Moment that mattered: The 2012 Paralympic Games come to an end
“It’s not often I sit on the fence about anything disability-related, but I really have very mixed feelings about the 2012 Paralympics. As a disabled person, I found the sheer determination, hard work and achievements of these athletes inspiring – although I feel myself cringing and feeling apologetic as I say that word. I admire the guts shown by all the athletes, and I found it all quite emotional.
The Paralympics were helpful in showing the world the sheer range of disabilities – there is a tendency for people to automatically think ‘wheelchair’ when the word ‘disability’ is mentioned, and this event reminded people that disability includes visual impairments, amputees, dwarfism and a whole range of other issues.
The Games also challenged the stereotype that disabled people can’t achieve. It helped us focus on what these athletes could do rather than what they couldn’t – a message I’m constantly trying to get across to employers. For a few days, the general public weren’t thinking of disabled people as benefit scroungers, and therefore legitimate targets for hate crime. It forced London to think about accessibility issues and for a couple of weeks it was less difficult for disabled people to travel around, thanks to helpful volunteers and portable ramps.
However, one of the long-standing problems that seemed to be reinforced by the Paralympics was that disabled people are, for some reason, viewed as either saints or sinners. A disabled person can’t be an ordinary person getting on with their life as best as they can: they must either be a benefit scrounger, or a courageous, heroic, ‘inspiring’ superhuman. I suspect that less than one percent of us disabled folk fall into either category. During the Paralympics I heard people suggest, almost seriously, that if disabled people just put a bit of effort in they could also be world-class athletes. This is as ridiculous as suggesting that with a bit of effort, any man in the street could beat Usain Bolt!
The fact that the Paralympics were held separately from the Olympics also emphasised the “separateness” of disabled people: it didn’t help, either, that the Paralympic torches were silver while the Olympic ones were gold. And for all the talk of inclusion, most sports facilities in Britain remain inaccessible to disabled people.
If I have to come off the fence, then on balance I’m in favour of the Paralympics – why shouldn’t disabled people who love sport have the same opportunity to compete as non-disabled people? And if it encourages those disabled people who are able to take part in sport to do so, then that’s good too. But I do feel that both forms of Olympics should run at the same time in a one month event rather than two separate events, and that we should accord all disabled people the same respect, admiration, rights, resources and opportunities as the talented Paralympians we watched over the summer.
In an ideal world, the legacy of the Paralympics would be that we change how we view disabled people – not just on the sports field, but in every area of life accessible to non-disabled people. Let’s include all disabled people in everyday life – not just the sporty ones.”
Evenbreak (www.evenbreak.co.uk) is a not-for-profit social enterprise which matches disabled jobseekers with employers looking to build a diverse workforce.
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