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TX: 01.05.06 - The Paralympic World Cup

PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
WHITE
But first, the Visa Paralympic World Cup is being held in Manchester this week. The World Cup, which includes athletics, basketball, swimming and cycling, has attracted top disabled athletes from around 40 countries and is the biggest international sporting competition after the Paralympic Games themselves. The BBC is televising the event and BBC Sport says it's dedicating more time to coverage of this event than ever before. It's a sign of how popular Paralympic sport seems to have become. But will this make any difference to attitudes to disability in the UK and around the world?

Liz Carr is a disabled comedian, actor and presenter and Clare Strange is part of the Great Britain women's wheelchair basketball team. Her first match today is against China and I asked Clare if she thinks the rare trip abroad by the Chinese team is significant.

STRANGE
Oh it's huge that we've got China coming over. They haven't had a team until now, we've never seen them play, we don't know what they're going to be like, so it's important for us to have played them before we go out to Beijing and for China, whose background in disability and civil rights is a little big shaded, it's good to see this development.

WHITE
But they will be a complete surprise to you, you haven't seen them play, you haven't got any videos, anything like that?

STRANGE
No, nothing, we have no idea what they're going to be like, we just hear rumours of how much training they're doing.

WHITE
So does disability sport result, do you think, in better provision and acceptance for disabled people in society generally? I mean what about Sydney and Athens, for example, what happened there after the Paralympics?

STRANGE
In Sydney itself we were playing in front of capacity crowds everyday and a lot of those were school kids and to me that's huge. This is a new generation coming through seeing disability first hand and not being scared of it. And again the same in Athens - they brought loads school kids in to watch this, it changes attitudes and although there issues around Athens and accessibility, not necessarily being long term, there were a lot of temporary measures in Athens around the city, but there were also some huge things like the train system being fully accessible.

WHITE
Liz Carr?

CARR
I think that disability sport can do damage to the image of disability.

WHITE
Why?

CARR
Because I think that it feeds into one of the views which is that disabled people, unless we're doing something super heroic, it used to be like the triumph over tragedy model basically, then I think people get quite confused about that. And the reason I get concerned, I guess, is that there's so little representation of disabled people in the media, that one of the only ways that they do seem to sell people and even though that's not enough is in sport. And I think it can give one particular image of disabled people. And it's - for some that's fine but for a lot of disabled people that's not who they are, they're not capable of sport or they don't want that.

WHITE
So you mean because that's where the preponderance of publicity tends to go - the big publicity on television - then people get the idea that almost if you're disabled that's the way to deal with it?

CARR
Yeah, you know I think that there's a real sense by a lot of people that you know isn't it marvellous that despite your being disabled you've done these things. And a lot of disabled people anecdotally talk about they almost have to be double, they almost have to be extra good at what they are to be seen as being valuable. There's almost the idea of the good and the bad cripple and the good person is the person who is deserving, who is even more heroic. The bad is the person who's more of a burden, who's more of a drain and not really going out to achieve. The thing about Paralympians is they make the rest of us look lazy.

WHITE
Clare, what's your reaction to that, I mean isn't there a sense in which the sporting disabled people are a kind of elite which may be get a preponderance of publicity?

STRANGE
Is it may be not bringing it in line with society? The Olympics make the rest of the country look lazy and unable to compete at that level and disability sport has managed to get that status in the media, it's managed to win its own slot.

WHITE
You yourself became disabled after a riding accident, what impact did sport have on your recovery and rehabilitation?

STRANGE
I'd always liked sport, I loved sport really, with my riding, played hockey at a high level, so to do sport after my accident wasn't so strange to me as, you know, sometimes people go oh people are now disabled so they should play sport, which is I think the wrong attitude. But it gave me something to focus on and a passion and something to go after.

WHITE
Does that make a difference, do you think, to people's perception of you because often when they see you you're actually doing something athletic, rather than in, what you might call, a more passive role?

STRANGE
I do laugh when people - if I'm sat there shooting or messing about go oh I don't think even I could do that, I'm like well funnily enough I train seven days a week to be able to do this, I hope I can do it better than you can. But yeah, you know, I'm an athletic build, I've played sport my whole life and yes I have a disability but people less and less are trying to grab my chair and push me across the road when I don't want to.

CARR
Disabled people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and I think the problem is - and it's more about media representation - is that we don't see those people covered. And the question also earlier was do you think that disability sport changes attitudes - no, you know, on the whole I don't. I don't think it does any harm in some respects on the one-to-one level but I also sometimes think it doesn't do us any favours.

STRANGE
You see as an athlete myself and I talk about myself as an athlete, I go into schools - my job works with kids - and I go in and they respect me as an athlete and I'm there as a disability and suddenly every time I go into a school and every time I'm working with this group of people it's not that they see me just as a basketball player and that they're going to think everyone who's got a disability should play basketball but they're going - she's got a disability and she's faced some hardship in her life but she does move on with it. And people can live with things and look we're not all able to run, jump, hop, skip, do whatever, it's just showing them difference. And I love the fact that I'm able to go in, do the job I do and gain the respect, and that status has come from the fact that we have this media coverage in a lot of ways.

WHITE
But is there perhaps an argument that that won't make them see that, you know, there are still a lot of disabled people in residential care, there are still a lot of disabled people who don't have access to jobs and that they may simply see this rather kind of one dimensional view of disability?

STRANGE
No but it's a start though isn't it, it's getting there.

CARR
People looking at the idea of is it political, does it politicise the issue then I don't think it does, I don't think particularly that's the aim of disability sport. But here we have the Chinese women's basketball team, in itself that's brilliant, it's symbolic. But under the surface the Chinese history of civil rights for disabled people in the past and now is appalling. One big point for me is that I'm an articulate woman, I'm on the radio - that's great - I've got a voice. Clare has found her place, she can go out there and change attitudes too - we get a certain amount of respect because of that, because we made something. But there are so many disabled people that won't be touched by this and they're actually in the majority.

WHITE
Liz Carr and Clare Strange. And if you'd like to hear that item again you can always try the Listen Again option on our website or you may be interested in a new service - The Radio 4 Disability Newsletter - where every month you can find some of the best items across the network. If you'd like to receive it you can sign up via the You and Yours website, that's bbc.co.uk/radio4/youandyours. And if you haven't got a computer at home, don't worry, we've also sent the newsletter to the local library network.


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