Posts Tagged ‘paralympics’

The Guardian: Has the Paralympic flame sputtered out?

October 9, 2012 Leave a comment

Has the Paralympic flame sputtered out?

The best Paralympic legacy would be to empower disabled people to participate in a society that respects difference

Towards the end of the London Paralympics, in which I had participated with the ParalympicsGB blind football team, I sent the following tweet: “The ephemeral beauty of the #Paralympics hangs in the air over London like a gossamer cathedral. Can we preserve its delicate grace, Britain?” A month after leaving the utopia of the Paralympic village behind me, that question still gnaws at my mind. I returned to my home town full of hope that this might be the start of something, not the end.

Some things have indeed changed. There is now a lot of talk about “legacy”, about “creating more grassroots opportunities”. And a lot of good technical work is going on to establish frameworks, partnerships, and initiatives – webs of opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong, legacy is important. “What happens next?” is the single most important question to ask following an event like the Paralympics. As someone who couldn’t access sporting opportunities for years because of barriers and practical problems, I have a keen passion for this area.

But I’m even more interested in the question of how we preserve the spirit of the Paralympics: that warm and open-hearted felicity that fostered in our oft-degraded species a glorious and blissful fellowship. If I wallow in hyperbole, you’ll have to forgive me, but from an athlete’s perspective it really was that good.

Suddenly all the shackles had gone. The scales had fallen from our eyes. Conversations about disability were less “icky”. People felt liberated to ask open and honest questions, to inquire, to seek, to understand, and others were happy to answer. It was a genuine dialogue, free from all the “should I” and “is it OK to”. These things were discussed freely and openly, and then set aside. Dealt with and then left, because once the talking is done, it’s time to compete.

Maybe I was naive to assume that this kind of feeling would last. Back at home, I have rooted around for the last flickering of the Paralympic flame. As yet, I have not been able to detect it anywhere … and it’s not like I’m not trying. Perhaps, if I had won a medal, my post-Games experiences would have been very different.

I’m not looking for a personal indulgence, but attitudes, behaviours and inclusive spirit. It’s no use just opening the door to sport for disabled participants if we can’t give them a big, warm, fuzzy Games Maker welcome too.

In fact, why stop at disabled sport? At its heart, the Games operated like some mythical utopian society: everybody had a job, and every job linked directly to an immediate need. As a result, people felt fulfilled and their labours were appreciated by all, regardless of status. It’s a model that would benefit many areas of society, not just sport. At the Games it came easy. Mass-participation events excite in a way that 9-5-ing it in a soulless office somewhere can’t. So we will have to work at it, but surely it’s worth the effort.

A young disabled person who receives poor or prejudicial treatment, no matter how unconscious or unintended, at the hands of society, is less likely to feel empowered to become a positive participant in that society. This is a tragedy beyond measure. If we want greater participation in disabled sport for the future, then we must also ensure that we are creating a society in which disabled people feel positive, empowered and ready to participate in life in general. Sport would benefit from such a shift, but sport can also help create it.

We need Games Makers for life, not just for sport, and not just for London 2012. It’s a social responsibility of every citizen in this great nation to examine themselves and their own perceptions, and see if there’s not work that they can do to have a positive impact. That might just mean responding politely next time a blind person asks you which bus has just pulled up at the bus stop. After all, that blind person might be a Paralympic superhuman of the future.

The biggest challenge of all is not to get more people participating in disabled sport, it’s to get more people feeling empowered to participate in society as disabled people, because we have built a society that respects and accepts difference.

If the London Paralympics can contribute in any small way to altering public perceptions, or providing some much needed impetus so that stigma, misconception, and prejudice can be driven shame-faced in to the shadows, then that’s a real legacy worth shouting about. The sporting legacy appears to be healthily underway; now, can we ensure a social legacy to match?

Categories: Disability Tags:

The Mirror: The REAL reason Osborne was booed at the Paralympics: Team GB blast coalition plans to slash vital disability payments

September 9, 2012 Leave a comment

The outraged athletes lined up to slam PM David Cameron and his beleaguered Chancellor George Osborne in a storm that threatens to taint tonight’s ­Paralympic closing ceremony

Team GB’s Paralympic heroes have launched a furious attack on the Government over ­savage plans to slash vital disability payments.

The outraged athletes lined up to slam PM David Cameron and his beleaguered Chancellor George Osborne in a storm that threatens to taint tonight’s ­Paralympic closing ceremony.

Hundreds of thousands of disabled people are set to lose out when the ­Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is ­replaced with the more restrictive ­Personal ­Independence Payments as part of a £2.2billion cost-cutting plan.

Last week George Osborne was booed as he appeared in front of an 80,000-strong crowd at the ­Olympic ­Stadium in Stratford, East London, to present medals to ­triumphant Paralympians.

Now competitors have told of their own fury at the Coalition cuts which will see benefits worth between £20 and £131.50 a week slashed next year. And leading disability charities also hit out at the controversial plan yesterday.

Blind Team GB footballer Keryn Seal, 30, who relies on his £70-a-week allowance to get to training, told the Sunday Mirror: “I find it quite incredible that the ­Government can go around handing out medals when away from the Games they are taking the DLA away.

“It’s all well and good backing disabled sports at the highest level and looking good for the cameras but what they are doing is going to affect hundreds of thousands of disabled people really badly.

“Some of the reason George ­Osborne and Theresa May were booed was because of the DLA stuff.”

Keryn says he spends £50 a week of the allowance just to get to and from training. Like many of Team GB’s ­Paralympic athletes, the unemployed father of two receives no Government funding. He even relies on the DLA to pay for his young children to get to ­playschool.

Keryn, from Exeter, Devon, said: “I came out of university two years ago with a 2:1 in sports studies but I haven’t worked since. I have applied for loads of jobs and only had four interviews.

“In many ways training for the Olympics has kept me going and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t have the DLA ­payments.

“I can’t understand why the Government would dream of ­taking this money away from us. It shows a complete lack of ­empathy.

“Disillusioned, disenchanted and disappointed are all words I would use to describe how I feel about the Government.”

The DLA currently goes to around 3.2 million people at a cost of £12.6billion a year. ­

Analysts estimate up to 500,000 disabled people will have their allowance entirely withdrawn over the next four years as ­eligibility criteria is tightened.

Ministers insist the switch to the means-tested Personal ­Independence Payments will enable the benefit to be targeted at “people who need it most”.

Double-amputee Derek Derenalagi, 37, from Bushey, Herts, captured the nation’s hearts this week when he finished 11th in the discus just five years after losing his legs in a bomb attack while serving as a soldier in Afghanistan.

Derek, who receives DLA of £100 a week, said the changes would have a ­“devastating” effect on many disabled people.

“The Paralympics have been huge and people have enjoyed it but when it finishes we are still disabled,” he added. “I hope the Government will change these decisions as it could be terrible for us.

“The money really helps with our ­training and everyday life. I spend it on things like my discs which cost £60 to £70, trainers which can be around £60 and physio which is about £70 a time.

“Not every Paralympian is sponsored and we would hugely struggle without it. We do not get paid like footballers and it really helps us.”

Judo bronze medallist Ben Quilter, 30, is partially sighted and receives around £50 a week in DLA. He said losing the allowance would seriously affect his ­independence.

Ben Quilter


“Losing this money will hinder my life, no doubt about it”: Judo medallist Ben Quilter


Ben, from Brighton, added: “Losing my DLA would affect my general life. There is no doubt about it. I need the money to travel around. For example, a train ticket to London costs about £14.

“I also need it to buy iPad apps which help me with my disability and allow me to interact with people.

“I really hope the Government change their mind on this. It’s a real shame as the Paralympics has been so amazing. It is a very important issue.”

Wheelchair sprinter Jamie Carter, 17, who came eighth in the men’s T34 200m on Tuesday, receives a weekly allowance of £50 to £60. The student said the money was “vital” to pay for essentials. His mother Sandra, 45, from Binbrook, Lincs, said: “The money means he can afford the fuel to get to and from ­training in his disability car.

“Losing that money could have serious consequences. It could mean he has to get a job to try to fund his athletics.

“It has helped him buy new tyres for his chair, which can cost up to £100.

“It seems crazy to take it away from people like Jamie who are so dedicated to their sport.”

A disabled star of the Paralympics opening ceremony also joined in the outcry. Wheelchair dancer Laura Jones, 30, who is paralysed from the chest down following a spinal cord ­haemorrhage at 16, is worried her £50-a-week payment is under threat.

She said: “I would have to cut a number of things I do outside of work like going to the theatre and dance shows which are interests linked to my career.

“If people miss out on leisure activities and sports, they end up stuck at home and that will obviously be worse for their health.”

Last night three major disability charities threw their weight behind the Paralympians. Jane Alltimes, of Mencap, said: “The Government’s plans threaten the ability of many people with a ­disability to live independently.

“This is yet another move that undermines the Government’s commitment to promoting social justice for disabled people.”

Keith Andrews, of children’s charity Variety, said: “In light of the success of this year’s Paralympic Games, the ­importance of funding and financial aid has never been more evident that these athletes deserve our support.

“If crucial funding is taken away, they would be unable to achieve their ­potential in such a financially strenuous discipline.”

Richard Hawkes, of Scope, said: “The legacy of the Paralympics should be a Britain where we focus on what disabled people can, rather than can’t, do and where we have the support in place so they can achieve their aspirations.

“The Government must grasp this opportunity and re-think cuts to a critical piece of support.

“The moves appear to be motivated by saving money rather than supporting people to live independently.”

Sorry, the Paralympic spirit insults disabled people like me

August 30, 2012 1 comment, Thursday 30 August 2012 15.11 BST

I am not a sports fan. Loathed it at school, steadfastly bored by it since. So I was not a keen observer of the Olympics and won’t be following the Paralympics either. This might seem strange. The Paralympics, after all, promise the opportunity to show that disabled people are not work-avoiding stay-at-homes glued to daytime TV. And as I’m disabled, I should welcome them – greet with open arms this opportunity to show the world what so-called disabled people can do.

I won’t. Not because I don’t give a damn for sport generally, or the Paralympics specifically. While I don’t understand why people should want to run, row or swim faster than others, I’ve never known why people would want to be accountants, either. It’s the baggage associated with the Paralympics that’s my problem – the subliminal and explicit messages.

Able-bodied people aren’t expected to reach the standard of Usain Bolt or Mo Farah – they’re accepted as being exceptional. But there is an implied expectation on “the disabled” that if only they would throw away their crutches, dispense with their wheelchairs, flush their drugs down the loo, make an effort, the rest could stop having to pay for them. After all, look at … name your Paralympian, Stephen Hawking, or one-handed concert pianist Nicholas McCarthy.

Such people are definitions of exception. Whereas no one expects Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, to run like a Bolt or a Farah, it’s commonplace to hear “if he can do it so can you” as a rebuke or encouragement to disabled people. This really misunderstands the nature of disability itself. Particularly when it involves state benefits, and particularly when irresponsible ministers and journalists can’t or won’t distinguish between fit young athletes – even with bits missing – and the generality of disabled people.

I became disabled slowly, progressively, after I broke my back in a car accident. I was never good at sport even before then – probably why I hated it. I was the last to be picked for the football team – didn’t see well, had fits, flat feet, got depressed. But I managed – until the crash. Complicated by a family history of osteoarthritis, over decades I became less able. Life became punctuated by increasing pain and stronger drugs to limit it. At no point did I opt for disability as a lifestyle choice – it chose me.

I have as much in common with the Paralympian Oscar Pistorius as you, gentle reader, have with Bolt – which for most of you isn’t much at all. If people accepted that, there wouldn’t be a problem, and I would feel less chippy about the Paralympics – but they don’t.

I don’t believe in role models in general. I never could fathom why judges should admonish footballers who get caught doing something drunkenly with no trousers on that they’ve let everyone down, since young people look up to them. If Paralympians are role models – and I really wish they didn’t have to be – let them inspire everybody, able and disabled, rather than be exploited to make disabled people feel inadequate and guiltily dependent on the hard-working taxpayer.

The Paralympics, like the Olympics, is a circus – it has its stars, its pretence, its sheer silliness – and on that level, I don’t object to it. I don’t want to watch it, neither do I want wall-to-wall coverage so reminiscent of fiddling while Rome burns, but if that’s what fills your boots, go ahead. But it isn’t a sermon in form-fitting Lycra. It’s not, or shouldn’t be, a big party for the Friends of Atos – the firm that conducts controversial medical assessments for benefit claims on behalf of the government – to hug us as if we were all the same while surreptitiously snipping away at our sole means of support.

I’m in my 60s now, and there’s a limit to what the coalition can do to me. I worry about the young – those who can no more choose work than choose not to be disabled, but will have their benefits slashed anyway. As a spectacle, the Paralympics might inspire them, but as a symbol of what society thinks disability means, it will hurt them. And sponsored by Atos and welcomed by David Cameron, the Paralympics are in danger of turning into an insult to all of us.

Categories: Disability, Stigma Tags:

Mark Steel: They can’t be disabled – they can swim

August 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Mark Steel on form as ever!

Having Atos sponsor the Paralympics is like having a gay Olympics and letting the Pope sponsor them

Wednesday 29 August 2012

There’s a company called Atos, that you may have heard of, and the achievement it’s best known for is to be despised by thousands of the disabled. Graffiti such as “Atos kills” is common on some housing estates, which must be why Atos is one of the main sponsors of the Paralympics. It makes sense, in the way that if you had a gay Olympics, you’d get it sponsored by the Pope, or you’d get an Olympics for people who idolise tall buildings automatically sponsored by al-Qa’ida.

The reason Atos is unpopular is that it receives £100m a year from the Government for assessing the claims of the disabled. The method Atos chooses is to interview each claimant, ignoring old-fashioned nonsense like medical records and asking them a series of questions such as “Do you look after your own pets?” You get points for each answer and your final score determines whether you keep your disability benefit. Because, as the old saying goes, if you can pat a hamster you can do an all night shift as a security guard.

Of the thousands who have appealed against Atos decisions, 40 per cent have been successful. This is admirable, seeing as you’d get half of them right if you decided each claim by asking them to guess which hand you were holding a peanut in. So maybe Atos should be in charge of deciding who has won each event at the Paralympics. Instead of using unreliable data such as who came first, the company can interview each athlete, declaring one the winner because, although they came seventh, they gave correct answers to the questions “Who was your favourite Doctor Who?” and “Have you ever been to Runcorn?” And commentators will have to shout, “GREAT run from the Kenyan, but answered ‘Andy Pandy’ when asked to name a 1980s kids’ TV show so not likely to make the final”.

Atos could also conduct the post-race interviews. Rather than the jaded old format of congratulating the winner, we can have an enlightening conversation led by an Atos clerk that goes, “Can you swim?” “Of course I can, I’ve just won the blind swimming race.” “Well, if you can swim, you can’t be blind, you cheat. Now apply for this job as a crane driver.”

Maybe Atos will get itself in a complete philosophical tangle during the games, applauding each event, then thinking, “Hang on, they can’t be disabled, they’ve just been playing basketball”, until the entire Paralympic village is disqualified, unless one country enters a couple of dead athletes, giving them a 40 per cent chance of being accepted into the table tennis.

Protests against Atos by the disabled have been planned throughout the games, so this shows that sponsorship pays off. Before the games, few people had heard of Atos, but by the end millions will know them as the bastards who make a fortune out of ruining the lives of the disabled. They’ll have brand recognition – proof that advertising works.

Categories: Disability, Education Tags:

DAILY MIRROR’S KEVIN MAGUIRE COLUMN ~ ‘And the gold medal for hypocrisy goes to… David Cameron’!

August 28, 2012 Leave a comment

And the gold medal for hypocrisy goes to… David Cameron

Atos ­sponsoring the Paralympics when its benefit tests are a sick joke is an insult to disabled people


Kevin Maguire column And the gold medal for hypocrisy goes to… David Cameron

Atos ­sponsoring the Paralympics when its benefit tests are a sick joke is an insult to disabled people

Heroes: Tommie Smith and John Carlos with raised fist salutes
Heroes: Tommie Smith and John Carlos with raised fist salutes

Is it too much to hope that a British medal winner emulates American heroes Tommie Smith and John Carlos with a raised fist salute at the London 2012 Paralympic Games? Probably.

The black power salute of the US athletes in Mexico 44 years ago was a magnificent stand against human rights abuses, a protest against poverty and the abuse of black Americans as ­second-class citizens.

Here in Britain the David Cameron who will quite rightly hail Paralympian champions is also the David Cameron who makes disabled people the fall guys for his failed agenda of austerity ­recession economics.

If hypocrisy was a London 2012 sport, the Prime Minister would win gold.

People are dying after being passed fit to work in a benefit crackdown that stigmatises the ill and disabled.

Alice Maynard, chair of the charity Scope, tells of people shouting “scrounger” at disabled people in the street.

The abuse is getting worse, with two-thirds telling the group they’ve endured taunts, hostility or outright aggression.

Only about 0.5% of ­disability living allowance claims are found to be fraudulent when checked.

More in benefits is unclaimed than cheated.

The rich avoid paying far more in tax than is wrongly paid in welfare, yet the “scrounger” rhetoric against claimants creates a poisonous ­atmosphere.

Maynard revealed that one man who could hardly stand was shopped by one of his neighbours to a fraud hotline.

Something has gone badly wrong when people see somebody disabled and, instead of asking if they can help, wonder if they’re on the fiddle.

The Government’s war on the ­disability living allowance will deprive 90,000 citizens of their freedom to get to work and out and about.

French welfare attack dog Atos ­sponsoring the Paralympics when its benefit tests are a sick joke is an insult to disabled people.

If he has any shame, Cameron will reflect on what he’s doing then offer a fair deal.

Most athletes would think it ­inappropriate to protest on a podium.

Some, including gold medal-winning swimmer Tara Flood, joined ­demonstrations over the past few days.

Yet even the remotest possibility of a protest will have ministers biting their lips. Good.

Because what the Government is doing to the disabled is cruel, and deserving of the widest condemnation.

Anne Begg writes on WCA etc

August 3, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s not the benefit fraudsters who are targeted in the media, it’s the disabled

Anne Begg MP

For a couple of years disabled people have been reporting increased levels of both verbal and physical abuse from members of the public. This has been confirmed this week in the results published by the charity Scope from a survey of 500 disabled people and their carers across the country.  The research showed that 46% of those polled said that attitudes towards them had worsened over the past year.

Why should this be?  With the Paralympics coming to London in a few weeks the media, and particularly Channel 4 rebranded as the Paralympic broadcaster, has been full of positive images of disabled people, some doing remarkable things.  I think the Channel 4 advert for the Paralympics is fantastic and get a lump in my throat every time I see it.

However, for a longer time there have been a large number of very different stories about people who receive disability and sickness benefits in the press.  In the government’s attempt to show it is getting tough on benefit fraudsters and the work shy the print media have been very willing to run stories on every release of statistics which they say show that most people who claim sickness benefits are perfectly capable of work, statistics which in reality show no such thing.

A study “Bad News for Disabled People: How the newspapers are reporting disability” by Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research and Glasgow Media Unit found that there had been an increase in the number of disability related stories in the press with a decrease in those presenting a more sympathetic view. There had also been an increase in the use of words such as “scrounger”, “cheat” and “skiver” all adding to an impression that disabled people were “underserving”.

So who are the targets for this abuse?  Is it the benefits cheats featured in the various stories about “sick note Britain”?  Is it the man who claimed to be too ill to cut his own food caught on camera playing golf or the man who claimed to need a wheelchair filmed Jiving?  Of course not.  Their friends, far less passersby, will have no idea what income or benefits they receive and certainly won’t know what they said on an application form and pretended in an interview. Who would believe they would have such a brass neck?  No it is not the real fraudsters, estimated to be less than 1% of benefit claimants, who are the target for the abuse, it is those with an obvious physical or learning disability.  That’s why some of the irresponsible reporting has been so dangerous.  It is the person who clearly has a disability, who may actually be in work, who is having to suffer the taunts, the name calling and being spat on.

Those with genuine disabilities were told there was nothing to fear from the new Work Capability Assessment for people who are unable to work due to sickness or disability.  It was being introduced, we were told, to weed out the scroungers and work shy but those with the greatest disability would get more help and support.  However, two television programmes this week, Channel 4’s Dispatches “Britain on the Sick” and BBC’s Panorama “Disabled or Faking It?” have given the lie to this.  Something which many people who have been through the new system already knew.

Rather than showing that those with severe disabilities had nothing to fear from the new assessment, Panorama found a number who were being found fit for work, such as the man with severe emphysema who keeps having to take his case to appeal as he scores no points every time he goes through the assessment.

The Dispatches programme showed that the WCA was declaring people fit if they could work from a wheelchair even if they don’t use a wheelchair.  Are wheelchair services across the country ready for the influx of applications? And what happens if the wheelchair assessment says the person doesn’t qualify for one on the NHS?

But most worrying was a woman who featured in the Panorama programme who, among other things, could not go to the toilet on her own. Yet she was put in the Work Related Activity Group.  There must be something seriously wrong with a system which makes that kind of mistake.  I wasn’t allowed home from hospital recently until I could safely toilet myself.

These were not isolated examples. I received an e-mail this week from a man who was highly anxious because he had just been called for this third WCA in three years. It is not surprising he was feeling persecuted as he had had to give up work as he has the particularly cruel degenerative Huntington’s disease.

Much of the misleading press coverage blames the victim of the system for the failings of the system.  So someone who begins a claim for ESA because their Statutory Sick Pay has run out but returns to work before their ESA claim has been determined is counted as someone swinging the lead.  Nor is the WCA very good at dealing with people with progressive diseases.  It doesn’t make any acknowledgement that people with MS or Parkinson’s or Huntington’s have probably just lost their job precisely because they have a degenerative disease so their employability will not improve no matter how many reassessments they go through.

One thing about disability worth bearing in mind is that in a blink of an eye it could be you.  An accident or a diagnosis can change your life for ever. At the very time you want to be wrapped in the care of the NHS and supported by the welfare state is the very time when a complete stranger in the street might spit the word “scrounger” at you.

Dame Anne Begg MP, Chair of Work and Pensions Select Committee, MP for Aberdeen South

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