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For 12 days we weren’t just pitied

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IOL ST para392

THE STAR

Paralympians return from the Games in London. Photo: Chris Collingridge

London - What a relief. The world now knows that disabled people can be brilliant athletes and can put on a damn good show.

Best of all, the Paralympics proved to Health and Safety fascists that you can have more than one wheelchair user in a venue without them being a major fire hazard. One of the great things was how the Games challenged people’s perceptions about what it means to be disabled.

This is what I think the Paralympics has taught us:

* Disabled people can be elite athletes and not just piano tuners, box assemblers, benefit cheats, and former Labour home secretaries.

* Disabled people can be stroppy. Which reminds me, why did none of the tabloids call Pistorius “Oscar Pissed Off Ious?” Are disabled people not worthy of terrible puns, too?

* Disabled people know F words. Especially Jody Cundy.

* Edwina Currie now knows disabled people can be gorgeous. Particularly the Italians. Even the ones in wheelchairs!

* Dwarfs can throw and not just be thrown. Did you see Iraq’s Ahmed Naas win silver at the men’s javelin F40 final?

* Disabled people are much better at booing government ministers than non-disabled people.

It’s a shame all this educating had to end. For 12 days people could see us being treated with respect and valued for who we are on television, rather than pitied for our impairments.

My fear is that it will soon be back to those television shock-docs that teach us how little Mohammed has no face because a cactus ate it, and no one, not even that nice doctor from the West, can help him get his face back.

There can, however, be a lasting legacy. At the very least, there should be more public money for disability sport. Broadcasters may even accept that you can have disabled people on television and it can be dramatic, funny and entertaining. As for attitudes towards disabled people, I think we should be realistic. After all, nobody expects the Olympics to bring about world peace just because it involves competitors from around the world.

How long till the Daily Mail’s coverage of disabled people reverts from “inspirational athletes!” to “disability benefit cheat caught playing football!”? I’ll give it till tomorrow.

And could we hope for disabled athletes appearing in high-profile commercials for Pantene shampoo like Victoria Pendleton?

While society is happy to call us inspirational, we are never viewed as aspirational, so it’s unlikely.

But surely some PR genius can see the potential of David Weir advertising men’s deodorant?

He’s fit, well known, and even with all that wheelchair racing, strikes me as a man who wouldn’t countenance sweaty pits. If the current climate of disability pride means a million-pound contract for Weir selling Lynx or Ellie Simmonds advertising Bazuka foot gel, then it will be a good start.

The Independent

* Victoria Wright is a British writer, campaigner and actress with a facial disfigurement. She starred in the Channel 4 series Cast Offs.


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