The Paralympics and attitudes to disability

The Paralympics have been a delight, and we still have another week to enjoy. We have seen athletes carrying out seemingly impossible feats – playing table tennis while holding the bat in the mouth, swimming without arms, cycling with one leg – and we have heard from commentators who share the disabilities of the competitors.

And what about the joys of Wheelchair rugby? Apparently it was called Murder Ball until the sport decided to become legitimate and started applying for grant support. Looking very much like dodgems on speed, it is probably the most physical and chaotic of all Paralympic sports, but it has mixed teams and is terrific fun. I would happily watch it between one Paralympics and the next.

Each day is topped by the silliness of The Last Leg on C4 wrapped around some serious campaigning for people with disabilities. That programme, which started during the 2012 Paralympics, has been a shining light for disability awareness, using humour and compassion to overcome any residual discomfiture. It has also provide a platform for disabled comics, including the fabulous Rosie Jones.

In fact, we can be proud of the fact that the Paralympic movement began in the UK with the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948 alongside the London Olympics. So it is fitting that when the Olympics returned here in 2012 it was the first time that the management of the Olympics and Paralympics had been fully integrated, giving them equal esteem and equal publicity. As a result Sarah Storey, Ellie Simmons, David Weir and others became household names, and they were awarded honours on a par with their Olympic colleagues. Since 2012 Paralympians have mainstreamed in many Celebrity shows, from Strictly to Masterchef.

Of course, any campaigner for disability rights will tell us that there is still a long way to go in ensuring equality in the workplace or access to educational opportunities. But I think the country took a major step up in 2012 in terms of public attitudes, and that can only be a good thing.

As a party we have quite rightly become known for our campaigning on mental health issues. But we haven’t been quite so visible on disability issues. I haven’t seen any comments from our spokespeople on the games, although the party did wish the competitors luck at the beginning.

Are we missing an opportunity here to highlight some of the challenges that are still faced by people with disabilities?

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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7 Comments

  • Helen Dudden 3rd Sep '21 - 7:08am

    As a disabled person using a Power Wheelchair, I would say not great.
    This coming week , I have meetings on the lack on of accessible homes, category 2/3.
    I’ve commented for the Dept Of Transport on Bus Spaces, now improved, next homes, then I return to better bus designs.
    Living disability every day, I can understand how lacking many areas are.

  • I can barely get around Torbay, it’s restrictive parking, height barriers, steps, hills, bad roads and pavements if there is one. We need to ask the disabled and take note, not the heads of this, that or the other dept

  • Helen Dudden 3rd Sep '21 - 5:53pm

    Siv White. I understand you fully. Do you have disabled toilets? I’m commenting on the lack of accessibility within the housing sector.
    There are many no go areas in Bath, terrible pavements and roads, cracked and damaged.
    You would think holiday destinations would welcome us.
    I think it’s pretty sad we are the only two with commenting.

  • Its not suprising that there are a lack of comments re dysability issues in any media beyond the rightfully deserved praise for paralympians ,medal winners or not. We are still a group of people who are seen to have things done to us or for us with no/token understanding of the facts that individual needs vary.
    I’ve seen this from both sides as a former learning dysabilities/mental health nurse who has lived with a progressive physical dysability for many years. From the service side, NHS/Social Services etc, saw how the rigid procedures and tick box checklists came to dominate. Care plans and service provision moved from clear provisions with clear provision but are no longer spelled out but left vague. I do not blame the front line worker in the main as they have to work with the policies and procedures passed down by politicians of all colours at both national and cash strapped local level. Thes are then put in place by senior managers/service heads who know when it all falls apart they will be in line for a nice pay off to quietly resign. After a couple of years offering training/consultancy they pop backin another job with a local authority unconcerned with their past failures.
    Charities in all sectors seem to be run by senior business types out to embellish their CV. This generally means expensive reorganisations, change in the aims of the organisation ,increased managements, increased costs, and poorer services.
    People actually need to start asking what we want and need and provide flexible services to meet them. Token presence on commitees will not cut it anymore. I have ost faith inthe patronising words and false promises of politicians. We dont need more inquiries, commissions etc that tell us the same things again. Llessons are never learnt and things never change because history shows another crisis/tragedy happens nothing really changed and the same words/promises follow again and again.
    Show me some action for once on housing,education, health/social care, transport,employment etc preferably enforcable legally.

  • Helen Dudden 4th Sep '21 - 9:07pm

    I think your words ring painfully true.
    Last week, I was told that many of those who need accessible homes, will never have the chance. What ever the reason, it never happens.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Sep '21 - 8:35am

    “Show me some action for once on housing,education, health/social care, transport,employment etc preferably enforcable legally.”
    Without being enforced legally will such actions even be worth the paper on which they are written?

    How can we ensure politicians and managers (public/private sector, charity or whatever) take real responsibility for their actions?

  • Nonconformistradical – yes probably badly phrased but meaning, as you say, finding some way to ensure real responsability taken for actions. Its seems taking expensive legal action is the only way unfortunatly and not everyone can take this route. We have had some good wins though.

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