Article by Tanni Grey Thompson from the Telegraph 9th November 2012
Legacy was an integral part of the bid for London 2012 and has been given as one of the main reasons for its success, but who, to be honest, ever really knew what it was meant to be? In truth, it is a bit of everything, and we can no longer avoid the discussion.
The fight for a change in attitude towards disabled people is worth the effort because of the long-term benefits it could bring for people in and outside sport. I’ve had years of people talking about the “real”, “normal” or “proper” Games when they meant the Olympics, and “the other Olympics” when they really meant the Paralympics.
I’ve been told I was brave, or that I challenged adversity. Growing up in a middle-class family in Cardiff didn’t feel that adverse. I’ve been patted on the head, literally, the last time a few months ago.
And during the Games attitudes to Paralympians were hugely positive, there was increased media coverage, and no doubt sponsorship, which is welcome to individuals. There is now a long list of Paralympians who are household names.
This summer proved that many athletes did cope with adversity, tragedy and disappointment, but it wasn’t limited to Paralympians. There was a new recognition of Paralympians being good athletes. Suddenly it felt that those barriers were being knocked down.
But will it be any easier now for young disabled people to access society? This is not about money, although that always helps: it is about substance. Genuine inclusion is not about sticking a few Paralympians on a poster, or ticking a box that they were in the line-up.
I have forgotten the number of meetings/events over the years that I could not physically access. Before the Games it did not bother me, because that was the world I grew up in. But it does bother me now because so many people told me that the Games changed their attitude to disabled people, so I would like to see some evidence of that.
My father was an architect and I grew up knowing more about planning regulations and the constraints of old buildings than most children. I was invited to a sports dinner recently, where I had to use the back entrance, nothing much unusual or offensive in that. However I could have got in the front (there was a ramp there albeit tucked away) but the organisers just had not thought about it.
When I wanted to use the bathroom it took several minutes to find a ramp. I was also asked if I really needed to “go”. While I was in the bathroom the ramp was taken away, so I could not get back down the steps. There was much more.
Pulling a wheelie to drop down a ramp I was told that I was “clever” in a certain tone of voice but I could not reply. I was not four years old, or a recent wheelchair user, or even obtaining a PhD. I wanted to reply and tell the person that they were clever because they could walk in shoes, but then I would have been perceived as having a chip on my shoulder, so I moved away.
This experience is one of the only times in my life that I have felt second-class, that everything that I worked for just did not matter.
It was sort of OK when disabled people were ignored before the Paralympics because I knew what I was going to get. But do not tell me that the world has changed because of 2012, then make it all feel a bit of a tick-box exercise. Legacy is a philosophical discussion but language is the dress of thought. Equality is not a tick-box exercise, there has to be substance beneath it.
The reality for disabled people is that life is different. It is hard to be spontaneous. I sometimes have to sit on the floor of buses and trains to get on and off. Many people who celebrated this summer would not imagine that public transport does not have to be accessible until 2020. We organised the biggest sporting event in the world, surely we can sort out some trains?
Yet Locog showed time and again during the summer they understood diversity and inclusion and they celebrated the similarities and differences of the Games and the athletes.
And yesterday, during a legacy debate in the House of Lords, the minister responded to my questions with some positive comments: children being sent to the library and not doing PE would have cause for complaint, and national governing bodies not delivering on targets to find disabled participants could lose money.
So rather than being deflated by my recent experiences, it’s made me realise that the fight will need to keep going – but, just to warn, I may not have as much patience with people who patronise me, or pat me on the head.