Are We All Paralympians Now?

Andy Shipley

September 9, 2012   |   Posted by Andy Shipley

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I found myself meeting a friend in a pub on the evening of 29th August, enjoying a little pre-birthday drink. The TV was on, and the usual crowd of sports fans gathered around it. But this wasn’t the midweek match producing the outbursts of barstool punditry; it was the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games. And whilst my friend and I chatted with one eye/ear on the spectacle unfolding in Stratford, our fellow patrons discussed GB’s medal haul in Beijing, the competitors to look out for, and their records. It was at that point that I really began to think that ‘Inspiring a generation’ might be a genuine possibility. 

What I think is interesting is that it is not necessarily the events and exploits that are generating record breaking attendance, or the TV coverage but that it’s simply because it’s all just more great sport. The way the venues have been designed and the event organised from the perspective of competitors and spectators, with and without impairment, has perhaps for the first time ever on such a huge public stage, mainstreamed disability.

It is the unremarkable way I and other disabled people have circulated within and between venues, without laborious human or technical intervention, that has been so remarkable to me.  That isn’t to say that everything has been perfect and there are lessons that can be learned. There have undoubtedly been a few challenges, most notably for visually impaired spectators.  Frustratingly for those of us dependent on a little technical assistance to fully participate, things have been slightly disappointing.  The audio description has been unreliable for a number of us, and the in accessibility of ATMs has presented difficulties.  Neither of these is reliant on technology that isn’t already in use, and perhaps a little more attention to detail earlier could have ensured a more inclusive experience for some visually impaired spectators.

If the measure of a success for a long term legacy is behaviour change, then I offer two memories that give cause for optimism. The first is the sound, or rather lack thereof, as a stadium of 80,000 spectators in absolute silence for a visually impaired 4 x 100 m relay, to enable the athletes to hear each other. The other memory is what I beheld on visiting the Ottobock Pavilion. For those who don’t know, Ottobock is a manufacturer of prosthetics and a Paralympic sponsor.  They produce handcycles and the sportschairs in which the athlete rugby and basketball players perform. The reason why I believe we may actually all be Paralympians now, or at least aspire to be so, is that as I turned the corner into the main exhibition space of the pavilion, I was greeted by the sight large group of non-disabled young people queuing to have a go at wheelchair basket ball..

Andy Shipley

September 2012 

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