What the Paralympic Games gave us

I was unsuccessful in my sustained attempts to get tickets for the Olympic Games of London 2012. I finally “settled for second best”, and got tickets to the Paralympic Games some three months ahead of them, and long before there was any indication of the excitement which they would bring. I had made the mistake of assuming that the Olympic Games would somehow be better than the Paralympic Games – big mistake! How wrong I was…

The Paralympic Games were not only spectacularly successful from a competitive perspective; looking beyond the competition results themselves, they gave us so much more.

Neil Crofts recently identified Ten things we have learnt from the Olympics on his excellent Making Mondays Magic blog. Thinking about my own experiences of being at the games, this is how I see it: Continue reading

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We are all different

The Paralympic Games of London 2012 have had a lasting effect on many of us, and much has been written and spoken about the “eye-opening” which we experienced. Many of us have been in complete awe of the competitors – we have watched in disbelief as “disabled” competitors have achieved the unimaginable.

Much has been discussed about prejudice, and how we individually react to disability. In a recent blog post, I suggested that “disability” was too negative a term, and proposed that “differently abled” would be more appropriate. I visited the Paralympic Games myself and was truly amazed by the achievements of these sportsmen and women, and have changed my view on this.

Matt Stutzman, born without arms, won the silver medal in archery at the Paralympic Games. He also holds the Guinness World Record for the longest shot – not by a disabled archer, but by anyone.
Matt Stutzman, archer[Photo courtesy of The Daily Telegraph, AP]

He said “Around the athletes’ village people keep coming up to me and asking what sport I do. Most reckon I’m a swimmer. One guy thought I did basketball. That’s some idea, a guy with no arms playing basketball. When I say I’m an archer, they say, ‘So how do you shoot the bow?’ I say: ‘With my feet, doesn’t everybody?’Continue reading

“I’m a Team Player”

I visited the London 2012 Paralympic Games last week – what an eye-opener it was; what an absolute privilege it turned out to be.

I watched a 5-a-side football match between Turkey and France. I’m not a great football fan, and have never knowingly watched a 5-a-side match. But this was different; this was utterly compelling. Paralympic 5-a-side football is played by blind or partially-sighted players. To ensure a level playing field, all players wear eye masks; the ball has bells inside. The goalkeeper can be sighted. As the teams were led out onto the pitch at the start, I was struck by how they relied on each other – this was very much a team game.
5-a-side teams

Blinded soldiersI couldn’t help making the comparison with this photo of British soldiers in the First World War, blinded by gas [photo courtesy of makingthemodernworld.org.uk] – each staying close to the next, supporting each other, practically and emotionally. These are real team players.

How many times have we read CVs which declare “I’m a team player”? How many times does it really mean that? Or is it just a lazy “filler”; one of those things which is important to have on a CV; something so bland and ubiquitous that we don’t even notice it anymore? Continue reading

“Disability” – too negative a term

This is a very brief post after watching some of the Paralympic Games of London 2012. I’m absolutely convinced that “disability” is not a word we should ever be using – at least not in the context we usually use it.

Clearly the athletes have characteristics which distinguish them from others, but the term seems far too negative and witnessing the achievements it doesn’t feel appropriate.

How about “differently abled“? This is a much more positive term which recognises the different abilities these athletes possess. It acknowledges that whilst the athletes have limitations, they possess other abilities too – and they are actively focusing on those rather than on those they lack.

Understandable, but unacceptable nevertheless

On a journey through London yesterday, what started as an idle glance at the underground map resulted in more detailed research followed by a feeling of shame – how can this be acceptable in this modern era?

This is what first caught my eye…

This was the Bakerloo Line, one of eleven lines on the London Underground service.  I must have looked at the map hundreds, if not thousands, of times over the years.  But on this occasion, this tiny little notice caught my eye.  Yes, there is a special symbol to indicate which stations have step-free exit from the platform to street… interesting.  So they don’t all have that?  No… a total of two stations (Harrow & Wealdstone, and Willesden Junction) have step-free access.  There are 23 other stations on the line which don’t provide that – twenty three!  Admittedly, the line is more than a hundred years old, and more than half of the stations are actually underground, but how can wheelchair-bound passengers possibly cope with that?

A journey on the Central Line later in the day provided further opportunity for research.  Here the situation was rather better, with eight stations (White City, Shepherd’s Bush, Bank, Stratford, Woodford, Epping, Roding Valley, Hainault) out of a total 49 stations providing step-free access from platform to street.  Better, but still not good enough.

By contrast, the DLR (Docklands Light Railway), operated by Transport for London, is much newer and every station is designed with wheelchair access in mind.  Indeed, it was the first railway in the UK designated as “fully accessible”.

It is always easier to design these things into a project at the start, and the cost of adding lifts to an underground system more than a hundred years after it was originally built (in one of the most congested cities in the world), must be colossal.  Anyway, how can you possibly put a price on that?

How wonderful it must be for wheelchair users to see signs like this one, which I encountered in Tignes, France.  Brilliantly inclusive, admittedly without massive financial cost (presumably):

Thinking back to the time when my own children were babies in pushchairs, I recall how every journey on foot had to be carefully planned to avoid steps.  In time, every ramp, lift and escalator in every town was committed to memory and formed part of all days out.  In fairness, there were actually very few places which were totally inaccessible.  Sometimes, “thoughtless” shopkeepers put baby-change facilities upstairs, downstairs, or completely inaccessible from street level, and usually a moan to the shopkeeper would confirm that changes were planned “at some time in the future”.  But generally it wasn’t too bad.  According to my parents, all very different from how it had been when I had been a baby myself.  So gradually, these things are changing.  But it’s not a quick process.

For parents of babies in pushchairs, this is just a passing phase – it lasts only a few years before the pushchair can be banished forever, and a new phase starts.  At that point, determination to get local authorities to make improvements subsides, and memories fade and become rosier…  “it wasn’t easy, but it was manageable… and in any case, it was only for a few years”.  But for wheelchair users, the same cannot be said.  It must be heartening to know that improvements are coming despite the massive cost, but at the same time, immensely frustrating to know that these things can take an entire lifetime.  For wheelchair users, that is just completely unacceptable.  But isn’t it just the same for the rest of us – completely unacceptable?