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London 2012 Paralympics Legacy, a Turning Point for Disability

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SOPHIE CHRISTIANSEN
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It's hard to believe that it is a year today since the Paralympic opening ceremony. I still get emotional thinking about last summer, it is all still very fresh in my mind.

It was phenomenal for all of the athletes involved - we just had so much support from the crowds and from the British public. Winning three gold medals at the equestrian events at Greenwich Park in front of 10,000 people, with my horse Rio, was absolutely a career high.

I always wanted my achievements in sport to challenge the way people think about what disabled people can do. One of the reasons I used the Pink Floyd song, Another Brick in the Wall ("We don't need no education..."), in one of our routines at the Paras was because I wanted the Games to educate people about disability.

I do think that London 2012 was a turning point in perception about disability. Not only is there now a huge appetite for Paralympic sport, but I think attitudes did start to change.

I've noticed it myself, in people's reactions to me. In the past, people have often seemed apprehensive about how to talk to me because I have cerebral palsy, but I have noticed that since last summer, people seem much more comfortable coming over and talking to me than they ever did before.

Though I am still not used to being recognised in the street!

I do think it's important to bear in mind though that just like not everyone is going to run as fast as Usain Bolt, not every disabled person is going to be a Paralympian. And we do need to find a way to close the gap between the way Paralympians are perceived and the way most disabled people are seen.

I do worry that in the past year, perceptions have gone downhill.

I've been working with the disability charity Scope, who have done a lot of research into how attitudes to disability have changed because of the Paralympics. One of the issues they say is raised a lot is that disabled people face hostility because of resentment about welfare and benefits.

I think it's really important that people recognise that care and support is vital for disabled people. Even I have issues finding the right care that I need for cerebral palsy, and finding and paying for carers.

It would be good if we could find a way to educate people about the everyday lives of disabled people, away from the glamour of competitive sport. Then people might understand these challenges a bit more.

I think visibility is key. Paralympic sport is one way to keep disability in the spot light. But also making sure that more positive examples of disabled people and achievements are seen, in the media, in the community and in the working world.

I think that London 2012 was the moment when Great Britain saw just what disabled people could do. But we need to keep shouting about successes and positive role models to make the legacy stick!

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