Sunday, 9 September 2012

Will the Paralympics really change our attitudes to disability?

Today has marked the end of the 2012 Paralympic games in London.  These games have been held up as the most successful since the inception of the Paralympic games, with venues being full and tickets being sold out, something which in the past was unheard of. 


An all round positive attitude has surrounded the games, with people being in awe of the athletes from all countries, not least our own British Paralympians whose efforts took us to third place in the medal table.  Many people have said that they in fact didn’t see the disabilities when watching the games, that they just saw the achievements, and that on the whole, their attitudes and awareness of disability has changed as a result, and there is a feeling that this will remain the case.  But will it really? 


Let’s look past the fact the games were sponsored by the company responsible for assessing disabled benefit claimants, or the fact that the man responsible for wanting to cut disability benefits was handing out medals at one of the events, not because those points aren’t necessarily relevant, but because they have in fact been debated in numerous other quarters and thus there is probably very little left to say. 


But let’s instead look at whether the public view as a whole will change, and whether disability will be seen in a different light now both publically and in the media.


I can’t help thinking that this is perhaps a bit of a false reality for some, in a world where they have been given a previously unseen insight into the world of disability, in an environment where inclusion has been complete due to the fact the resources were available to make it so, and that once the resources (the volunteers) go back to their day jobs and the athletes return to their respective countries, people will remember the games with fondness, but forget the message they brought, and will go back to living in blissful ignorance of disability, while many disabled people go back to living in a world where full inclusion is not yet a reality. 


But this doesn’t need to be the case.


Disabled sport is not reserved only for the Paralympics.  Our Paralympic athletes are competing all the time in various events.  And there is other disabled sport out there too.  So what will the media be doing to cover it now that we’ve had a taste for it?  The Blind Cricket world cup will be held in India this year for instance.  Will one of the broadcasters be covering it at all? And if not, why not?


Sport brings people together all the time, so what better way to raise the profile of disability and keep it raised? The Paralympics are testament to the fact that people are able to see past the disability and see the ability of our athletes, therefore there is surely no reason why this trend can continue, and in doing so alter people’s attitudes in general. 


But my fear is that this will be a bit like one of those charity events like comic relief, where a one off event gets everyone talking about charity, and giving money to charity, and what can be done, and then once it’s all over people go back to their lives and yet again become oblivious to the plight of those around them, until next year’s event brings it all back into their memory.  There’s a risk that the Paralympics will be the same.  People are enthusiastic about disabled sport now; they have a renewed realisation of what disabled people are capable of.  But once the memory of the games fade and disabled people are no longer in the spotlight, those people’s memories will fade, until next time, when perhaps the commonwealth games are on, but even then, as they’re not in our own country the enthusiasm will be less. 


We need to use this opportunity not to forget.  We need to embrace the fact that disability is not this thing to fear or shy away from, and our broadcasters need to use this enthusiasm for disabled sport to promote more of it and show more of it on our screens. 


Acceptance of disability does not have to be a once every four years event…


1 comment:

  1. The Paralympic games and events are neglected. The immense courage that they show to rise above their disabilities and play to the best of their abilities does not get due attention.
    The memories fade away once the events are done.
    Efforts should be made towards covering more and more events of such kinds and broadcasters should use the enthusiasm for disabled sports and promote it more.