Have the Paralympics changed disability attitudes?

Now I know this is a bold statement, but bare with! Disability attitudes are something that has progressed over time- and thankfully has improved in the grand scheme of things. However, could a single event be responsible for such a societal change? 

Scope released a campaign last month about this exact topic, and I was fortunate enough to go on BBC Breakfast and take part in an interview about it. Yet this wasn't a topic I had previously thought about. As you can imagine, I have thought about disability attitudes in a more broader sense, just never in relation to the Paralympics. New polling for Scope shows over three quarters (78%) of disabled people say the Paralympics improve attitudes and four in five (82%) say the Games change negative assumptions to disability. However, a closer look reveals the Paralympics have a limited impact on disabled people’s everyday lives – just one fifth (19%) think Britain is a better place to be disabled than four years ago after the huge success of London 2012. With the vast majority saying there has been no change in the way people act towards them, including the way people talk to them (78%), the language people use (78%) and in an awareness of their needs (73%). 


Now I know that is a lot of statistics, but I believe that the results that Scope have found are compelling, but what does this actually mean? A closer look at the findings have revealed that away from the bright lights of the Games, the powerful representations of disability and incredible sporting achievements, life is still too tough for many disabled people. The Paralympics at London 2012 was incredible and they should be commended for their efforts. It was televised by Channel 4 so much more than previous years and it was great to see it in the public eye. I also completely appreciate that the Paralympics is not watched as much as the Olympics, nor does it sell as many tickets- yet the athletes train just as hard and deserve the recognition.


Do you remember the Channel 4 advert for the Paralympics? It was all about the athletes being 'Super Humans' which I never decided whether I liked or not (yes, I am sitting on the fence!). It was a very catchy advert that showcased a large variety of disabled individuals either completing sporting or creative activities. It included things like wheelchair racing, dancing and playing the piano, with the other aspect of the advert showing the same people completing everyday tasks, like brushing your teeth. I loved the fact that they also showed daily activities as it is important to show that we can just be like everyone else. I also loved the fact that the phrase 'Yes I can' was said throughout. Disabled people are often told 'no' even if we know that we are capable of that achievement, which can be extremely disheartening. 


On the other hand, the 'Super Humans' aspect didn't sit quite right. Surely we should be showing how we are just like everyone else. Scope suggested that this could be why attitudes haven't improved in day-to-day lives of disabled people, and how the affects of the Paralympics were not sustained. It is as if Paralympic athletes are put in a separate category by the general public when compared to other disabled people. Yes, they are inspirational people and it is great to show the general public that we are able to achieve things. But why are some of the general public not upholding the same level of respect to disabled individuals they could meet during a normal day in terms to how they talk to them? In a way 'Super Humans' could glamorise disability, pushing disabled athletes into the separate group. Also, disabled people can still feel like second- class citizens in certain situations when it comes to accessibility or even when trying to find a job.


In terms of work, Scope found that disabled people continue to face huge barriers to work with just 15% saying employer attitudes have improved since London 2012. As a young person who is currently at university, this terrifies me. I will leave university with a degree (hopefully), have a range of experience in a number of settings, as well as achievements outside of university and education. Yet I know I will probably be turned down from some jobs because I have a disability. I am aware of my own capabilities and would not apply for a job if I wouldn't be able to safely complete the tasks. However, if people have never employed someone with a disability then they would often find this daunting and avoid the situation completely. I am not expected to disclose my disability when applying for jobs if I do not want to, but why should that affect my application? I'd urge employers to give us a chance, just ask what adaptions we may require and allow us to express how we feel about it. Disabled people can be just as hard working and capable as able- bodied people if given the chance.

Have the Paralympics changed disability attitudes? Yes, the Paralympics have shown people we are capable of achieving, which can sometimes be forgotten when the focus is on our limitations. The Paralympics has also given disabled athletes the chance to show what they can do and act as role models and inspire young disabled people into taking up sport. However, I am sorry to say, we still have a long way to go. We still need disabled people more integrated into society and the media, to be treated with respect and dignity. The media roles do not need to evolve around their disability, they can be everyday characters- and I am happy to say that this is slowly happening! 


One day we will translate the attitudes of the Paralympics to everyday situations, one day we will be equal.



~ Chloe x

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