Disabled people need to take the initiative and demand more accessible local sports facilities, a conference has heard.
Stewart Lucas, chief executive of Interactive, which works to increase the number of disabled people taking part in sport and physical activity in London, said that disabled people needed to decide for themselves that they wanted to become active, and it was up to them to demand accessible local facilities.
He said the level of inclusive sporting opportunities would only increase when there was a rise in demand from disabled people.
He was speaking at this week’s One World conference, part of the Together!2012 disability arts festival, and organised by the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC).
Lucas told the conference, which discussed disabled people’s rights to culture, leisure and sport under article 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: “This is about taking control. This is about us not waiting for the council to create something for us to take part in, it’s saying: ‘We are going to do it ourselves.’”
He also called for a closer relationship between disabled people’s and sports organisations, which currently speak “two different languages”.
And he argued that the Paralympics should not be seen as “the disability Olympics”, as only about 14 per cent of disabled people have impairments that could qualify them for the Games, while many disabled people take part in the Olympics, including people with dyslexia, dyspraxia and those on the autistic spectrum.
Lucas, who himself is autistic, said the level of “personal drive” needed to win a medal meant many Olympians “probably have a level of OCD that puts you on the mental health spectrum”.
Ju Gosling, artistic director of Together!2012, said that article 30 gave disabled people equal rights to access sport and the arts as both participants and audience members.
But she said it also gave them the right to secure funding to organise and participate in their own cultural activities, and this had not yet been carried through into government policy.
She said she hoped the festival – which has seen high-quality disability arts, free workshops, and new disability arts groups set up in Newham – would help create a London 2012 legacy, and see disability arts “rise like a phoenix from the ashes”.
Margaret Hickish, who worked as accessibility manager for the Olympic Delivery Authority, which was responsible for building the London 2012 infrastructure, and who later worked as Paralympics adviser to London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, described some of the challenges facing the next Paralympics host, Rio.
She had just returned from Brazil, where she attended the handover from London to Rio as the official Olympic and Paralympic host city.
She said Rio had a number of “huge challenges” around accessible transport, and access to the venues and its airports.
But she said the Rio organisers had already allocated eight per cent of seating to disabled people, with two per cent of spaces to be wheelchair-accessible, two per cent suitable for partially-sighted people, two per cent for obese people and another two per cent for people with mobility impairments.
And she said that the success of the Brazilian Paralympic athlete Alan Fonteles, who sparked headlines across the world by beating Oscar Pistorius over 200 metres in London, meant Paralympians were now seen as “people who are really important and can raise the profile of Brazil”.
She also pointed to Rio’s “truly accessible” Paralympic symbol, which has a pulsating heartbeat so that blind and partially-sighted people and Deaf people can engage with it.
Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC’s chief executive, told the conference how sport can be used to promote the inclusion of disabled people in developing countries.
He was invited to Ghana this summer to develop wheelchair basketball, and witnessed how disabled people who played the sport had “elevated their position in society” and developed their self-esteem and self-image.
Julie Newman, acting chair of UKDPC, pointed out that, despite the public being “completely captivated” by the Paralympics, 2012 had also seen disabled artists and disability arts organisations struggling with funding cuts.
She said that she and Dhani were hoping to meet with Maria Miller, the new Conservative culture secretary – and former disabled people’s minister – to discuss how her department was “intending to fulfil its obligations under article 30”.
Bill Scot, manager of Inclusion Scotland, said the government’s spending cuts would impact on disabled people’s “rights and ability” to access art and sport and other cultural activities if local authorities were only prepared to provide enough funding to ensure disabled people were bathed, clothed, fed and had their toilet needs met.
He said: “If we don’t do something we are going to be rolled back 20 or 30 years when disabled people were stuck in their homes imprisoned and were not able to get out and participate in community life.”
But he added: “We are not going to stand by and see that happen.”