London 2012: Could the 2012 Paralympics erase the word 'disability'?

Sir Philip Craven playing basketball Sir Philip thinks the word "disabled" has negative connotations

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As International Paralympic Day takes place in London to celebrate next year's Games, Sir Philip Craven, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, has said he refuses to use the "D-word".

Sir Philip believes London 2012 will help to consign it to history.

Disabled himself, and a former wheelchair basketball player, he explains his dislike to BBC News: "It needs to be removed from the lexicon as it pertains to human beings.

"I mean, let's face it, if a machine gets disabled, it doesn't work. And that is the way that the word has influenced people's minds in the past.

"People say: 'Peter round the corner, he's disabled', before they even start to talk about what a wonderful guy he is, or what a not-so-nice guy he is. You immediately get to that differentiating point.

"If you're going to be talking about the positivity of human kind, why kick off with negativity?

"Someone said to me recently that [disability] is very much a political word for differentiation.

"I'm not getting into politics but if you think about it, it normally doesn't need to be used. What does ' you are disabled' mean?

"There's an incredible difference between a wheelchair user and someone who's blind, you know."

Though Sir Philip may dislike the term "disabled", many identify strongly with it and believe it is helpful.

Changing perceptions

Campaigner Clair Lewis sees it as a word that unifies the community.

"It's quite common for one group of disabled people to say to another that they don't want to be like them. Changing the word doesn't actually fix anything."

For 12 days next year, 4,200 athletes from 160 nations will be descending on the city of London. Although it is unlikely to significantly change the language, there are some tangible benefits that will be left behind as a result.

In its Olympic and Paralympic bid in 2005, London promised to create the most accessible Games ever.

Agencies such as Transport for London, the Olympic Park Legacy Company and the Department for Culture Media and Sport all have a role to play in keeping the promise during, and also after, the games.

TV cameraman films Oscar Pistorius at Beijing Paralympics In 2008, 90,000 people cheered on Oscar Pistorius to a Beijing win

The Olympic Park will see 8,000 new houses built on it after the games.

About nine per cent of these will be wheelchair accessible. And the sporting venues, some of which will be scaled back, were created with high accessibility standards and will remain.

The School Games project aims to build a lasting competitive sports structure in schools across the country.

Disability sport is part of this and specific inclusive events will be held at the Games next year.

Future disability sport opportunities are built into this plan and, for the first time, disabled children's participation in sport will be measured.

Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, said: "The Games offer a great opportunity to challenge outdated perceptions and help make further progress towards equality for disabled people in the UK.

"They will showcase the talents and sporting expertise of disabled people competing on a world stage and act as a catalyst for our sporting talents of the future.

Positive legacy

"I am really pleased by the initiatives under way to develop and strengthen disability sport and I hope we are left with a lasting positive legacy for disabled people and a positive experience for all in 2012."

How attitudes have changed

  • 1912: The first international eugenics conference was held in London, attended by Winston Churchill and other luminaries
  • 1914-18 and 1939-45: Two world wars took place with many war heroes returning disabled
  • 1948: Sir Ludwig Guttmann started The International Stoke Mandeville Games as therapy for those with spinal cord injuries - the precursor to the Paralympics
  • 1960: The first Paralympic games were held in Rome. 5,000 spectators cheered on 400 athletes at the opening
  • 1980: The Olympics were in Moscow but the USSR reportedly refused to admit they had disabled people in their country; the Paralympics were held in The Netherlands
  • 1988: 75,000 people watched the Paralympics opening ceremony in Seoul
  • 2008: 90,000 people cheered on Oscar Pistorius at the Bird's Nest stadium at the Beijing Paralympics
  • 2012: In the bidding process, the London 2012 team promised "the most accessible games ever"

It is worth looking back as well as forward.

In 1912, exactly 100 years before the London Paralympics, the city played host to an entirely different disability event.

The first international eugenics conference was held in the city, bringing together sympathisers and academics, including prime minister-in-waiting Winston Churchill, to discuss issues like sterilisation, selective breeding and marriage restriction.

For 2012, London has moved a long way from wanting to eradicate disabled people, preferring to celebrate their lives and achievements.

Perceptions have changed vastly across the last century. Sir Philip thinks that attitude is the key factor.

"You can pass laws and laws are necessary; we have the equality law now in Britain but laws are only there for me as a backstop.

"The thing that really makes a difference is the change in public perception and that's what the Paralympic games brings to a nation.

"And now that they're televised quite extensively, and will be more than ever in London - also on radio and internet and press - then that message gets out to the world. And this is what we want."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    I hope they do manage to lose the word disabled and at the same time I would love to see the word mental go from mental illness. It is surely brusing or damage to the brain just as happens when someone has a stroke. If anybody can remove the disabled it must be the people in the para olympics who are living proof that if enough effort and resources are put in to something it is simply different.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Disability Benefits Gestapo Atos to their board. Disgraceful.? Paralympics boris has seen that blind and disabled people can't get to the games and cameron has seen to it that no disabled person can afford to go!

    Cameron and osborne must go along with the looney right wing policies!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    I was working in the NHS when they decide "incontinence products" sounded negative, so they re-named them "continence products". Shortly afterwards, the 'incontinence specialists' were 'continence specialists'. Next, it was proposed that an 'incontinent' patient should be called a 'continent' patient. By a narrow margin, the lunacy was derailed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    A rose by any other name.......................
    Keeping on changing names of people and things does nothing to help, the name will stick no matter what these PC pains tell us.
    We now have, I think the current name anyway, special needs, before that it was learning disability or mental handicap, spastic etc In the 70's it was mentally subnormal, or imbecile, moron or retard (USA), does it matter?

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    @65 Flyer
    Yes, I'm with you all the way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    The BBC has lost the plot.
    Most people in England are just struggling to make ends meet.
    We really don't care about your PC based subjects.
    All we want is to survive in this anti White,English working class Country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Re my No 64.

    Oooops, mistyped!!!! I should have said "I'm what's usually called ........."

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    @ 51.Arnold55555

    "The paralympics is tedium ...."

    I agree, but then I find the Olympics tedious as well and won't be watching either event.

    Nor the Commonwealths in Glasgow 2014. Similarly for the World Cup, the Rugby World Cup etc.

    As far as I'm concerned sport is uninteresting unless extemely powerful engines are involved. I do make an exception for Grand Slam Tennis tournaments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    @ 20.Braumeister1

    I'm afraid I'm not joking. I've heard a Social Worker and a school SENCO use the term several times.

    I'm not what's usually called 'able bodied' so I don't really know whether the word 'disabled' is acceptable or not. Personally, I don't see the problem - it at least has the merit of accuracy. And it also seems less pejorative than 'crippled' or 'handicapped'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    I don't understand the problem with the word 'disabled'. It's not what is said but how it's said that can be a problem. In the article above almost every paragraph contains the word 'disabled' or 'disability' and it isn't offensive at all. My daughter and I are both disabled in that we have been disabled by our condition. Please will able-bodied people stop being insulted on our behalf.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Hardly surprising the IPC don't like the term 'disabled' after adding the founder of the Disability Benefits Gestapo Atos to their board. Disgraceful. I was going to buy tickets but now I'll be boycotting anything to do with the IPC and encouraging all disabled people who rely on benefits to survive to do the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    I am confused about the paralympics. On the one hand I am strongly for everything that give confidence and staus to people with haddicaps (my son is metally handicapped). On the other hand competition only make sense if there is a level playingfield. I have got no answer to this conundrum!

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Look at the word spastic it was a charity and now its an insult, people will insult and be insulted no matter what words you use, I am disabled and cannot do a lot of things I think Disabled is an appropiate word.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I keep reading the word Handicap as a disabled person I wouldnt really like to be called handicapped, I am not sure why though...

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    I'd rather be known as disabled than invalid!

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Comment 52: why should I strive against my disabilities? They are part of who I am, and I need to work *with* them or all is doomed!

    We're not brave souls, just people living with our lot, one way or another, hopefully well.

    I don't think paralympians are somehow braver than the rest of us, any more than non-disabled olympians are braver than the rest of the non-disabled population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Two opinions, if carbonbase can have his then i can have mine you think you are right i think i am, end of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Let's try and be objective about people for a change, rather than some subjective term that's been dreamt up by some loony liberal who'll no doubt be advising Labour and the Lib Dems.

    Yes, they're disabled, let's not disadvantage them further by ending up too unsure of how to refer to them, you'd think the left would be for that thing, wouldn't you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Today I was at the Court of Appeal to request permission to appeal because a tribunal considered I am not disabled yet I have been diagnosed with Asperger's by a psychiatrist. The Judge threw out my appeal, wishing me well for the future. If he meant it he would have found in my favour, and I told him so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I despair at the rubbish that this bunch of PC lefties on overpaid wages has come up with, or is "rubbish" a word that needs erasing too?

    Look, lets stop trying to rename something that works with some new & meaningless term.

    In 20 years it's going to be like the race thing - where you're never sure how to refer to someone - & get arrested by the PC brigade for saying someone's in a wheelchair


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