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.