There is no doubt that the London 2012 Paralympic games provided a wonderful showcase for the achievements of people with disabilities. They generated a high level of positive media coverage and surveys conducted immediately following on from the games showed improved public perception in attitudes towards people with disabilities.
However one year on, did they have a real impact in challenging prejudice and improving the lives of disabled people in the UK?
I read with interest the findings of a couple of recent surveys by organisations working with disabled people which showed a mixed picture in term of real impact. The charity Vitalise found that 6 out of 10 disabled people had seen no perceptible change to their lives one year on from the games and 7 out of 10 said they believe the general public does not have a better understanding of the day-to-day lives of people with disabilities. Scope, with a similar survey, found that many disabled people are warning that “short-term improvements in public attitudes, sport and community involvement are being undermined by ‘scrounger rhetoric’, a crisis in living standards and a squeeze on local care.”
The long-term legacy of the Paralympic Games in shaping attitudes, increasing inclusiveness, and raising greater awareness around the issues faced by disabled and disadvantaged people is still very much a work in progress.
Charities such as Livability need more than ever to play a pivotal role in helping to improve the lives of people with disabilities across society, capitalising on the Games legacy and strongly challenging the toxic ‘scrounger rhetoric’ when needed.
I am also interested in the sporting legacy of the Games. Disabled athletes inspired us all last summer but what are we doing to nurture the next generation of disabled sports people? How are youngsters with disabilities going to be able to take on new sports and develop their skills at a time when playgrounds and sports facilities are in short supply and when spend on social care is under threat restricting the extra support they might need to access facilities and training?
Livability’s Victoria Education Centre and Sports College offers disabled young people a great environment where sports and physical activity are key parts of the curriculum and where they are encourage to believe that they can excel within their chosen sport. Many disabled children and young people will not have access to such a supportive environment, so let’s make sure that we offer the athletes of tomorrow the support they need to continue to represent the UK in high profile competitions. This should be an integral part of the Games legacy.