Paralympians need a disability rights education, says Tanni


Britain’s best-known Paralympian has suggested that more should be done to “educate” the country’s elite disabled athletes about some of the real-life challenges facing other disabled people.

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson who has played a leading role in the Lords in the fight to reverse government cuts to disability benefits, said she feared an opportunity was being missed for Paralympians to use their profile at the London 2012 Paralympics to promote a disability rights agenda.

She discussed bringing together a group of about 50 elite disabled athletes to help them “understand the real world of disabled people” with David Morris, the former mayoral adviser on disability.

Morris was on secondment as London 2012’s external access and inclusion coordinator at the time of his death in 2010.

Baroness Grey-Thompson, a member of the 2012 organising committee LOCOG’s diversity board, told Disability News Service (DNS): “We didn’t want to get athletes chaining themselves to things. It was more about education.

“What we wanted to do was help athletes, tell them there was a wider context out there.”

She was speaking after an event held to celebrate London 2012’s focus on diversity and inclusion.

She said: “At games-time it is not the right time for an athlete after they have won a medal to talk about welfare reform.”

But she added: “As an elite athlete, you get asked all kinds of things. If you are asked something about legislation and disability rights, rather than saying, ‘I’m all right, Jack,’ or ‘I don’t know anything about that,’ it would help them to know there is a bigger world out there.”

Such a scheme might help a Paralympian comment to the media if they attended a high-profile event that they found inaccessible, she said.

She added: “Disability rights and sport have never particularly met in the middle because elite sport goes against the social model of disability. There wasn’t this natural fit.

“In sport, once you get on an elite pathway, you are almost protected from the world. For me for a long time in my sports career I didn’t meet anybody from a disability rights background.”

The sports facilities where Paralympians train and perform tend to be accessible, she added.

The idea that she and Morris discussed has yet to be taken any further, but she added: “It would still be a really nice thing to do.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson is just the latest leading disabled figure to pay tribute to Morris’s huge influence as an activist, thinker and mentor.

She said: “We all try and live up to what Dave would have wanted. He was a massive, massive help for me. Everything you do, you think, ‘well, what would Dave say?’”

7 March 2012