Saturday, September 8, 2012

The paradox of the Paralympics

Excellent piece here by Amelia Gentleman on the paradox of the Paralympics- the disconnect between the positive attitudes to disability on display inside the Olympic stadiums and the experience of people with disabilities in the wider British society where intensive Government cuts are creating immense suffering for disabled people and increasing hostility towards people with disabilities is resulting in a soaring of hate crimes.

Many radical and activist groups such as Disabled People against Cuts have campaigned and protested against aspects of the Paralympics such as corporate sponsorship by large corporations such as Atos and cuts to services for people with disabilities. Atos who was a major sponsor of the Paralympics is contracted by the UK Government as administrators of assessments that rob disabled people of their benefits.

In this piece on the website of Disabled People against Cuts disability activist Dave King argues that the Paralympics are the precise opposite of the values of disability liberation. King writes
But with the Paralympics we have seen the addition into this cocktail of a supremely powerful and toxic ingredient, the opportunity for liberals to feel good about themselves for supporting the underdog and ‘progress in the fight against prejudice’. It is this thick coating of syrup which has confused even radical disability rights advocates, and is making it almost impossible for critics to speak out, except about the blatantly obvious outrage of Atos as sponsors. But the truth is that, despite all the hopeful talk about how the Paralympics are going to revolutionise people’s ideas about disability, the ideas and values at the core of the Paralympics are the precise opposite of the values of disability liberation. (I write this as a disabled person, one who has undergone one of Atos’ medical assessments and been found wanting, and who is suffering financially as a consequence.

In the Guardian Amelia Gentleman writes:
There has been a clear reluctance among officials this week to sour the happy atmosphere by talking about the Paralympics paradox – the difficulty of reconciling the amazing excitement around the Games, which has portrayed Britain globally as a place where positive attitudes to disability reign, and a bleaker reality that kicks in beyond Stratford.

The guide for journalists covering the event is explicit in its instructions that disability and any issues around it should not be the focus of reporting. It stipulates that reporters should concentrate on "performance, sporting ambition, training, competition and the emotions associated with winning and losing". Most athletes contacted to discuss the broader issues of disability for this piece declined to be interviewed. But many disabled visitors were quick to comment on the disconnection between their experiences within the park and their everyday lives at a time when in addition to cuts to services and benefits payments, charities such as Scope have been documenting worsening attitudes and official figures show that incidents of disability hate crime have soared to their highest ever levels.

Kalya Franklin, a disability campaigner whose Benefit Scrounging Scum blog has charted the rising problems faced by disabled people at a time of cuts to services and benefits, was amazed at the ease of her journey to Stratford from Birmingham, describing it as "the smoothest journey I've ever done on public transport". "People were there waiting to offer help – that's very unusual. There were much higher levels of staffing. That's not typical, nor is seeing lots of portable ramps around," she said.

She was delighted to be at the event, but like many, she was struggling with the Paralympics paradox.
"It's a utopian fantasy of where we need to move towards as a society," she said, pausing for a moment at Stratford station (interrupted on two occasions in the space of five minutes by transport staff asking if she needed assistance). "It's brilliant, because this has shown that with the right attitude, will and financing, it can be done."

The sporting event was for her, like any sporting occasion, a bit of escapism from daily problems, but she was anxious that attention to the pressing issues facing people with disabilities should not be deflected while the country basks in the international congratulations for having mounted a sellout Paralympic event. She pointed to a planned 20% cut in the disability living allowance (DLA), announced in the 2010 budget, in particular, arguing the that extra money, for employed and unemployed claimants to help with the extra cost of disability, had helped finance the extra cost of care and transport for many disabled visitors to the Games.

"What the public haven't realised about the Paralympians is how many of them are completely reliant on DLA. Although they are superfit athletes it doesn't mean they aren't also disabled and have mobility needs and care needs in their day-to-day lives," she said.

No comments: