The success of London 2012 will be judged on whether London’s transport system allows disabled people to travel easily to watch the events, according to one of Britain’s top Paralympic powerlifters.
Ali Jawad spoke about the access problems of London’s transport system at last weekend’s official launch of the ParalympicsGB team for London 2012.
He told Disability News Service: “For me what will make a good games for disabled people in general will be if they can come and watch the events without any hassle transport-wise.
“It is quite stressful for someone in a wheelchair to travel through London. I really hope the organisers have thought about that and made plans for it to be an accessible games.
“There are going to be so many people… I cannot imagine how it is going to be for someone in a wheelchair.”
He has had similar experiences to other wheelchair-users who live or work in London, having had to cope with crowded buses where there was no room for a wheelchair, and ramps that failed to work, which meant he sometimes had to lift his chair onto a bus himself.
He said: “I have lived in London all my life. It has been a struggle. It is really hard to use public transport.”
He no longer has to use public transport so often because he has a car through the Motability scheme, paid for with his disability living allowance (DLA).
But he is concerned about the harm that could be done to disabled people if they lose their DLA through the government’s planned cuts and reforms, with the risk that “a lot of disabled people will be losing their independence”.
And he made the same link that activists from Disabled People Against Cuts and Transport for All made in their direction action protest at a bus stop outside the Houses of Parliament last month.
Their protest aimed to demonstrate the mobility problems that hundreds of thousands of disabled people across the country could face because of the government cuts to DLA, if they are then forced onto an inaccessible public transport system.
Jawad, who hopes eventually to put some of his energy into campaigning on disability rights, said: “It is very important that we still keep our independence. It would be wrong to cut all the benefits with the state the city’s transport is in.”
His commitment to competing at his best – despite a “roller-coaster four years” which has seen him retire and then return to the sport after a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease – is shown by his decision not to attend the Paralympics opening ceremony, even though he does not compete until two days later.
He said: “For me, it is just about competing. As long as it is a choice that pays off, it will not be a regret.”
He is targeting a personal best in his event, rather than a medal. “If I aim for a medal and don’t get it, I will be disappointed. If I get a personal best and don’t get a medal I will know I have done everything I possibly can.”
He knows he will need to lift three-and-a-half times his body weight just to be “in the mix” for a medal, but he says he is “very close to that level”.
He is hoping the home crowd will replicate the “huge support” he witnessed at his first games in Beijing four years ago, when the arena “erupted” whenever a member of the Chinese team was lifting.
Jawad said he had yet to decide whether to retire from competing after the games. His immediate plan is to return to university to complete the final two years of his degree in sport and exercise science.
His aim is to move into coaching, and eventually – he hopes – coach the national team.