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Graham Turner: Honours List reignites our Paralympics debate

The New Year’s Honours List rightly recognised the successes of last summer’s Olympic and Paralympic games.

It reminded us of a great family day out at the Olympic Park and the excitement of seeing Usain Bolt in action in the athletics stadium.

But the handing out of the gongs also reignited an awkward discussion in my household about our attitude towards the Paralympics and, more specifically, the idea that the games changed people’s perceptions and prejudices about disability.

As a family, we live with disability every day – one of our sons is severely learning disabled – so we were predisposed to want to celebrate and enjoy the Paralympics.

In the event, we watched very little and found it difficult to identify our day-to-day experiences with the athletes we saw giving their all on TV. Yes, the Paralympics was full of stories of young people overcoming immense physical problems just to participate, but how did this relate to the shuffly, bearof a boy we care for eve ry day?

I suppose the simple truth is that the relationship is a slender one – physical and learning disabilities are very different (though for an unlucky few they are combined).

What the Paralympics did show is that, just like in all walks of life, to achieve success you need determination, dedication and luck. It struck me that the majority of our medal winners were also articulate, intelligent and charismatic – no wonder the British public warmed to them.

I’ve since read about worries the public will now think all disabled people are more capable than they claim and are ‘shirkers’ if they don’t work and live on benefits.

Others have said the Paralympics opened their eyes to the potential of disabled people and also the everyday problems they face in terms of access, travel and employment opportunities.

We have to remember that just as most able-bodied people do not have the potential to run like Usain Bolt or cycle like Bradley Wiggins, the majority of those with a disability don’t have the capacity to become Paralympians and that for many disabled people and their families, simple daily life is a challenge.

I believe the Paralympics successfully raised the profile of Paralympic sport, but that in itself will not necessarily improve the lot of the disabled.

Can I say the summer’s achievements have changed people’s attitudes towards our son? Not if the horrible man who shouted at him to get out of his way in the supermarket last week is anything to go by.

 

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