Fewer than 100 disabled volunteers to take part in Paralympics ceremony


Organisers of this summer’s Paralympics opening ceremony have faced heavy criticism after admitting that fewer than 100 of the 3, 000 adult volunteers set to take part will be disabled people.

The volunteers will take roles as dancers, actors, percussionists and all-round performers, joining a professional cast of more than 100.

Disability News Service has obtained the volunteer figures from LOCOG, the London 2012 organising committee.

Only just over three per cent of the mass cast of volunteers will be disabled people, compared with about three-quarters of the professional, paid cast.

Michelle Baharier, chief executive of CoolTan Arts, the London-based arts charity run by and for adults with mental distress, said the numbers were “incredibly disappointing”.

Earlier this year, she warned that the demands placed on volunteers by LOCOG would be “totally inappropriate” for many disabled people.

She had been among those who warned that LOCOG’s call for volunteers with “huge amounts of energy” would put many disabled people off, while LOCOG had initially been unable to say whether it would fund the travel and support costs of disabled volunteers.

Baharier said this week that LOCOG had failed to make the volunteering opportunity accessible, and pointed to its failure to do “outreach” work with groups of disabled people, which would have allowed potential volunteers to feel more comfortable with the idea of taking part.

Baharier said LOCOG had suggested that volunteers “almost had to be fit enough to do a full-time job”.

She said: “I showed [the communication from LOCOG]to people and they said they couldn’t make that fulltime commitment.”

She added: “Britain came up with the Paralympics and you would have thought we could have done something different at the opening ceremony. It would have been a really good learning curve for other people as well.”

She said she would have liked to see more of a focus on the potential legacy of the ceremony, for example by “empowering disabled people to not be hidden away”, an idea she would have liked to see “run through the whole of London 2012”.

The ceremony’s two disabled artistic directors, Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, have pledged to bring inclusive practice, equality and empowerment onto the stage in the Olympic Stadium on 29 August.

The theme of the ceremony will also be one of “empowerment”, describing a journey “towards freedom, democracy and enlightenment”.

A LOCOG spokesman said the call for volunteers had been “well-publicised” and that “almost everyone who auditioned who has a disability has been successful in being passed as being a performer”.

But he added: “Obviously we would like more people to have auditioned. We worked hard to make sure that everybody who might be possibly interested was aware of the opportunity.”

When asked why LOCOG thought so few disabled people had volunteered, he declined to comment.

One leading disabled artist said the failure to ensure a more accessible rehearsal programme was “heart-breaking”, as it had deprived so many disabled people across the country of the chance to take part.

Ju Gosling, director of Together!, the disability arts and human rights festival set to take place in east London during the Paralympics, said: “I’m very saddened to hear this, but not completely surprised.

“When the call for volunteers went out, we warned that the rehearsals were being organised in such a way as to make them virtually inaccessible to disabled people, and so it has proven.

“Ironically, the three per cent figure mirrors the percentage of disabled people employed in Arts Council-funded arts organisations.”

She said the figures underlined the need for “widespread and revolutionary change” in how arts activities are organised in order to implement article 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on disabled people’s participation in cultural life.

21 June 2012