While Paralympians Look to the Stars, Why are Most Disabled People Still in the Gutter?

I don't know whether you're aware (then  again how could you not be), but the Paralympics recently took place in sunny Rio. It was a particularly edifying Games for our Team GB, as they are affectionately called, who returned to Britain this week triumphant, having won an incredible number of medals (64 of which were gold) and coming in second place with only China doing better. How could one fail to be proud of such a magnificent, almost super-human achievement? How could one fail to be inspired? How could one fail to have one's mind opened about what disabled people are truly capable of? Indeed, it seems to have been an aim of Team GB and the Games itself to inspire a whole new generation of Paralympians, and they appear to have been successful even in that regard.
But, enter, stage left, one cynical, old fart: i.e. me. Don't get me wrong, I'm as impressed by our athletes as the next person, and when I see people like Ellie Simmonds or Sarah Storey clutching their medals closely to their chests, you may even see a little tear of pride and also sheer astonishment from me at what they have achieved. However, watching a debate involving disabled people on Channel 4 only a couple of days ago, I was left feeling that while our Paralympians may be looking to the stars, most disabled people are still struggling to lead independent lives, a struggle  not helped by current government policy towards such people. Indeed, the anger that was clearly displayed during the discussion showed that most disabled people are certain of who is to blame for their predicament, with most of their ire reserved for the Tory government. While a lone Tory MP protested that the government was spending more and more money on disabled people, his argument was flatly drowned out by the many stories of real-life struggle, prompting the chair of the debate to ask, at one point, that if the government is spending so much money, why is there such a stark contrast with the reality of peoples' lives? The Tory MP attempted, somewhat lamely and to no avail, to transfer some of the blame to local councils and CCGs, but the others remained unconvinced.
Indeed, some of their stories were harrowing, telling of the difficulty of living even a dignified, let alone independent, existence, without sufficient money and support. One woman told of how some of her friends had been forced to wear clothing normally reserved for the incontinent, as they were not being helped to the toilet. Another spoke of similar problems which the current crisis in social care has brought about, saying how she was expected, on occasion, to go to bed at 7 o'clock in the evening and remain there until morning. As she stated, as an intelligent, young, outgoing person she would appreciate the chance to go out and live life to the full, but this is not an opportunity afforded people like her in these days of austerity, it seems. As ever, even if you do manage to get out, access to places remains a problem, with another woman complaining of how she had been refused entry to her train home because they felt her mobility scooter was too cumbersome to be put on board, when in fact it would only take up as much room as an ordinary wheelchair. Others spoke of the indignity of having to be reassessed for benefits, one man describing the process as like being "prodded in the chest" and asked if you are "really" ill. Others, it seemed, simply could not restrain their anger, saying that the government was not only responsible for such indignities, but that it even had "blood on its hands". By deliberately designing policies which targeted disabled people, they claimed that, in some instances, this had resulted in deaths, particularly in cases of people in severe mental distress who had taken their own lives.
All in all, the stories were in stark contrast to our Paralympic glory, and having watched the debate in its entirety, one came away with, some would say perhaps the ungenerous and unpatriotic feeling, that our Paralympians were, in the end, simply pawns in a game of propaganda. They seem to promote the notion, perhaps inadvertently, that all is well in the land of the disabled and that if only one is determined, resilient, motivated and willing to work hard one can achieve anything. Perhaps we forget that  a large portion of their success is down to having enough funding and support from the National Lottery, and that if only such generosity were extended to the normal, average (I think I've heard that phrase somewhere before) disabled person, they too may be able to look to the stars, and not be left to flounder in the way that they currently appear to be.


bazza said…
Hi David. I think one positive we can take from the last two Paralympic Games is that, at last, general attitudes to disabled people are beginning so change. There has been so much publicity that we are beginning to think in a different way (hopefully).
My daughters went to an infants school which believed in mixing differently-abled kids into the same classes and they have consequently grown up with a very healthy attitude towards those people.
Of course, this doesn't really change or dilute what have you said but maybe a change of attitude is what we need as a starting point?
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Hi bazza,
I suppose one could draw similarities with mental health. While I think there has been an improvement in attitudes towards people with mental illness and some of the stigma has been reduced, much in the same way as with physical disability, the provision of proper, professional care and support appears to have diminished. While it is wonderful, then, that attitudes are improving, one can't help but feel that a simultaneous improvement in services is needed in order that all disabled people can lead dignified, independent lives.
It also worries me a little that the Paralympics gives the impression that all might not be so bad in the world of the disabled, and that if only one is determined enough one can achieve anything - the locus of responsibility for one's predicament then shifts away from any outward support and onto the individual themselves. In reality, though, the success of our Paralympians has in no small part come from having the correct professional help and support, not just from them being exceptional individuals with the right mental attitude. Correspondingly, one can see what a lack of such money and help causes from the stories from other disabled people like those in my blog.
Anyway, thanks for your comment, bazza. I hope you keep coming back!
Best Wishes,
Hi David - I've come over from Bazza's blog ... where I saw his idea that perhaps you could write more about film/s ... eg in this particular instance "I, Daniel Blake" ...

It's interesting to read your view points on mental health and disability attitudes - I know very little, except what common sense tells me ... so I shall learn from your posts.

Good to be here .. I'll be following as you write more posts ... cheers Hilary

Popular Posts