Thursday, 18 October 2012

"We will never think of disability in the same way."

Hello and welcome to my blog.  It's great to see you again and I hope you've had a fruitful week. I confess that mine has been mixed.

In the next few blogs I want to talk about something close to my heart, physical and mental disability.

Let me start by saying that I believe that our society would be happier, fairer and more successful if disabled people were as fully integrated into society as they wished to be and were treated with dignity and compassion. For that reason I'm going to focus on the 2012 Paralympic Games in London because that's where we saw this in action and it was inspirational.

We had a one day pass for the Paralympics and at the end of the day we were desperate to return not only because we were stunned by the standard of sportsmanship but because the atmosphere was addictive. It wasn't the atmosphere created by the Games Makers, but the one created by the disabled spectators. They were proud, confident and our equals. Indeed it felt like they were more than equals because the Paralympics was their party and we were the guests. My one abiding memory was of a young girl, about 11 or so, dancing her socks off to rock music during a basketball match. She had celebral palsy and I so wished that she had been captured on camera because she summed up what could be achieved if we set our minds to it.  I'm not just talking about the fact that she was excited enough to dance, I believe that she could dance so freely because a whole infrastructure had been set up to allow her to get there; the venue was dedicated to serve her needs and the spectators made her feel at home.

As Roberta Nichols from Westcliff-on-Sea wrote in The Times (Tuesday September 11 2012),

"The recent exposure to so many disabilities must surely have made a difference. Instead of staring, or feeling uncomfortable in their presence, let us hope that more people will now welcome them (the disabled) into restaurants, shops and workplaces"  

Would that girl have danced so freely if she had felt unwelcome?

I would go further and say that any welcome must extend to practical and lasting assistance so that it becomes the norm to see disabled and able bodied people dining out together, going to the cinema, sitting together on the train. Disabled people and their carers have enough to contend with everyday of their lives, why should they be stigmatised and marginalised too?

Lord Coe said that the UK  "will never think of disability in the same way," and LOCOG showed us the way. It would be criminal not to build on the wave of goodwill towards the disabled and perhaps we can start by treating them as our neighbours who could probably teach us more about living in one hour than we could learn in a year.

Next week, I'll be featuring Sailability, the RYA's (Royal Yachting Association), initiative to encourage and support people with disabilities to take up sailing.

Bye for now.

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