Paralympics Legacy – how do we keep on the right track?

I’ve just spent the weekend watching the Anniversary Games. Clare Balding and Ade Adepitan in the commentary box, Richard Whitehead’s amazing win, and Hannah Cockroft on the front page of the Metro on my commute today – it felt like a small piece of last summer all over again.

I’ve looked back at a rather excitable blog that I wrote last year, after spending the day at the Olympic Park.

I was full of Paralympic buzz, and as chief executive of a disability charity, it felt amazing to see so many people talking about and watching disabled athletes.

Research showed what we had all hoped – that, looking beyond sport, the Paralympics had the power to change attitudes towards disabled people.

But away from the euphoria of the Olympic Park and there’s another side to the story. We’ve been asking disabled people over the last few weeks to tell us whether they think the Paralympics change their lives for the better.

Many contrast the positivity of the Paralympics with how tough their life is right now.

The Government hoped more disabled people would play sport.

The jury’s out on whether this happened.

The Government points to small rise in the number of people taking up sport. But independent research shows just a handful of sports clubs had facilities for disabled people.

Disabled people we speak to echo Tanni Grey Thompson’s point, which is that if you can’t get out of the house or pay the bills, it’s not easy to play sport.

You can’t separate Paralympics legacy from the squeeze we’re seeing in local care and support. And you can’t separate legacy from the financial difficulties facing disabled people right now.

Parents of young disabled children tell us a lot that they really struggle to find fun things that their kids can do – sports or arts clubs, for example – with other children who aren’t disabled. Lord Coe, speaking on 5Live, said there was more work to do when it came to disabled children and sport in schools.

At the heart of legacy is the idea of changing attitudes.

“Visibility” is a word that I kept using last summer. The best thing for me about the Games – beyond the adrenaline and the excitement – was the sheer visibility of disabled people.

The Paralympics achieved record ticket sales, and record-breaking viewer numbers on Channel 4. Many people visiting the Games were struck by the number of disabled spectators.

The fact is that shockingly few people actually know a disabled person. So what is said publically, and in the media, is shapes attitudes towards disability.

Jump ahead one year from London 2012 and open a newspaper. We are sadly now more used to reading headlines about disabled people which include the words “benefit cheat”, than ones celebrating success.

This is even acknowledged in the Government’s recent report into legacy, which highlights that any positive shifts in attitudes during the Games are likely to have been undone by the debate over welfare reforms.

Triple gold winner Sophie Christensian has called the Paralympics a “turning point in perception.” I love this description. But now we have turned, how do we keep on the right track?

Last summer was a breakthrough moment. But many disabled people think that the buzz of last summer is well and truly over.

Legacy is a long-term project. But we need to start by making sure disabled people can live independently, can make ends meet and can live in a society that doesn’t write you off just because you’re different and need a little support to get on with your life.

I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts – tell us on Facebook or tweet us @Scope using either #Paralympicseffect or #Paralympicsfail