As a wheelchair user myself, I have been following the Paralympics with great interest, as well as the debate and conversations that have arisen from it. The Paralympics has been hailed as the best thing to happen in raising the profile of the plight of disabled people, and as it draws to a close, the legacy will be in giving us something to aspire to; bringing home the reality that we really can achieve anything we want to. It will also have gone some way to changing public perception, enabling people to see past disability and enjoy and admire the sporting ability. That is of course, aside from Edwina Currie's insensitive tweet about the Italian Paralympians as "gorgeous, even in wheelchairs"!
The national disabled support charity Scope reported that new polling showed 62% of disabled people and their families believe the Paralympics would improve attitudes towards disabled people, and, when coupled with the companion survey revealing 67% of the general public planned to watch the Paralympic Games (the figure was 48% when a similar poll was conducted before the Olympics), it really does show that the Paralympics can have a dramatic impact.
Whilst we've all been marvelling at the achievements and successes, I really do hope the impact of this major global event on disabled services in the UK really will be strong and lasting. Despite public feeling that disabled people outside of the games are invisible and that the government should be doing more to support them (I feel that is a separate debate), I believe that a positive aspect has definitely lay in raising awareness of us as people in society with a right to access the facilities and areas that everybody else does with ease.
We've come a long way in terms of making it easier for disabled people to get around. Major stores and shopping centres, big facilities such as airports, and public transport are all areas that have had to undergo major overhaul to cater for the needs of disabled people. No longer is it acceptable to simply say that the disabled cannot access a facility, and lots of services have stepped up to the mark to cater accordingly.
But we still have a way to go; whilst many of these services are doing their utmost to cater, there can still be a significant variance which needs to be addressed in order to make all services accessible to all. I know only too well the frustrations that can arise from lack of access. We don't want to be treated differently and have, in most cases, come to terms with the disability and its limitations. However, not being able to do normal activities such as shop, board a plane or use public transport can immediately make one feel like an outsider.
My excitement when travelling can often be marred with a nagging undercurrent of anxiety when approaching a new airport, worrying whether it will be a challenging experience negotiating it. It would be great never to feel that way, to lose myself in the excitement of the destination and never to have the trepidation. To be confident that wherever I go, I will be able to get around with ease just as any other member of society - whether it's using the toilet, checking in bags or just simply shopping Duty Free.
And if that could be the legacy of the Paralympics, London 2012, I think it would be a worthwhile legacy.