If You Need – Mamamia's sports podcast. Post continues after episode.

She tells Mamamia: “Well, it's strange, because people from older generations – I still get the odd comment here and there at the supermarket saying, ‘You're such an inspiration for being outside!’ So you've got people who have grown up in an environment where they've never been exposed to disability, who think that it is inspirational for somebody with a prosthetic to do the grocery shopping.

“But then you've got this other side, where you've got people who see my impairment as just being ‘token’. So I kind of sit on a very wide spectrum of how people perceive me, but it's completely out of my control. It makes me feel a bit unsettled with who I am, in a way.”

Is this a divide that she feels within the disability community?

“No, people know where they stand,” she tells Mamamia

“I know that I'm much more able-bodied than many others. But I also know how challenging it is, for me some days, just to get out of bed to be able to put my prosthetic on and to be able to walk around without significant pain that actually does stop me from doing activities sometimes. 

“There are so many parts of having a disability that people never ever see. And so, while you might see me breaking world records and winning gold medals, some days I struggle to move until the middle of the day.”

Image: Getty + Mamamia. 

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