Disabled artists and activists have reacted angrily to the decision of the International Paralympic Committee to present its highest award to the Conservative mayor of London, hospital Boris Johnson.
The presentation of the Paralympic Order took place during National Paralympic Day, pills which had been combined for the first time with Liberty, the mayor’s own disability arts festival.
The award was made by Rita van Driel, a member of the International Paralympic Committee’s governing body, who said the mayor had made “an outstanding contribution to the Paralympic movement” and had “captured our hearts and minds” every time he spoke in public about the Paralympics during London 2012.
She claimed the mayor – who only came to power in 2008 – had regenerated part of the city, and had “made London more accessible”.
She told a crowd waiting to watch Britain take on the Netherlands at sitting volleyball: “I think it is testament to his leadership that not only did the Paralympics change attitudes and perceptions of disability but they also helped change the world’s attitudes and perceptions of London for the better too.”
Johnson said he would wear the award “with pride” but had only been “a small part” of a team of “dedicated and brilliant people” who put on “the greatest Paralympic Games that have ever been put on anywhere in the world”.
The award took place just days after a national week of action by disabled activists protesting at the impact of government cuts and reforms on disabled people’s lives.
Campaigners protested outside government departments and spoke of disabled people unable to access basic needs, becoming prisoners in their own homes, and of some even taking their own lives in desperation.
There were also high-profile protests during the week of action at the failure to make seven rail stations on the mayor’s new Crossrail scheme accessible to disabled people.
The disabled writer and performer Penny Pepper, who took part in the week of action, said she was “speechless” to hear about the award to Boris.
And Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “We totally understand the scepticism and anger disabled people have expressed on hearing of the news of this award to Boris, given the unprecedented range of attacks that his party are inflicting on Deaf and disabled people.
“We call on Boris to live up to this award by committing, as mayor, to bring his considerable influence and resources to tackling the inequality 1.4 million Deaf and disabled Londoners experience on a daily basis.
“We call on the mayor to re-iterate his opposition to key welfare reforms that are having such a damaging impact on Deaf and disabled Londoners and prioritise ensuring that his work on housing, education, skills and employment, crime and policing, health and transport explicitly meets the needs of our community, which is being hit nine times harder by cuts than non-disabled people.”
12 September 2013