The rapid growth in participation and media coverage of Paralympic sport has not necessarily helped to significantly widen access opportunities to everyday exercise for disabled people in Britain, campaigners have suggested.
They also raise concerns that people with disabilities still face prejudice with many finding it difficult to participate in leisure and cultural activities.
Results from a survey of 2,100 people suggest more than 80% of people with a disability, and nearly seven in 10 people without, feel there is prejudice. Another finding suggested 69% of respondents with a disability faced barriers in accessing fitness and leisure facilities with almost all saying they would be more active if those were removed.
The survey was conducted by online pollsters Censuswide and commissioned by Parallel London – the organiser of a day of mass participation running and walking events in London later this year – whose founder Andrew Douglass called the results “obviously worrying”.
While people hoped the 2012 Paralympics might have changed attitudes, he said he believed the event had not been a “single silver bullet”.
“The Paralympics are all about elite sport. That is not we are about. What we want to do is reflect more of society and everyday life, accessibility and inclusivity.”
Douglass, also chief executive of event company innovision, claims the event will be the world’s “first fully inclusive mass participation run” and hopes up to 10,000 people will take part at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on 4 September, days before the start of the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro .
“If prejudices can positively shift in the right direction and day-to-day barriers in life removed, there is little doubt that disabled people can be more independent, equal and enabled to positively engage in our society, ” Douglas said.
A number of disability charities were already on board and people without disabilities were welcome to take part as well as watch, said Douglass.
Sophie Morgan, a TV presenter and wheelchair user who was paralysed from the waist down in a car crash in 2003, said: “I think there are a couple of misconceptions around the legacy of the games – that access is really easy and that everyone, if they really want to get into sport, quickly can.
“I love to swim and when I moved to London, I wanted to find a place where I could go,” Morgan said.
“You see a lot a of Paralympian swimming. You would think probably most swimming pools would cater for somebody with a disability or mobility impairment.
“I contacted about 40 gyms around London and a lot of the responses I had were quite shocking. I asked if they had a hoist that might be able to help me into the pool, and [the response] I had was ‘Hoist? What do you mean?’ Completely ignorant.”
Morgan, who lives in south London, did find somewhere, but added: “This is just one example of the ways in which it is very difficult to find somewhere close to you.”
“People without a disability using a gym could relate to the idea “of perhaps not feeling as fit as the people around you,” she said. “For a disabled person, multiply that by a hundred. There are a number of ways in which you can feel a little bit ostracised.
“People think that if you are disabled, you are a Paralympian. It is not helpful to people who have a disability. It is too intimidating; it is unattainable. I think that puts people off.”
Other high-profile supporters with a disability include Nick Ashley-Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury, who said: ”It’s really alarming that so many disabled people who want to lead more active lives still face barriers accessing facilities.”
Boris Johnson , the Mayor of London, said: “For Londoners with or without disabilities, its going to be a wonderful family-friendly day out, which I hope will help change attitudes as well as getting more of us to become more active.”
The survey, conducted between in 15-19 January, involved responses from 2,101 people, including 713 people with a disability, 271 with a mental disability or impairment and 442 with a physical one.
Among a number of questions, they were asked: “Generally speaking, how much prejudice do you think there is in Britain against disabled people?” Among disabled people, 47% said “a little”, 35% “a lot”, 11% “hardly any”, 4% “don’t know” and 3% “none’. Among those without a disability, 53% said “a little”, 16% said “a lot”, 20% said “hardly any”, 7% said “don’t know” and 4% said “none”.
Research by the English Federation of Disability Sport before the 2012 Paralympics suggested there were psychological barriers to participation as well as lack of suitable facilities and equipment.
Communications and marketing manager Sarah Marl said Paralympics games were great for building interest and legacy. “But it is important we understand not every disabled person can or want to be an elite sports person. London 2012 made such an impact, you have to keep momentum up. It is also important to ensure everyone, including at grass roots level, can access opportunities even if it is just a run in the park or cycling to work.”
Source: The Guardian