The Paralympics were a breakthrough moment. They were a great opportunity to think about disability in a different way and for disabled people to be much more visible.
People’s attitudes are shaped by what goes on around them, and for a fortnight all they heard were really positive, upbeat stories. A disabled person was on the front page every morning and Channel 4’s The Last Leg challenged many of our preconceptions about disability with a PC amnesty. A number of surveys after the Games suggested that people’s attitudes were changing.
However a fortnight of massive positivity alone won’t lead to long-term shifts in the way we view disabled people. Since the Games there have been great moments such as the disabled comedian Jack Carroll on Britain’s Got Talent. But we are concerned that this is being undermined by negativity around welfare.
A disabled person told me they increasingly feel like they are doing something wrong, just because they need support to do what everyone else does. The reality is that 99 per cent of disabled people claiming benefits are doing so because they need them. Fraud is less than 1 per cent. Yet read the papers and it can feel like everyone on benefits is a “scrounger”.
If the Government really wants to honour the legacy of the Paralympics and change things for the better, it has got to stop fuelling that narrative and demonising benefits claimants.
Ultimately we want people to recognise that there are disabled people out there, that they want to work, they want to take part in sporting activities, they want to do everything that everyone else can do, but sometimes they need a bit of extra support to be able to do that.
It’s that support that gives ordinary disabled people the chance to take part in sport, be more involved in the community, and above all, the chance to be visible and shape people’s attitudes.
You can’t have the Paralympics every day. But we should aspire to make the atmosphere of positivity towards disability a part of everyday life.