Recruiting thousands of disabled people to volunteer for the London 2012 Paralympics will play a vital part in the success of the games, according to one of Britain’s greatest Paralympians.
Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who won 11 Paralympic gold medals, was speaking as the capital prepared to mark two years until the opening ceremony on 29 August 2012.
She said it was vital that disabled people signed up, and suggested that she would like at least five to seven per cent of volunteers to be disabled people.
She said: “I think we would have done well if we can get that. [Disabled people] will be able to give that much more practical advice that you can’t teach in any training session.
“It’s quite hard to train somebody in what it is like to travel around London as a wheelchair-user.”
Baroness Grey-Thompson, who is vice-chair of the 2012 organising committee’s sports advisory group, said having thousands of disabled volunteers would also “help break down people’s attitudes to disability and impairment”.
She said she would hold her fellow disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell to her pledge to volunteer.
Another major challenge, she said, would be ensuring the stadia for Paralympics events were full, or at least “fullish”.
Chris Holmes, who won nine Paralympic gold medals and is now director of Paralympic integration for LOCOG, the 2012 organising committee, said the “greatest challenge” was to secure the same level of “excitement and engagement” as with the Olympics.
Holmes said that having so many elite Paralympic athletes in London would “phenomenally change people’s attitudes” and “ripple out” and improve education and employment opportunities for disabled people.
But both former athletes said there would need to be some realism about how far access to transport and services in London such as theatres, restaurants and hotels could be improved in time for 2012.
Baroness Grey-Thompson said: “I think it is still going to be a challenge. We are not going to make the whole of London accessible.
“It is how in games-time we can be as smart as possible in how people are advised to get around London.
“LOCOG can’t go round telling people to make their business wheelchair-accessible, but any smart businessman will make it happen.”
London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, has announced that live coverage of the Paralympics will be screened in Trafalgar Square, which will also host performances – building on the annual Liberty disability arts festival – showcasing some of the best disability arts alongside mainstream arts groups.
For information on 2012 volunteering and tickets, visit: www.london2012.com