Will The 2012 Paralympics Benefit The Disabled?

Back in June 2012, Eurostar announced that it would be providing “specially adapted services” for international Paralympians travelling to London to participate in the Games starting on 29th August. The Eurostar Chief Executive, Nicolas Petrovic, proudly proclaimed that the modified trains – which would be able to carry up to 18 wheelchair users – were part of his company’s commitment “ to making high-speed rail travel easy, accessible and enjoyable for all”. What he didn’t mention was that (according to the “RailEurope” website) there are usually just “two dedicated wheelchair spaces” on each Eurostar train – nor did he give any indication as to whether any of these additional temporary facilities would be retained after the Paralympic Closing Ceremony on September 9th. In a recent letter to the “London Evening Standard”, Caroline Pidgeon (Leader of the London Assembly’s Liberal Democrat Group) expressed concern that the ramps for wheelchairs which have been installed at 16 Underground stations will be available only for the duration of the Games: “It would be shameful (she wrote) if they are removed as soon as the Paralympics are ended”. In July, a “mobility scooter” user, Ray Bellisario, announced that he would be taking legal action against the London bus companies whose drivers had refused to allow him to board on 28 different occasions.

These are just three examples of the debate now focusing on what sort of “legacy” (if any) the Games will provide for those with disabilities both in the UK and around the world. In “The Guardian” newspaper on 20th August, columnist David Brindle declared that “The Paralympics will be a celebration not only of sporting prowess, but also of the huge advances made in the emancipation of disabled people in Britain. We are becoming accustomed to seeing them in the community, in the workplace and in the media. Forty years ago, many would have been in residential care”. A survey by the disability charity “Scope UK” has indeed indicated that 57% of disabled people  will watch at least some of the Paralympics and 39% think the Games will have a positive impact on public attitudes towards them. These answers, however, contrast sharply with other less encouraging statistics published by Scope UK which reveal that 66% of disabled people say they have experienced aggression, hostility or name calling, 65% thought others “did not believe they were disabled” and 73% said they felt others “presumed they did not work”. The survey quoted one respondent who had been called “a scrounger, parasite and a waste of space”.

Many charities attribute the apparent increase in abuse towards “the most vulnerable people in society” to the Coalition Government’s  “strident” campaign against “disability benefit thieves” – a view held by the “Disabled People Against Cuts” (DPAC) organisation, which (in a letter to the Guardian on 23rd August) pledged itself to take “direct action to stop the criminalisation of disabled people as ‘cheats’ by the press and government alike”. In the same newspaper on 24th August, the left-wing journalist Polly Toynbee estimated that 90,000 mobility cars and scooters will be repossessed when the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is replaced by “Personal Independence Payments (PIP) next year: One consequence, she concludes, is that anyone who can move themselves 50 metres unaided (for example, in an electric wheelchair) will lose both their benefit payments and (bizarrely) the wheelchair itself. The “Daily Mail” has taken a rather different view, expressing indignation that “Expensive saloon cars (such as BMWs and Mercedes) leased to the disabled under a £1.4 billion taxpayer-funded scheme” are (allegedly) “being driven by their family and friends in an abuse of the system”. On 7th August, Mail reporter Kerry Mcqueeney complained in an article that “Fewer benefit cheats are being jailed by lenient courts despite a government crackdown on false claims” and referred to a benefits cheat who (he proclaimed) had, in March 2012 “Swindled more than £100,000 out of the welfare state, avoided a jail sentence and was given an incredible 93 years to pay the money back”.

The “Equality Act” 2010 defines a person as “disabled” if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial (“more than minor or trivial”) and long-term (“lasting for at least 12 months”) adverse effect on their ability to perform normal day-to-day activities (such as “eating, washing, walking and going shopping”) The “Shaw Trust” (a national charity “ which supports disabled & disadvantaged people to prepare for work, find jobs and live more independently”) has stated – using the “Office For National Statistics”(ONS) as its source – that in the UK only 50% of disabled people of working age are in employment compared to 80% of non-disabled people, only 20% of people with mental health problems have jobs, that 18.6% (7 million) people of working age in Britain have a disability and that there are currently 1.3 million disabled people in the country who are available for and want work but (by implication) cannot get it.

The World Health Organization classifies disability as “physical”(such as paralysis, loss of limb, deafness), “mental” (such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder) or “intellectual” (such as a learning disability). It calculates that 650 million people in the world are disabled, 80% of whom live in developing countries; 20% of the world’s poorest people are disabled; one in every ten children has to cope with a disability; only 2% -3% of disabled children in poor countries go to school. Furthermore: “These numbers are gravely underestimated because disabled people are typically shunned, isolated and stigmatised by their community, so they are often left out of census reports”. The World Bank’s assessment for Latin America is 50 million disabled people – approximately 10% of the region’s population: Among its assertions: “84% of disabled people in Ecuador have no insurance benefits; almost 91% of disabled people in Argentina and 75% in Mexico are unemployed; only 20% of regular schools in Brazil are available to disabled children; disabled people in Honduras have an illiteracy rate of 51% compared to 19% for the general population”.

The 4,280 athletes from 165 nations competing in the Paralympics over the next three weeks will thus symbolize the right to dignity, self-esteem and a better future for all the world’s disabled people.








Filed under: Healthcare, Society, Sports | Posted on August 27th, 2012 by Colin D Gordon

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