Parallel London is the best British event that shouldn’t be necessary.
For those unaware of it, it is a fun run that, in addition to people using their legs to complete a one-, five- or ten-kilometre course around the Olympic Park in Stratford, encourages participation from people using wheelchairs, frames, or any conveyance they might find necessary to get around.
These people – and I am among them – are often excluded from, or at least not made to feel terribly welcome by, other similar events.
Take the London Marathon, for example. It states you are “only permitted to use a self-propelled wheelchair without gears or any mechanical, powered or electronic aid or device. If in the elite wheelchair section of the event you will only use a racing wheelchair approved by us.”
There are just twelve spaces available to people using ordinary wheelchairs.
Matt King, a former rugby league player who was paralysed from the neck down after breaking his neck, but who completed the New York Marathon using a powered chair steering with his chin, made headlines in 2012 after being denied entry when he wanted to do the same thing in London.
The Great Run Company, which organises the Great North Run, the Great South Run and numerous other events, says this at the start of its frequently asked questions regarding wheelchairs: “Unfortunately not all of our events are wheelchair friendly. Please check the event website for more information.”
Right. OK. Thanks for that.
Parallel London, by contrast, says come and have a go. There are no separate starts for able bodied vs wheelchair runners. Everyone goes off at the same time.
And if, like Mr King, you need to use a power chair, that’s fine. And if you need help getting your manual chair around? Come on down.
There’s no silly twittering about ’elf ’n’ safety because there doesn’t need to be. Last year’s event went without a hitch. There were no entanglements involving able-bodied runners and wheelchair users. Oh, and by the way, a number of children took part.
In other words, it is perfectly possible to make a fun run, or even a serious run involving non elite athletes, inclusive if people are just willing to put their minds to it.
Which is why the event shouldn’t be necessary.
It should simply be taken as read that people who can’t run, but who could participate in such an event by other means, should be able to do so.
Sadly, it’s hardly surprising that this rarely happens in a country where disabled citizens are treated as second-class citizens.
Strap yourself into a chair and try using a bus, or a train, or the underground if you don’t believe that’s the case. Alternatively, just read the assessment of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which appeared earlier this week.
It found that that our wretched Government is failing to uphold disabled people’s rights across a range of areas including education, housing, health, work, social security and transport.
Just yesterday Leonard Cheshire Disability reported the results of a survey of 147 people with disabilities who took holidays in Britain. Eight out of ten reported barriers and difficulties staying at UK hotels and resorts.
Andrew Douglass, the founder of Parallel London, has big ambitions for his baby.
An events manager by trade, he got the idea for it through working with a charity for people with spinal injuries sponsored by Red Bull, one of his clients.
In future he wants to expand it beyond London so there is, forgive me, a parallel event in each of the home nations, along with the English regions.
I wish him every success.
As well as setting an example, Parallel London has the potential to demonstrate to able-bodied people that disabled people are not freaks, nor are they scroungers as the Government would have them believe, but nor are they inspirational super humans.
They, we, are just people who quite like the idea of getting out in the sunshine (hopefully) for a bit of exercise.
If Britain were a country in which disabled people were treated as equals, there would be no need for Parallel London. Douglass would be able to organise the Olympic Park Fun Run and leave it at that.
What he has organised really is the best British event that shouldn’t be necessary.
But it is.
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