It’s hard not to be swept away by the sheer thrill of the Paralympics.
Four years after London, and with Team GB already surpassing their impressive medal haul of 2012, Rio has once again showcased the best of disability (that word seems totally inappropriate in this context) sport.
Every day it seems as though there’s a new world record, a new redefining of what Paralympians are capable of, a closing of the gap between ‘disability’ and able bodied sport.
Much has been made of whether or not the athletes should discuss the cause of their disability, share their back story – I have to confess the former journalist in me loves to hear these inspiring stories.
And I believe there’s another reason to share these tales of triumph over adversity – they play an important role in creating a real and lasting legacy for the Paralympic movement, far beyond elite sport, but to mass participation.
Role models play a vital part in encouraging others to follow the trail they have blazed.
Yes, the sporting performances of Team GB’s Dame Sarah Storey, Kadeena Cox and Hannah Cockroft et al are inspiring in their own right, but so too is the fact they overcame challenges and obstacles that many of us would find insurmountable. Where they lead others will surely follow.
Unfortunately, a recent survey suggested that more than 80 per cent of people with a disability still feel prejudice when participating in sport and leisure activities – despite the relatively high profile now enjoyed by Paralympic sport.
It seems blue riband events such as the Paralympics, while hugely taboo breaking, can never be the silver bullet to mass participation.
This is where, I believe, forward thinking, progressive social care providers have an important role to play opening up regular access to sports for clients and service users, and then telling that story.
I would urge providers to share the inspiring images, videos and testimonials of people getting involved in sport – really tell the story of mass participation. By doing this we can create a virtuous circle of involvement in ‘disability’ sport.
On a more practical level providers also have the power to put pressure on councils so sports facilities are more inclusive. They can inspire the local community to join in or support disabled sport activities, services can develop links with able bodied sports clubs in the community.
There’s so much that can be done to build on the wonderful legacy of the Paralympics – not only so we have future champions in Tokyo 2020 and beyond – but that, and I would argue more importantly, thousands of disabled people get to enjoy the mental, physical and emotional benefits of sport on a daily basis.
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