Thursday, 13 September 2012

Will the spotlight remain on disability?

I want to congratulate Channel 4 not only for their comprehensive coverage of the Paralympics that has rivalled the BBC's coverage of the Olympics, but also the support programming that has possibly challenged some with the black humour. Channel 4 has really displayed an inner concept by making sure most of the commentators have a physical disability, but Claire Balding, Iwan Thomas and other iconic sports stars must also be commended for the passion they have for disabled sport. For me as a Disability Equality Consultant it does raise more questions. Will the euphoria remain long after the games? Has the general public understood that disability really doesn't change the human spirit? And, does the general public realise that not all disabled people can or want to be elite sports men and women?

"Super-humans" is the new marketing branding to describe Richard Whitehead's, Ellie Simmonds and the rest of Paralympians in Team GB, fantastic, but I'm mindful of the millions of disabled people in this country who won't be elite sports men and women, me included. I'm too old, swim like a brick and run as if I've been on a very heavy boys' night out. Does this mean I am a failed "Super Human", I love being involved in sport even at 41 years old, but at best it's a hobby I'm no less competitive than a counterpart half my age but I have limits. More important to me is earning a living, supporting dependants and going to a restaurant and having a meal without feeling I'm in a goldfish bowel.

Have I "sour grapes" because other disabled people are getting the plaudits and superstardom I think I want? Like thousands and thousands I have watched the games and celebrated the successes and rejoice that disabled sports people are now stars, that's equality at its finest point. My job with others is at the mucky end working towards organisations understanding the principle of co-production, having disability services developed in true consultation with disabled users. What I will find interesting is how many Team GB medal winners will find it will work against them in their Disability Living Allowance assessments. Another contrived piece of governmental bureaucracy, "we want to weed out benefit cheats!" Newsflash benefit cheats will beat the system because they are dishonest, sure some will be caught but not many. Those of us born with disabilities that won't drastically improve find this assessment pill hard to swallow. For me where I have crash landed so much as a kid falling off bikes, taking pearlers just walking from A to B and sports injuries my joints have gone through hell and are now beginning to cease. So the joys of age are upon me I will lose mobility and get worse, simple fact.

As an equality trainer the biggest impact will be the children who have witnessed disabled sport in the last 11 days, who caught in the action have forgotten the missing limbs, the blindness and the people that wobble and have been swept up by exhilaration, passion and the desire to win.

From my perspective disability is all about ability first. We get caught up in the marketing spin of "Super-humans" etc. for me, the legacy of the Paralympics must be the change in media perspective, possibly we can lose this scroungers tag and reduce disabled hate-crime which has increased year upon year for the last six years. Come on guys, how can you hate a wobbly man? Channel 4 now produce some interesting inspiring thought provoking documentaries about different aspects of disability which I think helps people understand. My question still remains, will the spotlight still be on us in 12 months' time? All I can say is, I hope so.