The North East Bedfordshire MP’s monthly column
I was there to watch the Paralympic Games as the UK’s minister for disabled people. I knew something of their sporting abilities from what I had seen in the UK before I departed, but it seemed no-one had told Atlanta. The Paralympics seemed like the afterthought – no matter the good intention of organisers, the public had not ‘got it’; the atmosphere was poor and the idea that the Olympics and Paralympics might one day approach parity in the minds of the ticket buying public, and media seemed a hundred years away.
Fast forward just 16 years, to the extravaganza we have just seen end. I cannot let the last few days go without comment.
What seemed most unexpected was that once spectators were watching an event, the issue of disability fell away – we were watching a sporting contest, whether between basketball players, or runners with blades, and if ‘one of ours ‘ was in there, the cheering made no distinction between what sort of elite athlete we were seeing. And it was no longer just the minister for disabled people – the Sports Ministers had taken over, and quite rightly.
I don’t think anyone can have experienced this summer without taking a good look at the sort of society we project, and represent. The revolution in how most of us see disability is very recent – within the lifetime of us fifty somethings, and around the world I see rather more unreformed attitudes, from a mixture of fear, superstition and sometimes lack of resource to deal with what coping actually means in practice.
The impact of the Paralympics upon these societies, when shy and unregarded individuals return home with status and pride in achievement can be imagined.
London’s legacy may go deeper than we thought. In the Foreign And Commonwealth Office we will be building on what we have already delivered on this issue, from our contact with Paralympians and champions of disability in many lands.
The energy of British crowds will change lives for years to come.
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Weather for Bedford
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 6 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: North west