Celebrating the paralympics

Tonight is the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics.

I have to confess, I haven’t watched as much of these Games as I did of the Olympics – in part because of the different broadcaster. I only have channel 4 and e4 on my freeview, so when coverage switched to more4 I wasn’t able to keep up – but what I have watched has just been amazing.

I’ve been so inspired by these athletes – who are showing the world that they are athletes first and foremost, and their lives are not dictated by their disabilities. I’ve also been challenged about my own preconceptions – I would love to say that I am completely non-judgemental and not prejudiced at all, but watching the Paralympics has really convicted me that while I may not discriminate against disabled people in that I absolutely agree they are equal and have the same rights as non-disabled people, I have held the view that they are limited in some way.

This is probably a very common misconception, and it’s not borne out of a nasty or vindictive spirit – instead I think that the Paralympics has highlighted that we are a nation of very ignorant people.

Margaret Maughan, who participated in the very first Paralympic Games in 1960

Fortunately there have always been people who thought differently, and recognised the extraordinary talents of disabled people. (For more about the origins of the Paralympics watch this stunning drama, the Best of Men www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01m1jqd/The_Best_of_Men/ )

I am so thankful for the dramatic change in attitude, from society then and society now. Today’s children and young people are witnessing one of the greatest sporting events ever, which shows that while someone has a physical disability, there is nothing that can diminish their potential.

During my second year of University I spent 9 months working with L’Arche, a community for people with disabilities. They were mainly over fifty, and the majority had spent a large proportion of their lives in institutions. Why? Because society said that as disabled people, they were imperfect. It was widely believed that it was better for everyone if they were hidden away. This meant that an entire generation of disabled people were kept secret, shunned and denied the chance for meaningful relationships and to achieve their full potential.

Like I said, I’m thankful for the change in attitude, and for the incredible people who have brought it about. I really hope that the Paralympics will help further the change in our society, so that in the future people will find it hard to believe that there was ever a time when disabled people were treated differently, as lesser citizens.

Hooray for the Paralympians!