Paralympics boosts profile of disabled but no panacea

Mon Nov 25, 2013 9:10am EST
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By Jack Merlin Watling

LONDON (Reuters) - Walking with Paralympic Gold Medalist Tim Prendergast along one of London's busiest streets, 'disability' is not the first word that springs to mind.

Weaving through the heaving crowds outside Baker Street underground train station, Prendergast, who is blind except for peripheral vision, crosses a road without pause - exhibiting the focused confidence that led him to victory in the T13 800m in Athens in 2004 with a time of 1:56.23.

"People make assumptions. In fact, some people will grab your arm and move you around," said Prendergast, who says he never uses a cane. "They have good intentions, so you can't get cross, but it's patronizing."

The 2012 London Paralympics, with an estimated international television audience of 3.4 billion, raised awareness of disabilities and turned some competitors into heroes and heroines. But it was no panacea for the often fraught social interactions that people like Prendergast face on a daily basis.

"Research clearly shows that the games had a positive impact on peoples' perceptions of disability," said Craig Spence, head of communications at the International Paralympics Committee.

"(But) there is still a significant challenge... in bridging the gap between peoples' perception of disabled athletes and their attitudes to disabled people in everyday life.

"That requires seeing disabled people excel in the work place and in the community. The Games started a dialogue but it is now up to society to carry that legacy forward."

The assumptions that people sometimes make about disabled people can be insulting, inconvenient or even dangerous.   Continued...

New Zealand's Tim Prendergast (R) competes in the 800 metres final at the eleventh Paralympic Games in Sydney in this file photograph dated October 20, 2000. REUTERS/files