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Blogger Debate: the Paralympics: brief 'feelgood' moment, or a lasting legacy?

 Paralympics GB

The Paralympics brought the nation together in shared awe at our athletes' incredible abilities. But has this summer's sport done enough to change public attitudes towards people with disabilities? And will future generations of paralympians find the support that they need to compete on the world stage? Our blogger Tania Tirraoro and Culture Secretary Maria Miller tell us what they think - tell us what you think on our Talk thread.

Maria Miller MP

"The Paralympic Games helped change attitudes and increase opportunities for disabled people. I am more than confident that we can keep up this momentum."

Maria Miller MPOscar Pistorius – the Paralympics poster boy – told the Guardian this summer about how on trips to his local shops after training he would often encounter a child staring at his prosthetic legs and being turned away by their mother telling them not to stare.

He said: "That child has no preconceptions, no appreciation of the idea of disability, and all of a sudden they are learning to think 'OK this is something we don't do, something we don't talk about.' It forms a negative association. So I go up to that parent and child and I say 'Hi, my name is Oscar, and these are my cool prosthetic legs'".

That response is no surprise from Oscar. He and his fellow Paralympians won hearts and minds this summer. Eleven million people watched the opening ceremony and more people attended the games than ever before. The Paralympic Games provided an education for us all and encouraged not just our nation but the watching world to focus on what disabled people can do rather than what they can't. It made us admire their grit, determination and courage as athletes and not because they were disabled. The performance of our own ParalympicsGB this summer was phenomenal and unforgettable. It underlined that our elite Paralympians are as dedicated, talented and professional as their Olympian counterparts.

Venues were sold out for the Paralympics too as crowds cheered on the likes of David Weir, Sarah Storey and Ellie Simmonds with the same fervour as they did for Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah and Laura Trott.

"London 2012 raised the bar. No longer will it ever be seen as an event tagged on to an Olympics - the Paralympic Games are a world-class sporting event in its own right."

London 2012 raised the bar for future Paralympics. No longer will it ever be seen as an event tagged on to an Olympics - the Paralympic Games are a world-class sporting event in its own right.

From the outset the London 2012 Paralympic Games were full of firsts. Never before have the Olympic and Paralympic Games been organised by the same body. Never before has the Paralympics been the subject of their own broadcast rights competition - previously it had just been packaged up with the Olympics rights. Never has there been a Paralympics-only corporate sponsor. London 2012 has changed the way the Paralympics will be managed and regarded forever.

The legacy and opportunities for disabled people, as a result of hosting the Games, were thought through long before the sport kicked off. Disabled people helped build the Park, manage the staging of the Games and guide spectators as Games Makers and volunteers.

I believe that the Paralympic Games have helped change attitudes to disabled people - with the positive scenes that were witnessed on the Olympic Park; the crowds that thronged the streets for the Olympic parade and most importantly by the number of conversations between people who spent their time over the summer glued to the television scenes.

Channel Four deserve credit too for how they covered the Games, with their mix of disabled and non-disabled presenters, and also how they unearthed and gave a chance to new presenting talent such as Alex Brooker.

On the sport side we want to increase opportunities for disabled people to get involved at all levels. The School Games competition, which had its inaugural finals in the Olympic Park in May, is ensuring greater inclusion of disability sport in mainstream schools, while Sport England has launched an £8 million fund specifically for disability sport projects. On top of that, the Mayor's London Legacy Development Corporation has pledged £2 million towards an annual festival of disability sport and new sporting, leisure and employment opportunities on the Olympic Park.

The Paralympic Games has helped change attitudes and increase opportunities for disabled people. But we must now ensure that what the Paralympics achieved is not short-lived. We need to do all we can to keep up this momentum. This is not just an issue for the Government but for communities and families as well. I am more than confident that we can do it.

Tania Tirraoro of Special Needs Jungle

"There seems to be a distinct split between the way Paralympians are perceived and the way people with disabilities in general are viewed"

Tania Tirraoro

The Paralympics does have the potential to be a lasting legacy - but what kind of legacy will that be? Will it be the last time British Paralympians can afford to train because they have since had their DLA withdrawn after ATOS has deemed them ineligible for the new Personal Independence Payment.

I'm also not entirely sure the Paralympics has done a lot for the image of people with impairments who aren't as nimble as David Weir. It just seems to have made certain sections of the public think, if they can do it – why can't you? "Oi, you lot in the wheelchairs, why can’t you propel yourselves around the Paralympic stadium as fast as David Weir? You wouldn’t need Motability allowance then, would you?"

It needs to be understood that Paralympic athletes are to the average disabled person as Usain Bolt is to David Cameron. They are elite sportsmen and women who have a talent and who have worked as hard - harder - as an athlete without additional challenges. But the chances are, without their disability benefits, they would not be able to afford to compete at all.

There seems to be a distinct split between the way Paralympians are perceived - with respect and admiration - and the way people with disabilities in general are viewed - as 'the undeserving poor', benefit scroungers, a burden on society.

In the past couple of years, the number of negative stories about disabled people has soared, particularly among government-friendly media outlets. This, despite the very low levels of disability benefit fraud. It's almost as if they believe that people entitled to disability benefits are getting something 'extra' rather than just support they need.

Being disabled is expensive - as any Paralympian will tell you - such is the need for personal care, wheelchairs, adaptations to homes and vehicles. Over the next three years it's been estimated that 60,000 Motability vehicles are going to be returned because those drivers - who may well be using their cars to get to work - will lose the level of what will be PiP, to qualify them for the allowance - Paralympians included.

The very fact that ATOS was chosen as a sponsor for the games when they are the very same organisation whose 'standard letters' and unforgiving work assessments have led to distress and even the subsequent death of claimants, typifies the lack of empathy this government has for the needs of disabled people. This is especially shocking considering Mr Cameron's family history.

"It seems as if we've lost all compassion for those who are not as able as everyone else."

In fact, the chairman of the international disability organisation I work for, Geoff Adams-Spink, says appointing ATOS to sponsor the Paralympics is a bit like asking the BNP to sponsor an event on racial diversity.

It seems as if we've lost all compassion for those who are not as able as everyone else. Cut the 50% rate of tax with one hand and grab the revenue back with the other from those lazy wheelchair users who should really be aiming for Rio 2016.

If there is to be a positive legacy from the Paralympics, it needs to be a shift in attitudes - that disabled somehow equals scrounger; an understanding that most people with disabilities would love to be able to support themselves, if only the world of work didn't put so many barriers in their path.

It may be beneficial that as a result of the Paralympics, disability is more firmly in the public eye, but not if non-athletes are judged not to be trying hard enough. The legacy should be that people of all abilities can achieve beyond their expectations but only if they have the right support. Now we see what can be achieved, we should work harder to improve the lives of disabled people rather than stigmatising them - life's hard enough.


Last updated: 15-Apr-2013 at 4:41 PM