Rio 2016 Paralympics: will it make a difference to disabled people?

Rio 2016 Paralympics: will it make a difference to disabled people?

With the excitement of the Rio 2016 Paralympics in the air, our entertainment writer Hayleigh takes a look at how the media is covering all things disability so far, and whether the hype from the Paralympic Games will really make a difference to disabled people’s lives.

#Rio2016paralympics – join in the conversations @DHorizons

Anyone who has not been living under a rock for the past month or so will be familiar with the Channel 4 coverage of the upcoming Rio Paralympic Games, due to start on 7th of September. Yes, the greatest sporting event is coming back (no, not Wimbledon, that’s finished!), and this time to colourful Rio. So dig out your sequins and feathers, blast out some Samba on your iPod and mix some Capifruta (Google it, it actually sounds nice) – ’cause we are heading to Rio!

Back at London 2012…

Last time around, when the Paralympic Games were in the UK in 2012, it suddenly became cool to be disabled. If you weren’t a double amputee, rolling around in a wheelchair or playing Boccia, then you wasn’t nobody sucka! Given the heightened media attention of all things disability during the last Games, it is safe to assume that the wave of us disabled folk being fashionable again will soon be upon us (note: I am available for autographs and selfies!).

Back during the London 2012 Games, the big proclamation was that the Paralympic Games needed to leave a legacy; that attitudes towards disabled people would improve, making society more inclusive. This involved encouraging more disabled people to engage within sport, as well as making venues/training grounds more accessible.

Specialist equipment and additional funding was also promised and, in some areas, the dream did come true. But it is hard to estimate exactly how much of the game plan came to fruition. Reading through news articles, there’s certainly a very public debate as to which sporting venues deserve a gold medal for improving accessibility, who should get Bronze and who, unfortunately, haven’t even passed the finish line.

An investigative report about sport accessibility, published in 2013 by Trailblazers, revealed a stark contrast between the hope created by the Paralympic Games and the reality. 94% of people surveyed believed that the Paralympics would encourage more disabled people to take part in sport. However, almost 50% did not participate in any sporting activity.

Rio 2016 Paralympics

But despite the disparity of views, it would seem that the Games provided much needed inspiration throughout the sporting world. A quick search on Google news displays the latest stories on new sporting achievements by disabled athletes and investments by big brands into disability sport.

What’s more, the country seems to be catching the buzz surrounding the Paralympics again. Channel 4 have unveiled their new 3 minute advert promoting the Paralympic Games, which blends an orchestra comprised of musicians with varying disabilities, every day disabled citizens going about their daily lives, and the Paralympians. Take a look…

It sends a clear message to those people who would doubt our abilities with the simple statement: “Yes I can.” Not only does this reflect the tenaciousness of the athletes, but also gives hope to the next generation who may be facing prejudice of social attitudes.

The charity SCOPE has also caught the Paralympic fever by uploading their own disability themed emojis – a must have for anyone who is anyone these days! No need to waste precious TV watching seconds by texting actual sentences when you can simply send a picture of a sprinter running on blades!

Paralympics and you

Now, I would be lying if I said that I am the sporty type – wearing Adidas popper trackies during the 90s does not an athlete make. But I have been known to throw on a Braehead Clan ice hockey shirt and go watch a few games. In fact, my family and I spent an entire Sunday afternoon crowded around the TV watching the wheelchair tennis finals at Wimbledon – congratulations to Gordon Reid and Jordanne Whiley who did us Brits proud.

But, unlike myself, who prefers to think of spectating as active participation, my good friend Connor McQuade took up the challenge of becoming a ‘Superhuman’ (the catchy brand of London 2012) by taking up wheelchair tennis. When asked how the Paralympics had inspired him, he replied:

“For as long as I can remember, the Paralympic Games have been a huge source of inspiration for me. When I was a child I used to marvel at the television as athletes with similar disabilities as myself, like Tanni Grey-Thompson, performed amazing feats of athleticism.

“The success of British athletes at the 2012 Paralympic Games in particular gave me a real impetus to find a sport to take part in. Thankfully, I was able to find a wheelchair tennis program at my local tennis club, and I haven’t looked back since. It has been a life changing decision and has vastly improved my physical and mental wellbeing. I hope that many others will be inspired to take up sport after the Games in Rio this summer.”

With a testimony like this, the build-up to Rio 2016 becomes almost palpable. The legacy of the next generation of ‘Superhumans’ is within reaching distance and their impact is undoubtedly promoting a more positive future for disability awareness.

By Hayleigh Barclay

We’ll be following the Rio 2016 Paralympics and sharing our thoughts on Facebook and Twitter @DHorizons, so get in touch and join in the conversations by using the hashtag #Rio2016paralympics.

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