London 2012: Only one in 50 opening ceremony volunteers was disabled


London 2012 organisers have admitted that only one in 50 of the volunteers who took part in the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games was a disabled person.

The ceremony has been widely-praised, particularly for the performance of its 73 professional Deaf and disabled performers and the work of its two disabled co-directors, Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings.

But it was clear that nearly all of the volunteer cast of 3,250 who took part – ranging from 10 to 80 years of age – were not disabled people.

Two months ago, the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG said that about 100 disabled people had auditioned for the Paralympic opening ceremony and “almost all” had been successful, as part of a cast of 3,000 adults and 100 children.

But LOCOG now says that only 68 of 3,250 volunteers were disabled people, including just 27 wheelchair-users, only three people with learning difficulties, and just one with autism.

Volunteers rehearsed for an average of 85 hours each.

LOCOG refused to comment on the number of disabled volunteers, other than to refer Disability News Service to the comments it made in June.

There was heavy criticism of LOCOG at the time over the “inappropriate” demands it was placing on potential disabled volunteers, including a call for people with “huge amounts of energy”, and its initial failure to say whether it would fund the travel and support costs of disabled volunteers.

But it claimed then that “almost everyone who auditioned who has a disability has been successful” in becoming a volunteer performer.

Ju Gosling, director of Together! 2012, the free disability arts and human rights festival taking place less than a mile from the Olympic Stadium during the Paralympics, said she was “really shocked” that the number of disabled volunteer performers was “even lower than originally thought”.

She said: “I’m particularly appalled that only three out of 3,000 performers had learning difficulties, given the world-class companies such as Anjali Dance Company and Magpie Dance who could have been featured prominently.”

She added: “How can London 2012 square this with the promise of Boris Johnson (London’s Conservative mayor) to host the most diverse and inclusive games ever?

“It would have been perfectly possible to choreograph and rehearse the ceremony in such a way as to have 100 per cent of the performers being either disabled, carers or personal assistants.”

She added: “Given all of the public money that has been invested in the games, we also had a right to expect that ‘legacy’ considerations would be paramount, but there is nothing in these figures to suggest legacy issues have been considered at all.”

The Together! festival is led by the UK Disabled People’s Council, and includes a preview of Ian Farrant’s exhibition of photographs of disabled athletes, and performances by Sign Dance Collective and the internationally-renowned Indian guitarist Benny Prasad and US comedian David Roche.

Together! is taking place between 29 August and 9 September, with some events being held during Disability History Month later this year.

30 August 2012

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