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Legacy of Paralympics questioned by campaigners
THE long-term benefits of hosting the London 2012 Paralympics hang in the balance as attitudes towards disability have failed to improve, campaigners argue.
In the year since the London 2012 Paralympics began, there have been small increases in sports participation but 81 per cent of people with a disability claim that attitudes towards them have not improved.
Some 22 per cent even say that things have actually got worse, according to the poll by the disability charity Scope.
"Elite sport is in great shape but legacy is about day-to-day life too," Scope chairwoman Alice Maynard said, adding that "the jury is very much out" on whether the lives of disabled people have improved since the Games.
Scope interviewed 1,014 UK adults whose day-to-day activities are affected by long-standing physical or mental impairments, conditions, illnesses or disabilities about their views on the London Paralympics one year on.
Among this group 84 per cent claimed the "benefit scrounger" rhetoric from politicians and the media has had a negative effect on views of disabled people.
Ms Maynard said: "Changing attitudes is at the heart of legacy. The Paralympics were a breakthrough moment. Disabled people had never been so visible.
"Disability had never been talked about so openly but you don't change society in a fortnight.
"Speak to disabled people and the same issue comes up: 'benefit scrounger' rhetoric; the divisive myth that most people on benefits are skivers.
"Disabled people say they feel like they've done something wrong, because they need support to do the same things as everyone else."
Scope argues that current living standards, with many people turning to high interest, high risk loans to pay for essentials in order to cope, undermines involvement in sport and the community.
"Levels of social care, cuts to vital financial support are also worrying matters and improving physical access is a must, they added.
Too often there is not a ramp or a lift available and a key change would be simply having people who are willing to do things a little differently, the campaigners say.
Equestrian rider Sophie Christiansen, who won three golds at the 2012 Paralympics, said: "During the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Great Britain saw what disabled people could do.
“It was a turning point in perception.
“However, it was just the start. Just like not every able bodied person is going to run as fast as Usain Bolt, not every disabled person is going to be a Paralympian.
“The challenge is now bridging the gap between the disabled community and Paralympians."
Richard Whitehead, a 200m champion at the London 2012 Paralympics, said: "The 2012 Paralympics sent a powerful message that a disability shouldn't stop you from achieving your goals.
“We hopefully inspired disabled people. We hopefully made the public think differently about disability.
“For me it's not about looking back. We need to look forward.
“You don't have the Paralympics every day, so how else can we show the world what's possible once you start living a life without limits?"
Ian Macrae, editor of Disability Now, said: "The thing about the Paralympics always was that they happened in this bubble of hyper-reality. Real life for disabled people was never going to be like that again.
“So now here we are with people under threat of losing their social housing homes, others left stranded on a work programme which doesn't work for them, people dreading the all-too-real eventuality of losing a disability benefit."
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