The paralympic legacy

Guest post from Matt O’Grady at Scope Cymru

The last few weeks have been a real festival of sport. It seems like an age ago that Team GB kicked off against New Zealand in the Women’s Football in Cardiff and no-one could have imagined how exciting both the Olympic games and Paralympic games have been.

What was even harder to imagine perhaps before the game is just how much support the disabled athletes of the Paralympic games would receive. It has been fantastic, with the public seeming to grasp the opportunity to watch the highs (and occasional lows) of those who truly excel at their events. I was lucky enough to be in the stadium the night David Weir won gold in the 5,000 metres and Oscar Pistorius was beaten by Alan Oliveira. The support for athletes in those competitions was as passionate and fierce as any other sporting event I’ve been to.

The impact of the Paralympics

Before the start of the games, Scope said that for the games to have an impact the general public had to engage with them. Polling showed before the games that an estimated 67% of people intended to watch the Paralympic games.

The Opening Ceremony gave Channel 4 its biggest audience for 10 years. For two weeks disabled people have been everywhere. The focus has been on sport, but disability has never been so widely talked about.

And the fact that these games were virtually a sell-out makes it clear that there really was great public engagement.

But what should the public take away from the Paralympics? There can be no doubt that the games were a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get the country reconsidering disability.

Attitudes towards disabled people

Prior to the Games, disabled people told Scope that attitudes towards them have been getting worse. More than two-thirds say they have experienced name-calling, hostility or aggression and half say this has gotten worse in the last year.

When those we have spoken to are asked why they think this happened, many think that it is linked to the issue of benefits and a perception that disabled people are ‘scroungers’ and ‘faking it’. Given that the Westminster Government’s own figures show a fraud rate of only 0.5% with Disability Living Allowance, it is concerning that such negative rhetoric is able to take root.

Hopefully, the stories told at the Paralympic games will begin a shift in the public perception of disabled people away from this ‘scrounger’ image and towards a more positive vision. An image that focuses on what disabled people can achieve and doesn’t set limits on potential, regardless of the challenges.

Much was made about challenges in the Paralympic games. I heard so many people say how the achievements of disabled athletes were so impressive because of the challenges they had to overcome.

Barriers to disabled people still exist

There can be little doubt that these challenges and barriers do exist. Whether it is access to wheelchairs (opens a PDF report)railways (opens a PDF report) or even elections (opens a PDF report), there are still many access barriers around.

For the Paralympic games to have truly achieved a lasting legacy, the games need to have created a shift in attitudes that means these barriers are not seen as acceptable any more and begin to be broken down. We also need to ask what else we can do, so that disabled people are visible not just in sport, but in the media, in politics, and above all in everyday life.

This legacy is one that the Welsh Conservatives, along with other political parties in Wales and the Welsh Government, have a role to play. With legislation reforming both social care and special education needs on the agenda for the next 12 months, we have an ideal opportunities to ensure that every disabled person has fewer challenges to face in their ordinary lives.

If the 2012 Paralympic Games are able to leave a desire for social change as their legacy, they will be the most successful games of all time.

Originally posted on Your Voice in the Assembly.

Orchard Manor’s Paralympic Experience

Paralympics fan

Residents, students and staff from Meldreth and Orchard Manor were excited to be given tickets to attend the Paralympic Games this summer.

The Friends of Meldreth and Orchard Manor organised tickets for three Paralympic events including wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball and swimming. Dozens of young people  had the experience of a lifetime as they watched British paralympians make history.

Up at the crack of dawn on several days, everyone made their way in our buses to the various Olympic sites. Sat navs were programmed, packed lunches prepared, bags full of clothing and necessities ready. All the effort this kind of outing required was rewarded the moment we entered into the Olympic grounds. From the car park attendants to the volunteer ushers, the security guards and the novelty sales people, everyone had a smile on their face and a joke to make, a way to make you feel welcome and part of a momentous occasion.

No task was too great to ask of the Games Makers, who won all our hearts with their enthusiasm and acts of kindness and consideration throughout the Games. Orchard Manor were the recipients of their kindness when we arrived a little late for our Women’s Basketball session. After a few technical glitches one Games Maker offered to find us some better seating. We had found all the wheelchair access seating superb at other events, so you can imagine our delight at now getting taken to the courtside seating area just as England were playing! Screams and cheers erupted and smiles were on everyone’s faces as we joined the event.

The young people were enthralled by the sound of so many people, by the colours around them of flags and costumes and the sensory environments they found themselves in. The excitement of the days rubbed off on everyone. Strangers from all over the world chatted to you as you made your way through the park as though they were your next door neighbour. The group I was lucky enough to be with enjoyed an afternoon lunch sitting along the river within the Olympic Park on wooden benches surrounded by the wild flowers beds. We strolled around the park taking in all the wondrous sights, stopping with tea and biscuits before finding our way to the car park.

It was an astonishing feeling to see an event as large as this made so accessible to so many people. Our thanks go to the special dedicated group of Friends who made it is possible for us all to be part of this historical event – we have the badges, the souvenir programmes, the t-shirts and the wonderful memories to prove it!

Face 2 Face: being an online befriender

Berit is mum to two boys and her youngest, Nicholas had meningitis as an infant. This caused injury to his brain and straight after his recovery, he was diagnosed with left-sided hemiplegia. At the age of five, Nicholas started having seizures and has now got extremely severe epilepsy. Because of Nicholas’ high number of daily seizures he also has severe learning difficulties, behaviourial and communication problems.

“The last 10 years has honestly been a rollercoaster of emotions. Nicholas contracted meningitis when he was only five weeks old. He spent quite a long time in intensive care and no-one knew if he was going to survive. At one point, when he was transferred from our local hospital to Kings College Hospital in Londo. We were even told to ‘kiss him goodbye’.

“For the first five years of Nicholas’ life, his brain injury mostly affected his mobility, co-ordination, attention span and speech. In the early stages after his recovery we were just so happy and relieved that he survived, but of course at some point reality kicks in. I felt quite overwhelmed and stressed out with all the medical appointments and visits from different therapists. Although some of the therapists and doctors involved have been very supportive and caring towards us as a family, we as parents never had any specific support.

Parents need befrienders

“Looking back now, I really wished that I had known about Face 2 Face and had had contact with a befriender myself. No one really understands the emotions, the stress, the worrying, the uncertainty and the practical implications having a child with special needs can bring unless you have had similar experiences. No one can understand the total euphoria you feel when your child has reached the slightest (and to some unremarkable) milestone and the strengths and feeling of closeness it can bring to your family unless you have had similar experiences.

“I came across Face 2 Face through searching the Internet. At that time I was doing a Certificate in Counselling and was interested to see what types of support was out there for parents of disabled children. The fact that they were looking for befrienders immediately caught my eye. I contacted the co-ordinator and because we were a group of parents from all over England who had shown our interest, our training as Online Befrienders took place near Birmingham over several weekends.

Face 2 Face training

“I started the Face 2 Face training when Nicholas was about three years old. And that was the first time I got the opportunity to talk to and listen to other parents’ experiences. The other parents were of enormous support to me and I have made fantastic friends for life!”

“I have been befriending online for over six years now. I have befriended parents of children with a wide and different range of disabilities and the length of contact varies from parent to parent. I like being an Online Befriender and I hope that I can give other parents some support through my own experiences. If I could, I would probably have chosen to be befriended online all these years ago. You can make contact in your own time and sometimes it might be easier to express yourself on paper.

“I honestly feel that talking to and listening to other parents of disabled children can be of invaluable support and that is what Face 2 Face is for.”

Find your local Face 2 Face parent befriending scheme.

Inspiration without condescension

Guest post from Nick who blogs as Marzipanman. You can also follow him on Twitter.

A week or so before the Paralympic Games started, comedian Laurence Clark wrote in The Guardian:

“I came to realise that the less fortunate you are perceived to be, the less you have to achieve before you’re labelled ‘inspiring’. It was a polite way of people telling me they thought I probably wouldn’t amount to much, but had somehow surpassed their low expectations.”

When I first read this I thought it made perfect sense. After all, what frame of reference do I have on which to base any kind of disagreement? I could see his argument – why should his achievements (or otherwise) be considered any more inspiring than anyone else’s, just because he happens to be disabled?

But then the Games started and something unexpected happened – I started to disagree with Laurence, for a very specific reason.

My daughter Robyn

Robyn was born two years ago, the younger of twins and eight weeks premature. Two days after she was born we were told that she had experienced a severe bleed in her brain before, during or after her birth and that this was likely to cause her permanent damage. We were told that the prognosis was not particularly good.

Happily, Robyn is developing well, far better than that early prognosis. She’s not walking yet and has limited mobility down her left side, but thanks to support from NHS professionals and an undoubted strength of character she is shuffling around on her bottom, developing her vocabulary and generally taking over the household!

That said, I worry about her. From the moment we were told Robyn would probably have some form of disability, most likely cerebral palsy, I pictured her in a wheelchair, maybe learning disabled, maybe unable to ever live independently. I didn’t want to read about the condition or its effects because I was scared about what lay in store for my daughter.

And you know what? I felt sorry for her. I know that’s not the right thing – but it’s how I felt. She’s my daughter, and I want the best for her – and with the best politically correct will in the world, being disabled doesn’t necessarily fit in with that.

The Paralympics

During the Paralympics I’ve been watching athletes, swimmers, footballers, rowers and other Paralympic competitors, and I’ve paid particular attention to those with cerebral palsy. And you know what? They’re sensational. And not just in a “hasn’t she done well for a disabled person?” way, they’re just sensational.

Hannah Cockcroft has cerebral palsy as a result of two cardiac arrests at birth. Her parents were told that she would never be able to walk, talk or do anything for herself or live past her teenage years. On 31 August she won GB’s first track and field gold medal of the 2012 Paralympic Games in the T34 100 metres race with a Paralympic record time of 18.05 seconds.

Hannah Cockcroft, Olivia Breen, Sophia Warner and others are inspirational to me, and no doubt to parents across the country, because they remind me to look beyond the disability and the struggles that our children will no doubt have, to the chance – no, the likelihood – that they will have lives where they can fulfil their ambitions, whether that’s to be a champion sportsperson, to have a successful career or a great education, to get married and have children or even be a stand-up comedian.

Changing attitudes

I think the London 2012 Paralympic Games has done more for the public perception of disability in this country than any number of well-meaning campaigns or training courses ever could – this is especially timely given the current government’s clear agenda to stigmatise disabled people as benefits scroungers or burdens on the economy.

And it’s also done something for me. It’s made me positive for Robyn’s future. I’ve always seen what a fighter, what a character, what a person she is (and what a pain in the arse she can be as well) but now I have far more confidence that other people will see the same things as well.

Inspirational? Oh, go on then.

Sorry, Laurence.


Steph Cutler hands out her own Paralympic medals

Guest post from Steph Cutler

Even though the Paralympics has yet to finish, I think London already takes gold.

The London 2012 Paralympic Games are being shown in more countries than any previous Paralympic Games. Organisers have agreed a series of TV deals which mean over 100 countries are screening the games.

While we have a long way to go in the UK before disabled people enjoy equality, it is worth remembering that we are streets ahead of many other countries. It is simply amazing that more countries than ever are showing the 2012 Paralympics. Raising awareness often leads to change and what could be better than the most global platform to date to do this? This alone scores my first gold medal.

Not only is it being shown in countries who have previously taken little or no interest, but big players in sporting nations have committed to hours of airtime. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is showing 100 hours, and Channel 4 is broadcasting 150 hours of live coverage with BBC 5 Live covering the radio waves.

Paralympic power!

What I love more than this, is that the new profile of the Paralympics has the power to shame! Broadcasters in the United States have been accused over many years of ignoring the Paralympics, but this year they have been forced to rethink their scheduling.

NBC was planning just four 60-minute highlight programmes followed by one 90-minute round-up after the Games were over. NBC is now running a daily highlights package via the US Paralympics YouTube channel following public pressure. Some way to go before America get it, but 2012 is the year they can learn from a small island!

Of course people power is compelling, but let’s not get too wrapped up in the bubble of Paralympic fever. Let’s keep our feet, or blades, or whatever alternatives to feet we have (suddenly anything goes and I love it!) on the ground.

My next gold comes in the commercial backing that the Paralympics is experiencing. Companies in the US are running slick TV commercials featuring disabled athletes endorsing a range of products. Sponsoring the Games is one thing but for companies to use disabled people to endorse a product takes this a step, no actually a leap, further.

Disabled people mean business!

While disability is riding the crest of a huge public profile coupled with an increasingly enthusiastic audience we cannot be ignored. Right now it is not about it being a nice thing to do. We can’t be ignored because we mean business, and better still, that business knows it!

Sainsbury’s is the first, and indeed only, Paralympic exclusive sponsor the Games has ever seen. Evidently, the retailer believes the Paralympics are not secondary to the main event and so there is a commercial benefit by association. This gets my third gold medal.

My next gold medal is given on the basis of legacy. Heathrow Airport has had the challenge of welcoming thousands of Paralympic athletes through the airport. Heathrow has invested in a package of permanent accessibility improvements which include staff training and specialist lifts and facilities. These changes will continue to benefit all passengers with reduced mobility long after the last medal has been awarded.

My final gold is driven by public demand. The Royal Mail has said it will now issue the individual stamps of our Paralympic gold medallists and get the gold paint out again to paint the local post boxes of winners.

Ironically, the reason behind the initial decision not to offer the same congratulatory gesture to Paralympic gold medallists as was offered to their Olympic counterparts, was that there are too many gold Paralympians! Basically, disabled people are too successful! Now isn’t that a nice change?


William’s day at the Paralympics

Guest post from Vicki Lee – mum and carer.

Team GB fan

The most fascinating thing about our early morning train journey down to the Olympic Park, according to my disabled son William, aged nine, was that “the train had tables!”

I was hoping that this visit was going to inspire him. This is the boy who came last on sports day. This is the boy who nobody wanted to pick for their team.

His big sister Joanna, 15, and I hung on to Will for dear life as we made our way from Stratford station with thousands of others to take our seats at the stadium.

It wasn’t long before Will attracted a fair bit of attention with his wonderful enthusiastic cheering, yelling, clapping and flag waving. He’d certainly already won a medal in packed-lunch eating!

By the end of our session we’d seen field heats of discus, long jump, hammer throw, and shot-put as well as track wheelchair races and running – the highlight being GB’s Richard Whitehead winning the gold medal in the 200 metres.

As the Union Jack was raised to the National Anthem, Will yelled at the top of his voice: “I know this one everyone!”

The hours had flown by (so much so there’d not even been a trip to the toilet!) and the volunteer games-makers were truly fabulous.

After a glorious day out we made our way back to the train ‘with tables’. I asked William whether he thought he’d like to try any of the new sports he’d seen, and he said simply: “I think I’d like to try that one where you throw yourself in a sandpit!”

Mission accomplished. He was definitely inspired!

Orchard Manor helps promote nature, food and farming

Orchard Manor student

Sixty farmers, SEN teachers, group leaders and care home managers gathered on 4 July 2012 for an inspiring Let Nature Feed Your Senses conference at Southfields Farm, Coleshill, near Birmingham. The purpose of this, the third national conference, was to share learning and understand the impacts of the sensory farm visits that have been hosted for over 10,000 visitors over the last three years across the network of 75 farms.

Tracey Demartino, Orchard Manor Skills Tutor, has been working closely with Liz Nottage from Russell-Smith Farm in Duxford over the past two years and presented the Orchard Manor story at the conference.

Find out more about the conference and view Tracey’s presentation with photos of Orchard Manor residents participating in the farm programme.

Channel 4 coverage of Paralympics

So I made it to the games and am now an official resident in the Paralympic Village. It’s amazing to walk round an enclosed campus, with heavy security, and to see so many disabled people in one place. There is an enormous food hall with every type of cuisine catered for, there is even a fully kitted out McDonalds! All the apartment blocks have been given team makeovers and it really is a sight to behold to see the flags and banners of all the nations living together united by sport.

Despite my previous reservations I am happy to say that my uniform fitting went very well and everything fits! We have a few technical meetings and our Wheelchair Fencing competition begins on 4 September at 9.30am. We are currently in the training hall at Excel whilst the hall previously used for visual impaired Judo is converted to the Fencing Hall, we are hoping it will be ready on time.

Hopefully you may have been able to catch some of the TV coverage on Channel 4. For me it’s been a mixed bag with some good stuff and some pretty poor commentaries. In particular the Opening Ceremony was so depressing as virtually each team was introduced as being ‘war torn’ or ‘civil war’. I do personally have issues with the use of ‘superhumans’ to describe the athletes, but it seems C4’s angle is to promote the ‘journey’ and overcoming adversity – at least it’s on TV I suppose…

I was pleased to hear that the Post Office agreed to continue the theme from the Olympics by celebrating Gold Medal winners at the Paralympics with a commemorative postage stamp, however I would have preferred the irony of the stamp being second class, perhaps to reflect the attitudes still prevalent to disabled people?

London 2012 Paralympics fervour

I’ve just got back from the Olympic / Paralympic stadium. What a day….again! And I was there to see David Weir collect his gold medal!

Paralympics fervour has truly taken over nation GB! More competitors, more countries, more TV coverage, more spectators than ever before.

The Paralympics opening ceremony watched by 11.2 million viewers, has given broadcaster Channel 4 its largest audience in a decade. There are more competitors (around 4,200) from more countries (165, up 19 from Beijing four years ago) and the Paralympics are being broadcast to more countries than ever before (over 100). At the time of writing Team GB are 2nd in the medals tablewith 56 medals (17 Gold). The target is 103 medals (one medal every hour of competition) and in Beijing we won 102 (42 Gold). After three days of athletics there have already been 31 world records! It really is fantastic. Who would have believed that the euphoria from the Olympics could have been picked up again?

Amid all of these amazing statistics there are bound to be a few that are just too good to be true. Last week I came across some stats on twitter about pre-sales, quickly tweeted it on without confirming the numbers and they have since been questioned. Next time I’ll double check but the point is that ticket sales really have been amazing, with Paralympic record ticket sales of 2.4 million advanced sales, ensuring more Brits will get a chance to experience live Paralympic sports and raising the profile and appetite for Paralympic spectator sports. I can’t wait to be at the athletics this week.

Without doubt this is all creating a once in a generation opportunity to show Britain as a nation that celebrate Paralympians as sporting equals. The sport has been incredible – David Weir’s finish in the 5,000m was simply breathtaking. But above all more people than ever seem to be talking about disability and asking questions about disability and disabled people. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity to raise awareness and improve attitudes….and there’s still a week to go!

Enjoy the Paralympics and do tweet me or Scope with your thoughts.