THE BLOG

Disability Sport Can Help Combat Negative Attitudes

21/07/2017 14:32 BST | Updated 21/07/2017 14:32 BST
Sascha Kindred

everybody

I can't really describe the feeling when I'm competing for my country - it's like nothing else. 

This summer, our nation's finest para-athletes have been experiencing the same unprecedented thrills as they take firm grasp of an impressive medal haul at the World Para Athletics Championships in London.

There's little else like knowing you are 'pretty good' at something, of excelling at your sport and hearing people cheer you on because they genuinely want you to succeed.

When I was a child my mum met doctors who said that I would never be able to walk and I was verbally bullied at school because I was different from other kids. There were even swimming coaches who wouldn't train me because I was disabled - which seems so ironic now I've made a career from my sport.

Attitudes towards disabled people have changed dramatically since those days, and I think that's partly to do public-facing events, like the much-publicised London Paralympics of 2012 and then Rio last year.

However, disability shouldn't just be an issue that's only relevant for a couple of weeks, every few years. 

Sporting events like the World Para Athletics and Paralympics are a good start when it comes to changing public attitudes towards disabled people, but five years on from London 2012 there's still work to be done.

I've been avidly watching the World Para Athletics Championships, where some of our greatest names in disability sport have been killing it in their fields. Stars like Jonnie Peacock and Hannah Cockroft have once again been securing gold medals for team GB - showing us that an impairment doesn't mean you can't follow your dreams.

The greatest thing about sport is that it unites people, and instils patriotism. Everyone likes to watch people who are skilled at something - disabled or able-bodied. A public event like the World Para Athletic Championships gives people a chance to resurrect feelings of friendly competitiveness against other nations, even from the comfort of their own homes.

Events like this are key to encouraging inclusiveness and helping us all see each other on an even keel. I also think Para-athletes are such great role models, helping to bring disability into our homes, via the media - which in turns opens doors to talk about the daily issues disabled people face, like prejudice and lack of support.

I speak to disabled people who still experience negativity in their everyday lives, as well awkwardness around people who don't know what to say to them or are scared of saying the wrong thing. It still happens to me too.

In 2012 the disability charity Scope asked disabled people how they felt attitudes had changed following our summer Paralympics. The charity is also about to undertake fresh polling to track any further shifts in public attitudes.

At that time disabled people told Scope that 72% of them felt the Paralympics had a positive effect on public attitudes. However, they also told Scope that over half of them regularly experienced discrimination.

As we approach the five-year anniversary of these findings and the games themselves, I would like to think the percentage of people who still face negativity has decreased. But I am well aware that public perception and ignorance can still cause barriers.

Just remember, that if you have cheered me on at my sport in the past then you have done so without even thinking about our differences. This is how we should all treat one another in daily life. It shouldn't take a sports event to resolve these attitudes - but it is always a good start.

 

As part of Scope's mission for everyday equality, the disability charity is running the Sport For All Campaign this summer to encourage better representation of disability in sport, as well as challenging attitudes towards disability. 

 

Support Scope's fundraisers this year in accessible events such as The Superhero Triathlon and Parallel London. Visit scope.org.uk/get-involved/charity-events to see a full list of Scope's challenge events.

HuffPost UK Lifestyle has launched EveryBody, a new section calling for better equality and inclusivity for people living with disability and invisible illness. The aim is to empower those whose voices are not always heard and redefine attitudes to identity, lifestyle and ability in 2017. We'll be covering all manner of lifestyle topics - from health and fitness to dating, sex and relationships.

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