A year later, and are we seeing any positive impact from the Paralympics?
It has now been a year since the start of Paralympics, which is said to have been the biggest and most successful Paralympics ever; however disability groups are warning that even with the celebrity status of a number of athletes, attitudes towards disabled people have fundamentally gone un-changed.
Charity, Scope, found that 81% of disabled people had not noticed that attitudes towards them had improved since London 2012, and just over a fifth believed that matters had deteriorated. 84% felt that the language used in the debate about benefits and disabled people had caused a negative shift in public attitudes.
Scopes chairman Alice Maynard said that any progress that had been was being undermined by a “crisis in living standards” amongst disabled people. “If the government wants to make its legacy ambitions a reality – and make this country a better place for disabled people – it needs to tackle the crisis in social care, re-think its cuts to vital financial support and call a halt to benefits scrounger rhetoric,” she said.
Paralympian Sophie Christiansen, who won three gold medals as a dressage rider says, “There’s a very big gap between how the general public perceives Paralympians and how they perceive the rest of the disability community,” said the 25-year-old, who has cerebral palsy and competes in the category for athletes with the most severe impairment level. “That’s why I try to highlight the difficulties that I have being disabled.” She added: “I still have problems in terms of paying for carers, things that people don’t realise. People think that because I won three gold medals I’ve got my life sorted. But I want to highlight what a struggle it is to get there.”
Christiansen said she also worried about the language used about benefits: “People see disabled people as benefit scroungers. That’s a very generalised statement but from the comments I’ve heard from other disabled people that is how they are viewed. From my point of view I think it’s got worse, but that might be because other disabled people are telling me about it now, because I’m a public figure.”
Chief executive of the British Paralympic Association, Tim Hollingsworth, says that whilst there was success in London 2012 the organisation still remains “in the foothills” of what it would like to achieve in terms of changing public attitudes. He did however point out that the Games’ were a success with younger people. In a survey for the BBC’s Newsround it was found that more than half of eight-to-twelve year old found the Paralympics more inspiring that the Olympics, and 70% said that the Paralympics had changed their attitude towards disabled people.
Whilst there was also a rise in the amount of clubs offering sport for those with a disability, many were not able to offer integrated sports such as athletics and swimming as clubs couldn’t afford the extra equipment. The Sport and Recreation Alliance found that only one in three nationwide sports clubs are accessible for disabled people and only 8% of volunteers and staff have received training to make their sport more inclusive.
Although the Paralympics seems to have been a push in the right direction, it appears that a lot more needs to be done to change the preconceived perceptions of disabled people.