A week on from the conclusion of the Paralympics, six days after the parade through London in which the Paralympic team joined their Olympic brethren and sistren, and the day after half-a-dozen Arsenal-supporting Paralympic athletes took in the applause of the Emirates crowd, two questions remain: how long can this increased awareness of athletes with disabilities last? And what are the political implications for this shift, whether temporary or permanent? This evening, I look at 3 things we might (or might not) have learnt from the Paralympics.
1. Cuts. Ever-decreasing disability benefits are no longer an issue for campaigners to wring their hands over, chuntering impotently; combatting such government cuts is no longer merely an intellectual question, but a moral one. This is political activity that affects all of us: the 80,000 who chanted Jonnie Peacock’s name in the stadium, the 6 million who watched David Weir on tv, everyone. And no amount of David Cameron singing the praises of the Paralympians should erase that.
2. Achievement. Fairly simple. If someone who lost her legs in a terrorist attack (incidentally, the day after the announcing of the successful London 2012 bid) can take part at the highest level of sport, shouldn’t the rest of us really think about…erm…pulling our collective fingers out? (Mental note #1: must avoid unfortunate impairment-related turns of phrase. Mental note # 2: must do more exercise. [He says, from a semi-prone position in front of the tv.])
3. Visibility. An interesting point, this one. So many commentators said – and I take the surprisingly good, and sensitive Jimmy Carr as an example, but he’s by no means alone (I looked for a link, but the interwebs are far more concerned with wailing about the targets of Carr’s jokes about disability than recording his contributions to ideas of fairness and equality, as expounded on the excellent ‘Last Leg’ C4 show) – that they found that, shortly after starting to watch a Paralympic sport, they ceased to think about the (usually) physical impairments of the competitors, and just focused on the elite sport playing out in front of them. While this is a laudable sentiment, I found it a little bit patronising: hasn’t the Paralympics really shown us that watching athletes with disabilities should not be a question of ignoring impairment, but of celebrating it? Less ‘oh, I completely forgot they were double amputees’ than ‘holy shitballs, someone with no legs just won the Individual Medley, that’s amazing!!’
And, finally, one thing I hope we learnt:
4. The L-Word. You know, the one politicians love going on about: legacy. And what’s the legacy of the Paralympics? It may be cheesy, but I think that a tweet written during the closing ceremony sums it up perfectly:
Disability is for life, not just the Paralympics. (@robomam)