Tag Archives: paralympics

“It’s not just about sport, it’s about accepting people for who they are”

John Willis is the founder and Chief Executive of Power to Inspire, a charity all about inclusion through sport, based in Cambridge. He was born without fully formed arms and legs, and last year he took on a challenge to try all 34 Olympic and Paralympic sports.

In this blog he talks about changing attitudes and why sport for all is so important.

I was interested in sport from a very young age. Unfortunately, there weren’t many opportunities to get involved in sport at school.

A few years ago I was nagged by a friend into doing a Triathlon relay – I did the swim. We had a great time and it showed that disabled people and non-disabled people can do sport together, you just have to design it and think about it and adapt it.

John Willis, a disabled man with foreshortened arms and legs, waits on a diving board for the signal to dive into the pool, in front of an audience of adults and children
John waiting on a diving board for the signal to dive into the pool.

I did another challenge the following year – 50 1000 meter swims in 116 days – which was quite something and it took me all around the country. I spoke to well over 3000 children and adults about sport. I set up Power to Inspire to take this even further.

Changing attitudes at an early age

Through Power to Inspire, we go into schools and clubs and talk to kids about inclusive sport and we got our games going in schools last year. Everybody seems to have great fun – from mainstream kids learning about inclusive sport to running mixed games where we take mainstream kids into SEN schools.

At one session, we turned to the P.E. teachers and said “Everyone seems to be having a fantastic time, you must always be in and out of each other’s schools with being just down the road from each other” and they said “We’ve never been in each other’s schools before”. So we’re breaking down barriers.

Children trying out new sports like archery and goalball.
Children trying out new sports like VI football and floor lacrosse

It’s fantastic to see kids learning together. It’s not just about sport, it’s about accepting people for who they are. There’s a real demand for our games in schools. We want to keep doing more of it and spread the word. We’re also talking to various clubs about doing big accessible events.

2012 created a huge change in this country. There wasn’t acknowledgment of disability discrimination a few years ago, it was just the norm. Now people are aware it exists. There’s been a massive change. Seeing more disability sport, people on the telly, it’s becoming more accepted in mainstream culture now. People look at Jonny Peacock as a fabulous athlete first, and disabled second.

Outside of the Paralympics, things do get better but it’s like a tide. The water reaches further up the beach each time, but it does go back. What we need to do is create some blockages so the water doesn’t go back so far and we can push it further.

John, a disabled man with foreshortened arms paddles his kayak on the River Cam
John Willis practicing kayaking on the River Cam

Sport is for everyone, full stop

The camaraderie of sport is amazing, with fans of all sports all over the world. That common enthusiasm, I don’t think you quite get that anywhere else.

I set myself a goal last year to try all 34 Olympic and Paralympic sports. I had an absolute blast. I fell in love with far too many of them. There is a sport for everyone and Sport for All emphasises that for me. The work I do with children, once they’ve worked out a way to do something, they just think let’s get on with it and the see the person, not the disability. I want everybody to be able to play and to be able to compete. If you can create that exhilaration of pushing yourself, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at.

Sport is available to everyone full stop. It’s just a question of finding out what you like and finding out where you can do it. And find friends, not just disabled people, but friends who are passionate about that particular sport. Last year I ended up playing tennis which I never thought I’d do. The equipment is available and can be adapted, it just takes a bit of imagination. There’s no such thing as “can’t” – all there is, is working out how to do it. Just take a small step. It all starts with a small step.

Making sport more inclusive

This summer, the World ParaAthletics Championships and the five year anniversary of the London 2012 Paralympic Games gave us an opportunity to champion inclusive sport.

As part of our mission for Everyday equality, we ran a ‘Sport For All’ series to encourage better representation of disability in sport. Over the past few weeks we:

  • shared blogs from storytellers,
  • celebrated the incredible athletes involved in the ParaAthletics on social media,
  • showcased accessible challenge events,
  • did a Facebook Live with Richard Whitehead,
  • and shared some new research which showed that a quarter (28%) of disabled people did not feel the Paralympics delivered a positive legacy for disabled people.

Please help us continue the conversation by championing inclusive sport and challenging negative attitudes. Read more Sport For All blogs and catch up with all of our activity using #SportForAll on our Twitter.

Can a sporting event change attitudes?

Following our #SportForAll activity this summer and as we head towards the fifth anniversary of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. We’ve discovered that, despite the success of the games themselves, there has been little change in the way disabled people feel they are treated by society and supported by the government.

The London 2012 Paralympic Games ran between 29 August and 9 September. At the time it was Lord Coe’s view that “we would never think of disability in the same way again.”

The Games themselves saw disability given an unprecedented platform, with Paralympics GB taking home 120 medals, and para-athletes like Sarah Storey and Ellie Simmonds becoming household names.

However, our new research reveals that a quarter (28%) of disabled people did not feel the Paralympics delivered a positive legacy for disabled people once the two weeks were over. Over a third (38%) think that attitudes have not improved or have got worse since 2012.

An unrealistic portrayal

People have told us that, although the games themselves were wonderful, all of the Paralympic athletes were unrealistically portrayed as ‘superheroes’. They suddenly became these people who could overcome and achieve anything. This just isn’t what daily life is like.

There are 13 million disabled people in the UK, but progress towards everyday equality has been slow. Disabled people tell us that they find it hard to access the care and support they need and the extra costs they face mean life can also be very expensive.

The expectations for a sporting event to change the world when it came to disability was an unrealistic ask.

Time to change attitudes

Our findings also show that three-quarters of disabled people have seen no change in the way that members of the public talk to them or the language that is used, which is really unsettling.

At Scope, we believe that attitudes need to be changed in order to achieve our vision of Everyday equality. This will all work towards the much-needed action on employment, financial security and social care support for disabled people.

Sport has the power to bring people together and break down barriers. However, we need to ensure that this change in attitudes continues indefinitely, not just once every four years.

Paralympic legend Richard Whitehead MBE will be joining us for a Facebook Live on 25 August at 2pm. Head to our Facebook channel and join the conversation.

Richard Whitehead smiles and holds up a Union Jack flag

Our mission is to drive social change so that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Read our new strategy.

Read all of our #SportForAll blogs

It’s time to shatter your perceptions of sport – #SportForAll

Souleyman is a Team GB Paralympic hopeful and World Junior 100m gold medalist. Having a visual impairment has never held him back in his sport and he is currently working towards competing at the 2020 Paralympics.

Here, he spoke to us about how he feels attitudes have changed since London 2012 and the challenges he faces in his own sport.

The attitude to disability in sport has definitely changed for the better in the past five years. London 2012 gave disability sport a focus, an exposure and a celebration it has never seen before and the world accepted this with huge interest and curiosity.

Since then, it has only improved with more people taking an interest in para-sport. There’s still work to be done such as giving para-sports more coverage and exposure on mainstream channels more frequently. At the moment, unless it’s the Paralympics or World Championships, people don’t get to see the amazing athletes that are competing all year round.

However, I think disability is finally being acknowledged in society and people are seeing that disabled people can do the same things that non-disabled people can do. They just need to do it in a different way.

Souleyman warms up before a race
Souleyman is World Junior 100m gold medalist

Sport challenges perceptions of disability

If you want to shatter your perception of what is possible, then you have to watch a para-sport competition at least once in your life. To see an athlete with no arms or legs complete lengths of a swimming pool or an athlete with one leg do the high jump is just something really extraordinary.

If you are disabled, I think it’s really important to get involved in para-sport at a level you feel comfortable with. It gives you a new purpose and challenges negative perceptions of disability. Your impairment isn’t something that holds you back.

Personally, my visual impairment has brought a number of challenges to my life. To go from being told that I wouldn’t be able to drive, read text or see the incredible sights of the world to now being able to train, compete on a world stage and inspire so many people at the same time is amazing. It’s given me a more positive definition to my visual impairment.

Souleyman pours a bottle of water over his head to cool down following a race
Souleyman cools down after a race

I’m a huge believer in whatever you can imagine for yourself, you can achieve it. It’s about finding what needs to be overcome – more often than not, it’s people’s attitudes.

As part of our mission for everyday equality, we are going to be running a ‘Sport For All’ series to encourage better representation of disability in sport, as well as challenging attitudes towards disability. Find out how you can get involved with Sport For All. 

You can expect new research, blogs, videos and social media events. These will showcase some of the best athletes and storytellers involved in disability sport today.

Keep up to date with #SportForAll on our Twitter.

Read more Sport For All blogs.

I wish my dad had been able to see changing attitudes towards disability

Recent words from RJ Mitte and Alex Brooker have had a huge impact on Andy Bundock, whose late father was disabled.

In this guest blog he praises them for how they’ve been speaking about disability, creating acceptance and understanding that he wishes had been there in his dad’s lifetime.

During the Channel 4 coverage of the Paralympics in Rio, Claire Balding had a number of guest presenters with her. One of her co-hosts managed to explain exactly what Cerebral Palsy was in about three sentences. He managed to sum it up in such an eloquent and easy to understand manner. It was only afterwards that I found out that his name was RJ Mitte (apologies, I never got in to Breaking Bad).

I noticed his slight speech slur, this man clearly had Cerebral Palsy. It was very similar to my late father’s. It completely took me by surprise and I burst in to tears. Quite an extreme reaction you might be thinking. Here’s why.

It saddens me that my dad never got to see this

My initial reaction was “Yes, finally. Someone explaining it! And, on the telly.” Perhaps people will start to understand. I wanted turn to my dad and say “Look dad” but he wasn’t there, it didn’t happen in his lifetime. This saddened me so much, to the point of tears.

Not only was someone taking the time to explain a disability, there were disabled people presenting prime time TV and being accepted for who they are. My dad never got to see this. There was also the added emotion of missing my father. Hearing RJ speak in a similar manner just tipped me over the edge.

I contacted Channel Four and asked them if that clip was available so that I could share it on social media. I really wanted to share it and have more people understand. Unfortunately it wasn’t. But then Alex Brooker’s emotional outburst on The Last Leg happened.

On an episode of The Last Leg, Alex Brooker’s emotional outburst to the audience and to us at home had so much impact. He totally smashed it out of the park. When he drew that emotional breath at the end of it and got a hug from Josh Widdicome my heart went out to him.

Thankfully, this clip was available and when I went to share it on social media, I was so glad to see that so many of my friends had already shared it.

Alex did so much to make people understand what it is to be a disabled person that night. Only with more understanding can we move on together and gain more acceptance of people’s abilities as well as their disabilities.

My parents faced discrimination and ridicule

I grew up in a time where there was little or no mainstream understanding of cerebral palsy – what it was, how it affected people. Both of my parents have / had mild forms of the condition and were on the receiving end of discrimination and ridicule.

They were ‘advised’ not to have children, and it was nothing to do with their ability to conceive. Those bits and pieces were all working just fine. Their ability to raise a child was brought in to question. They also were asked to leave restaurants as they ‘were upsetting other diners’.

But my father was a real fighter. He stuck two fingers up at the world and said ‘I’ll show you’ every single day of this life. He said, I can make one of those and mine will be better.

The lack of understanding affected me too

A lack of understanding breeds fear, particularly in kids of school age so I was a target. I got in to fights and subsequently detention simply for protecting myself and my parents from nasty name calling and ridicule.

This upset me even more, the injustice of it all. I didn’t know how to handle it; I was a teenager struggling to deal with hormones, puberty and spots. But where was the protection from the school? I would very much like to think that this kind of behaviour is not tolerated in schools any more.

Andy's dad holding him as a toddler

My father was a brilliant dad

My father told me he was proud of me every day. He was a brilliant dad and I am so proud of his achievements as a father and as a person. He was an amazing photographer and inspired me to go into graphic design as a career. I got pretty good at it too, all down to his influence.

Alex Brooker mentioned his concern about how he would hold his baby should he and he wife be blessed with a child. This photo of my dad holding me was taken in about 1970. It is the only photo I have of the two of us – he was always the other side of the camera. You can’t keep a good man down, even when they are told that parenting probably wasn’t for them.

If you have a story you would like to share, get in touch with the Stories team.

Not a superhuman? Never feel guilty for not doing ‘enough’

Anna Scutt is an actor, singer and hypnotist. In this blog she writes about the impact that adverts like ‘Meet the Superhumans‘ had on her, and how she’s come to accept that it’s okay to admit you’re not okay.

That ‘Meet the Superhumans’ advert. It, and programmes like ‘Disabled Daredevil’, used to make me feel inadequate for not doing something amazing like a bungee jump or a triathlon.  Until two things happened last weekend to change my mind.

One, I read Kim Daniel Daybell’s blog ‘You don’t have to be an athlete to be superhuman’, and two, I got talking to a man sitting next to me at the theatre.

“How does your CP actually disable you?”

He was very impressed that I had come to London on my own.  In the course of conversation, I told him I had also been to Milan to the opera, and that I’d sung in opera myself at university.  At which point he asked ‘Forgive me, but how does your cerebral palsy actually disable you?’

That made me think. Things that I consider ordinary – I drive, I sing, I’ve got a language degree and can watch all those Scandi-noir dramas without subtitles – non-disabled people consider superhuman because they realise that those things are way more difficult for me than they would be for them. They’re not being patronising, they’re just being non-disabled. He was genuinely interested though, so I answered his question: I am in constant pain. I didn’t tell him I hate it. And it took me a long time to admit it, but it’s OK to hate it.

Anna acting on stage. She sits on a mans knee, turned towards each other, in period costume
Anna playing Gwendolen Fairfax in The Importance of Being Earnest, with Paul Henshall as Jack Worthing

Never feel guilty for not doing ‘enough’

There are so many inspirational stories on the internet that not being OK with my CP made me feel like a failure.  But who doesn’t hate being in pain? That doesn’t make me a failure, it makes me human.

All these inspirational people tell you that you can do anything you put your mind to, but actually, ‘Yes, I can’ might not apply to you.  And that’s OK too.  I mean, it sucks, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  I want to dance – tap, jive, quickstep – but my body doesn’t.  I am an actress and I would love to be in a lavish costume drama, but there aren’t many wheelchair users in Jane Austen.  Feel sad about it, feel angry, but never feel guilty.

Anna smiling at the camera in her wheelchair

If you want to play sport, opportunities have improved thanks to the Paralympics.  But if you don’t, nothing much has changed.  Coronation Street did more to raise awareness for me.  I used to get glared at in public if I got out of my wheelchair and walked, as if I was faking my disability. (I blame Little Britain’s Lou and Andy!)  But since Izzy Armstrong stood up out of her wheelchair at the bar of the Rover’s, the glaring has stopped.

Equality is still some way off, but it’s OK not to be a trailblazer or an activist. Someone else will raise awareness; someone will take that inaccessible shop to court, but don’t feel guilty if it’s not you.

You’re only human, after all.

If you want to find out more about Anna’s career, check out her webpage or watch her showreel. 

If you have a story you would like to share, get in touch with Scope’s Stories team.

 

“Yes I Can, If…” – campaigning for better disability access

Will Pike is a games developer from London whose parody of Channel 4’s Superhumans advert has gone viral with over half a million views. Tens of thousands of people have signed his petition to ask the two high-street chains which feature in the film for better access.

In this blog, he shares the story behind his campaign and talks about the changes he’d like to see as a result. A text description of the video is available at the end of this blog post.

In 2008 I went to India, on the way back home we had a stop over in Mumbai and the hotel I was staying in was attacked by terrorists. 168 people died, my spine was injured I am now paralysed below the waist.

I’ve been in a wheelchair for eight years now and in that time have been through ever emotion under the sun. I have days when I just can’t be arsed with the barriers and negative attitudes. I made this film because too many shops and restaurants are effectively off limits to wheelchair users like myself.

Inspired by the Paralympics

After the London Paralympics I was expecting there to be a big shift in places becoming more accessible but it just hasn’t happened. Two weeks before this year’s games started I approached my friend Heydon Prowse about the idea and he got a team of people together to produce the film. Errol Ettiene directed  it and did an incredible job, the team turned a good idea into a slick, professional-grade commercial.

It tops and tails with Paralympic references because I wanted to show how day to day life can feel like Paralympic event for a wheelchair user. But whilst the whole thing was inspired by the Paralympics, these issues still remain for disabled people now the games have ended. This is bigger then just me having a unique experience, this is a global issue indicative of a massive absence of consideration for disabled people. My experiences aren’t isolated and sharing them makes them more powerful and potent. It turns individual struggles into a social issue.

The film isn’t in any way a criticism of the Superhumans ad, but it could only ever do so much. Channel 4 started a relay race about disability awareness and they passed the baton on. They didn’t know who they were passing it on to, but it just so happened it was me. I’m leveraging the awareness their brilliant ad created to further the message. My film couldn’t exist without theirs and whatever success we get is their success too.

Will sat on a sofa against a brick wall

The petition

I’ve been asked why I chose to focus my petition on American Apparel and Caffè Nero and the honest answer is, it was just their lucky day. We were filming on Tottenham Court Road and it just so happened they were the shops that didn’t have wheelchair access. But it was also important that we didn’t pitch this campaign at one-off shops because whilst they have a responsibility, it’s the big chains that have a major responsibility and the ones who are neglecting their civic duty. It could also have a domino effect across all their stores.

It’s not that people are fundamentally thoughtless, it’s just that it’s simply not in the social conscience to be considering these things. It’s only when someone comes along and questions access that things will change.

The people I spoke to in the film felt bad and wanted to help but they are purely innocent in this whole thing. It’s the companies they work for who are responsible for disability access and inclusivity. It’s irresponsible to expect hapless shop assistants to have to deal with that situation. I hope American Apparel and Caffè Nero can see it from that perspective too, it will protect their staff from these embarrassing and awkward situations that they shouldn’t have to go through.

Reasonable adjustments

The Equality Act states that all buildings and public places have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled people are not disadvantaged when accessing their services.

However, in terms of holding public places accountable, it’s actually down to the customers and patrons of that establishment to draw attention to their inadequacies. If that premises doesn’t then do something about their lack of access or facilities, that person is then responsible to bring them to court. Which basically means that all those people with disability – who may or may not have had their benefits cut, or are finding it difficult to gain employment, or even struggling to leave the house – are the ones who must embark on an inevitably time-consuming and costly legal case.

We really hope that this film, though aimed at Caffé Nero and American Apparel, is able to shine a light upon a flawed and, frankly, ridiculous system. It should not be the responsibility of each and every disabled person to flag up a high street chain; it should be the responsibility of the Government and Councils to assess disability access, educate businesses, and ensure funding is in place for reasonable adjustments.

People may think little things like step-free access won’t make a difference to the majority of the population, but it makes a massive difference for a selective few which in turn has a positive influence on the relationships we have with non-disabled people. In turn the whole community will be accessible and better for everyone. And that’s where the #AccessForEveryone hashtag came from.

Will in his wheelchair outside a restaurant where there's a step

What’s next?

We just have to wait and see! I haven’t been contacted by Caffè Nero or American Apparel, but I wonder whether someone is going to bring it to the big bosses. One way I’d like that conversation to go is that the big boss turns round and says: “Are you telling me we haven’t got step free access in our Tottenham Court Road branch?! Right, heads are gonna roll!” That’s far fetched but I am an optimist at heart.

Both brands have a real opportunity to turn this bad situation good by handling it well. If they acknowledge they were wrong and make changes they can come out of this smelling of roses and will get so much good publicity from this. I will be giving them every chance to handle this magnanimously, with humility, and with a real ownership. But if they don’t, we will do everything we can to highlight their ineptitude.

They really can lose a lot of business because of this. Some people have been commenting saying they will boycott these shops until they make a change and if that becomes the consensus, if that becomes the rallying cry, then together we can change a lot.

You can visit change.org to sign the petition or follow Will’s progress.

Will’s story is also a great example of disabled people being ‘bold and loud’ as consumers – something called for by the Extra Costs Commission. Led by Scope, this was an independent inquiry that looked at ways to drive down the additional costs faced by disabled people. Next month a report will be published reviewing progress with the Commission’s recommendations for tackling extra costs.

Video description: Paralympics billboard, zooms into the word “superhuman”. Alarm clock turns to 7.00am. Man laid in bed opens his eyes, sits up, and smiles. He spins around his bedroom in his wheelchair. Plays plastic toy trumpet. Dances into the bathroom. Sits in the show, miming the lyrics into the shower head. Puts a shirt on, grabs his hat with a reaching tool. Leaves his house, flipping hat onto his head. Wheels down the a busy high street. Tries to enter Caffè Nero, wheels crash into a step. Tries to enter Pizza Express and speaks to a waitress about accessible toilet facilities. Does a wheelie and dances down the street. Goes into American Apparel and talks to staff member. Wheels into a pub, stops himself at a flight of stairs. Then wheels down the ramp, sits with a friend both clinking their pint glasses. Text reads “Leaving the house can feel like a paralympic event for wheelchair users. change.org/accessforeveryone”.

My job at Goldman Sachs is a holiday compared to the pressure of the Paralympics

Five-time gold medallist Sophie Christiansen is competing in her fourth Paralympic Games this summer. The equestrian won three of her gold medals at London 2012 with her horse Janeiro 6 so expectations for Rio are high.

In this guest blog post, Sophie, who has cerebral palsy, talks about witnessing first-hand the growth of the Paralympic movement and how she handles the pressures of competing at a top level.

My family isn’t at all horsey. I don’t think I would ever have ridden if I hadn’t been disabled.

I started riding when I was six with the Riding for the Disabled Association to improve my coordination. When I was about 13 I found out about dressage and I was hooked. When I’m on a horse I can forget about my disability and I can compete on a level playing field with other disabled people.

The riding school where I learnt dressage, South Bucks RDA, had a history of training Paralympians so they were looking out for talent from the start.

Being selected for Athens in 2004, aged 16, was incredible. I was ParalympicGB’s youngest athlete. I learnt such a lot from that first experience of the games.

To be selected for my fourth Paralympics this year is a huge honour. I’m only 28, but I’m seen as a Paralympic veteran!

Changing attitudes

The Games have changed so much since my first time in Athens. The standard is so high and there is a lot more interest.

We’d be used to competing in front of 200 people – that would be a big crowd – but then in London there were 10,000.

In Beijing there was a lot of interest from the public and we attracted a really big audience. But there was so little media coverage. I won my first Paralympic gold medals and it hardly got a mention.

I think attitudes have changed. There was a lot expected of London in terms of changing perceptions and I think it did achieve it, to a certain extent. It showed disabled people achieving some amazing things and I think people who aren’t disabled were inspired by what we could do.

But I know a lot of disabled people felt it did not represent them and I totally understand that. It’s why I make it my mission to talk about my life outside sport, about the barriers that still exist in society, whenever possible.

Road to Rio

I’m really looking forward to Rio and I hope people get behind us. It will be a shame if they don’t manage to sell tickets and the stadiums are empty. But as an athlete, you just have to get on with it and focus on your event.

It would be great to see more coverage of disability sports. At the moment there’s the Paralympics every four years and then nothing in between. I think it would help disabled athletes get more sponsorship and make disabled people more visible. If people can’t see disabled people, they just don’t exist.

Relaxing with maths

I work as an analyst at the investment bank Goldman Sachs in the technology department. This might sounds funny, but I see my job as like a holiday from the highly pressurised atmosphere of Paralympic sport.

I’ve always had a logical brain and I love maths.

They’ve created the perfect role for me, which fits around my impairment and my sport commitments. I know it’ll be hard for me to progress in my career while I’m doing dressage, which is frustrating. But everyone I work with is so understanding. It would help support a lot more disabled people into work if more employers were as creative and flexible with roles as mine.

When training in a Paralympic year, it’s about knowing how to balance training with fatigue. It’s difficult because I’m a workaholic, I’m always working. That’s my biggest challenge, knowing when to stop.

Pushing myself outside my comfort zone is how I’ve always lived my life. I never thought I’d have a job in London. I enjoy the independence it gives me and it enables me to pursue dressage.

DSC02989

We’ve published the findings of a new poll which asked disabled people whether the Paralympics can change attitudes to disability and asked what life is like if you’re disabled in 2016. Read more about our Parlympics survey

Visit the ParalympicsGB website for more information.

I broke my spine, but became a wheelchair racer

Lizzie Williams is a full time student studying Sport, Health and Exercise Science. She has osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) and is also a wheelchair racer and a T54 British Athlete.

She talked to us about her long journey to wheelchair racing and the expectations she has exceeded along the way.

The hydropool is sort of where my sporting journey began. Swimming in a pool was the only really physical activity I could do. As you are weightless in water, there’s obviously no pressure on your bones. I started that when I was really little.

I came back home and started training with a local group, got scouted for the ParalympicsGB team and was heading in the right direction for the London games but in 2012 I discovered that I had broken my back. Everything just sort of ground to a halt. I couldn’t do anything physical at all. My fracture wasn’t stable so I didn’t want to risk anything.

In 2013 I had the surgery on my back. After my surgery I was supposed to be in hospital for five days and they said I’d be walking out of there in a couple of weeks. I woke up from my surgery and I could barely move from the waist down. It went a bit tits-up I suppose you could say!

Having to learn everything again

I was in hospital for three and a half months learning to walk again. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t even go to the toilet. I had to learn all those things again. I had to learn how to sit up in bed, how to transfer to chairs, how to take steps. That moment was the lowest in my life.

I was in my second year in college at the time and it just put a spanner in the works for everything. As I’d spend so much time in a hospital environment, I’d always wanted to work as a nurse because I really appreciated everything that they’d done for me. I wanted to make a difference. It sounds really cliche but I wanted to give back.

After my surgery I realised I couldn’t do that. There was no way. I’d been at college studying things like sciences and health and social care. I wasn’t going to be able to do that anymore.

When I came out of hospital my sister was applying to university and I didn’t know what I was going to do or what options were available to me. At this point, I couldn’t get back into sport because I had to wait 12 months for the metal work in my spine to fuse to my bones. I decided that I was going to start the process again, go to a different college, do a different course and get the grades that I knew I could.

Lizzie Williams, a young disabled woman, races an adapted wheelchair on a race track
Photo courtesy of Peter Milsom

The journey to wheelchair racing

After the metal work fused I started getting back in the gym and doing physical activity again. I was volunteering at an event that had Steve Brown, who is a GB wheelchair rugby player. We were talking to some of the kids and he said he used to train down in Worthing for wheelchair racing and suggested I check it out.

I did the 100m in 25 seconds and the coach who was there was like ‘okay that’s pretty good’. Three weeks later I was entered into the London Westminster Mile and I came second. It’s just gone on from there really.

I don’t just want to be a great athlete, I want to be someone that people can look up to and I want to encourage people to get into sport because it is really great!

I can’t imagine what I would be doing without sport. I just love life. Every opportunity is a good one. It’s another chance to show the world that there may be wheels there but there are some pretty good things alongside them.

Lizzie Williams, a young disabled woman, races in an adapted wheelchair on a race track

We’ve published the findings of a new poll which asked disabled people whether the Paralympics can change attitudes to disability and asked what life is like if you’re disabled in 2016. Read more about these findings.

Visit the ParalympicsGB website for more information.

 

Featured image courtesy of Peter Milsom Photography

Jordanne Whiley: going for double-gold at the Paralympics

Jordanne Whiley is a Paralympian, eight time Grand Slam champion and Britain’s most decorated female tennis player of all time. She was born with osteogenesis, more commonly know as brittle bone disease.

In this blog she talks about her hopes for Rio and why she wants to show young people that no matter what your background, or how you look, you can achieve anything.

My love for tennis started when I was three

I had my first leg break when I was three months-old and I had my last one at 12 years-old. In between that I had about 26 breaks. When I was three, my dad took me out to Israel because he was competing in a tennis tournament. I was in a wheelchair with my legs in plaster at the time. I didn’t think I’d be able to play but my dad’s friend gave me a racket and ball and I just started hitting it. Then it was all over Israeli news! I got a trophy from the tournament too. It all just kicked off after that.

I became professional around the time I was 16. Before that, I was part of the Tennis Foundation performance programme and I’d won national championships but not at a professional level. I was at school and I wasn’t sure if I was going to carry on with tennis or go into further academic studies. Then I qualified for the Beijing Paralympics on my sixteenth birthday, which was a nice surprise! So I went to Beijing and when I came back I quit academic studies and became a professional tennis player.

People care about the Paralympics a lot more now

In Beijing tickets weren’t sold and people were told to come and watch the Paralympics and told when to clap. Four years later, in London, there was an arena with 17,000 people who turned up to watch my bronze medal match. In just four years, that’s pretty incredible! I’m hoping that Rio will do just as well.

The sport has changed massively too. I’d say that wheelchair tennis is up there as one of the most successful Paralympic sports. The top ten men and women in the world are just a ridiculous standard. It’s actually world class tennis not just “disabled people playing tennis”. Some wheelchair tennis players have got fantastic profiles for themselves.  My own profile has shot up since London 2012.

Jordanne on the court, about to hit the ball

I want to be a role model for young people

When I was growing up, I didn’t really have any role models to look up to. I don’t like looking up to celebrities because I don’t know them. If I looked up to anyone, I’d want them to be a real person. I had my dad for a lot of it. He was my coach until I was 12 and both my parents were very supportive of my career. But it was just me and them for a very long time.

I want to be a real role model to people. I don’t own Bentleys and live in an 80 room mansion – I’m just a real person. I’m very successful in what I do but I’ve been through struggles. Paralympians have a good opportunity to become those kinds of role models. And I do look up to other Paralympians myself.

The bigger my profile gets, the more chance that people will listen to me. So when I’m trying to influence young girls to stop worrying about their body and get on with their lives, I’m more likely to have more impact. That’s what really drives me. I’m not interested in becoming famous, I just want to influence young people.

It doesn’t matter who you are, what background you’re from, what shape and size you are, you can still be successful. You don’t have to look a certain way to fit into society.  And if people think badly of you, you don’t need them in your life.  I know the people around me will always support me and accept me for who I am.

The Paralympics can change attitudes towards disability

The Paralympics definitely have the ability to change attitudes towards disability. You do have the group of people who think the Paralympics is just a load of disabled people playing sports, “Aww, let’s give them a chance!” but then there are other people who have seen it who are like “Actually, these people are world class athletes. Their disability doesn’t mean anything.” People making judgements should just watch some of it. They will be amazed at what they see.

It’s difficult because a lot of people don’t know what wheelchair tennis is. It’s really sad because it’s such a brilliant sport.  As well as that, you have fun, the social life is great and you meet so many different people. It really helps you become comfortable with your impairment as you meet loads of different disabled people. It can really help you accept yourself.

My hopes for Rio

Training is going really well. I’m definitely in a good position for Rio. A lot of people, including myself, know that I can go for double gold. I don’t want to let anyone down. I know I’ve got it in me to win two golds which is exciting. I just need to go out and play my best. I’ve trained for this for four years!

Visit the ParalympicsGB website to find out more.

Jordanne was one of our #30toWatch in our 30 Under 30 campaign. Find out more about Jordanne’s life and career

Photo credits: Header image courtesy of RKGsecond image courtesy of The Tennis Foundation.

“As a disabled person, you don’t have to be an athlete to be superhuman”

Kim Daybell is a Paralympic table tennis player and is studying medicine at the University of Leeds. He represented ParalympicsGB at the London 2012 Paralympics.

We spoke to Kim about London 2012, attitudes towards disability and Channel 4’s flagship Paralympics trailer.

Competing in London has been the highlight of my career so far and it’s been amazing to see a change in attitudes towards the Paralympic Games over the last few years.

London helped break down a lot of barriers, it challenged people’s perceptions and showed the public that disability isn’t something to be scared of.

Instead of people seeing Paralympians as disabled people, we started to be viewed as athletes. I think the focus is becoming less about disability and more about seeing us for who we are and what we are achieving.

Kim, a young disabled men, competes in a table tennis tournament

Channel 4 did such a great build up and coverage of the games people were suddenly realising that we can really compete. I think shows like The Last Leg have definitely helped reduce some of the stigma too.

London’s legacy has also helped to bridge the gap between the Olympics and the Paralympics. Before 2012, Paralympians weren’t really in the public eye and we didn’t get a lot of media coverage.

Now athletes have become household names, people like Ellie Simmonds, Johnny Peacock and Richard Whitehead have become just as big as some Olympians. Paralympic athletes have been in the shadow of Olympic athletes for so long, it’s good to see that starting to change.

The games becoming more mainstream has also encouraged young disabled people to get into sport. Since London, kids are now being given more opportunities because we’ve had a lot of money put in at a grass roots level. Our squad now has a pathway program and we have someone who goes around and looks for young talent to bring in. Initiatives like this have meant we’ve seen many more disabled people playing sport.

We’re all superhumans

Recently I featured in Channel 4’s trailer for the Paralympic Games, it was a great experience and I was really pleased with how it turned out. I know there has been some controversy around the advert, specifically around the ‘superhuman’ theme. I have seen the term be interpreted in different ways, but to me it just describes disabled people who are doing things above and beyond what non-disabled people can do.

Access an audio described version of the advert.

Some people have said it comes across as a bit patronising, but I don’t see it like that. I think the people in the advert are great role models and great examples for disabled people out there.

However, that doesn’t mean that as a disabled person you have to fly a car with your feet or be an athlete to be superhuman. A superhuman achievement could be anything from completing a university degree to going shopping, it doesn’t just apply to Paralympians. To me, it represents the idea that disabled people can go out and do anything they set their mind to.

I think that’s why they chose to feature disabled people who aren’t athletes in this campaign. The superhuman concept is inclusive, it encompasses all disabled people who are doing amazing things and the advert celebrates this.

People have also questioned why the Paralympics are marketed differently to the Olympics, but I don’t see this as a negative thing. It is to be expected because they are completely different things. They’re separate sporting events and separate organisations, so it makes sense that the marketing isn’t the same.

There is nothing you cannot do

I’d encourage disabled people who are interested in sport to embrace the opportunities that are now available to them. Look online for what’s available in your area, sports clubs are now catering for disabled athletes more than ever. ParalympicsGB are always looking for talent, they’re willing to take on anyone who wants to give it everything they’ve got.

Having been on the Paralympic scene for a while now, I honestly believe there is nothing you cannot do. I’ve seen some truly amazing things, we’ve got a guy in our squad who hasn’t got hands who plays table tennis. Anything can be achieved if you set your mind to it.

You can follow Kim on his Paralympic journey on Twitter.

Find out more about ParalympicsGB on their website.