Charities Special: The Paralympic Effect
Thursday, 18 October 2012

Playing the game

The Paralympics shone a bright light on disability and left a positive legacy, says Vanessa Berridge

In late summer, athletes Ellie Simmonds, Jonnie Peacock, David Weir and Oscar Pistorius became as familiar as Rebecca Adlington, Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins and Usain Bolt. The 2012 London Paralympics was the best attended since the movement began in 1960.

Around 4,000 athletes from more than 150 countries took part, 2.5 million tickets were sold, and the Olympic stadium was daily fi lled to capacity. According to Channel 4 fi gures, 6.3 million people watched Peacock win the 100 metres T44 fi nal. ‘A solid audience,’ says Jane Jones, marketing and communications director at the British Paralympic Association.

There’s been a lot of talk about ‘legacy’ after the London games, but the BPA prefers ‘momentum’. It is working with partners to provide opportunities to showcase disability sports before Rio. Jones was delighted to see so many school parties in the Olympic Park. ‘The effect may not be realised for decades,’ she says, ‘but young people now have role models, which may affect the buildings they commission or the people they employ.’

Alice Maynard, herself a wheelchair user, is chair of Scope, a charity that provides services and runs campaigns to improve the lives of the disabled. ‘The Paralympics was a major opportunity to change people’s thinking,’ she says. ‘It has led to a more open climate and a positive image. Key to it all was the good media coverage.’ She cites her interviews on local radio stations. ‘We discussed the appropriate language to use when talking about disabled people and I don’t think that would have happened beforehand.’

What is important is to think about what people can do rather than what they can’t. Technical improvements have been made, and most buses are now accessible by disabled people. But on occasions, bus drivers don’t stop because of the time it takes to pick them up. ‘We need ramps and audiovisual information,’ says Maynard, ‘and we need to change attitudes.’

The Paralympics was about people who are disabled, competing in a sporting competition at the highest level, rather than taking part because they are disabled. As Nick Parr, director of sport at Mencap, says: ‘People used to see disability sports as less competitive, but the Games opened their eyes to the fact that they are sports people fi rst and foremost.’

Charities such as Mencap and Scope need to maintain the visibility of disabled people in politics and the workplace, and work with the Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey, to gain support for new initiatives. Youngsters need to be encouraged to take part in activities. Not everyone can be an Olympian or Paralympian, but everyone needs the opportunity to play sport to the best of their abilities.

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‘It’s about accommodating disability in gyms and sports clubs,’ says Maynard. ‘That doesn’t mean spending huge amounts of money. It could be as simple as personal trainers devising exercises for the upper body for those who have lost the use of their legs.’

Cheering anecdotes have resulted from the games. Heel & Toe, based in the northeast, provides free therapy for children with cerebral palsy and other motor disorders, from six months to 19 years. ‘Our children were inspired by the Paralympians,’ says Jane Long, the charity’s development manager. ‘We have made scrapbooks with them as reminders of the Games’ importance and relevance to them. It helped our children realise they can excel.’

Parr of Mencap agrees that the Paralympics was a platform to encourage more people with learning diffi culties to get involved in sport and ‘not just to play but to excel’. Families, carers, support groups and those with learning diffi culties approach Mencap for support and advice. ‘But with funding pressures, money doesn’t get down to grass-roots level,’ says Parr.

‘Attitudes have improved, but people with learning diffi culties need to be embraced in clubs. Coaches have to be trained so that they give disabled people a meaningful experience.’

‘The Paralympics was the start of something,’ says Maynard. ‘But this has to be kept going, which is why these charities still need public support.’

The BPA has seen a big increase in donations, and other beneficiaries include the English Federation of Disability Sport, which saw a 72 per cent rise in September, and Whizz- Kidz, which saw a rise by 43 per cent.

CONTACT DETAILS


British Paralympic Association 020-7842 5789, www.paralympics.org.uk

English Federation Of Disability Sport 01509-227750, www.efds.co.uk

Heel & Toe 0191-386 8112, www.heelandtoe.org.uk

Mencap 0808-808 1111, www.mencap.org.uk

Scope 0808-800 3333, www.scope.org.uk

Whizz-Kidz 020-7233 6600, www.whizz-kids.org.uk



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