The Paralympics have come a long way since 1948 when the “Parallel Games” were held for recuperating people at Stoke Mandeville hospital. This event has come to its spiritual home and the electric atmosphere at the opening ceremony was an inspiration. It showed up the world’s rich diversity with people of 165 nations, all ages and abilities. How appropriate that Stephen Hawking opened the show, probably one of the UK’s best known disabled people and one of the world’s great scientific minds. I like the nice touch for the national anthem asking “those who can” to stand, but why just for the Paralympics? They did not say that for the Olympics. Maybe we will achieve true equality when that happens.
The emphasis on science and technology is very important. We all need science in our daily lives and the advancement of technology is essential to enable people of all abilities, particularly for disabled people. From the voice technology our friend and Commissioner Andy Shipley uses to help him use computers despite his visual impairments to the much publicised “bionic suits” for people with severe physical disabilities. Watching the teams parade around the Olympic Stadium it becomes obvious that these are very large teams with many support workers, coaches and resources. The achievements of our Payalympians are truly remarkable but they cannot do it on their own. Disabled people can achieve great things but resources are needed to support them.
My colleague Emma Synnott was at the event and I watched it on TV. Emma observed some less than helpful features behind the scenes where a person was struggling with the stairs and was told that they could not use the nearby lift because it was reserved for the Queen and directed to a lift some distance away. I am sure Her Majesty would not have minded.
Watching the event on commercial TV meant having to endure copious advertisements, including EDF’s ridiculous claim that they are supplying low carbon energy to the Games. The truth is they are supplying the same energy they always supplied and they have not generated an additional Watt of low carbon energy as a result of their sponsorship of the Games. Having been very rude about EDF I should add that they have been great supporters of ParalympicsGB, helping them with a radical energy conservation plan at their training camp at Bath University, in this way they have really helped to deliver a low carbon Games.
There were some nice sustainability touches; the sculptures on the lecterns during the speeches were made from used runners blades and if you think you have seen the newsprint costumes before, you probably have. Re-used from the Olympic opening ceremony? Possibly. The apple trick was great too, eat the apple, defy gravity, great healthy eating message.
I enjoyed the performance of Ian Dury’s hard-hitting Spasticus with people celebrating their personalities and their disabilities with lots of messages about equality and human rights. Ian was disabled by polio as a child and sadly is no longer with us but I am sure he would have loved it. The finale with the glass ceiling breaking carried a clear message about the art of the possible.
The opening ceremony has been an inspiration but will the London 2012 Paralympics really represent a turning point in the way we view disabilities? The Olympic Park and Village should be a great place for disabled people to visit and possibly to work and live but there is more to it than that. There is still much to do to ensure that there are truly equal opportunities for people of all abilities to travel, work, live and play sport. In the words of Stephen Hawking “there should be no boundary to human endeavour”. This is just the beginning, let the Games begin again!