Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The legacy of the London 2012 Games for disabled people

“The legacy of the Paralympics must be accessible housing that will improve the opportunities available to all disabled people” (Andrew Gibson, vice chair of Habinteg Housing Association Limited, August 2012).
We have now exited the Olympic Games London 2012; it was certainly a marvellous environment created in Stratford, London. It has brought about many changes in equality and diversity rights, especially the accessibility of the London underground system. Just before the Paralympics on the 30th of August 2012, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London said “London has used the 2012 Games not only to set new standards in the design of sporting venues to help deliver the best Paralympic Games ever but also as a springboard for transforming the UK capital into one of the most accessible cities on earth”.
The Chief Executive of the International Paralympic Committee, Xavier Gonzalez, said: "The city of London from the word ‘go’ has aimed to make London 2012 a truly inclusive and accessible Game”. The London Paralympic legacy is focussing on accessibility being the foundation of all planning and development of transport, housing, sport and the public realm with disabled peoples: is this really true though? Well, I wish it was. I am a disabled (wheelchair) student at the Queen Mary University of London living on campus, just a stone’s throw away from the Olympic stadium in Stratford. I have spent a year living in the University’s accommodation and now it’s time for me to move to a permanent accessible accommodation, unfortunately, there no single wheelchair accessible accommodation available in Tower Hamlets. Indeed the nearest accommodation of this sort is apparently in Northampton i.e. approximately 60 miles!
The proposition was the Paralympics will change attitudes, and ultimately environments, for disabled people have then to be treated with some real caution. At the opening ceremony of the Paralympics David Cameron commented on the "inspirational" athletes, whilst at the same time the Government carefully erodes the welfare system that helped many of the same athletes to achieve their dreams.      
I am a Muslim-British-Disabled-Woman, a person with many different backgrounds and beliefs, a fine example of diversity, but am I getting equality of opportunity and equal rights? For the first 4 months of my accommodation application, the council of the borough I live in was concerned that I might be committing fraud. My disability is quite clear to see so why was I thought to be possibly perpetrating fraud My case is symptomatic of the increase in negative attitudes towards disabled people, especially with media’s portrayal of disabled people as ‘scroungers’ and benefits fraudsters.

According to the ‘Guide to the Olympic, Paralympic and Legacy Transformation Planning and Olympic Village and Legacy Residential Planning’ which was released in 2007, ‘Thousands of new homes will be built to house Olympic and Paralympic athletes during the games…. After the games, it will be transformed into a mixed tenure residential neighbourhood, incorporating a range of affordable housing.’ This suggests that approximately 4,500 homes from the conservation of the Olympics Village would be available and 10% of them would be wheelchair accessible. How many of these will be used to house the disabled residents of East London?
The Paralympics 2012 are now finished, however we as a nation still have a number of hurdles to leap before the disabled citizens of London feel the benefit of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Do I, like many disabled Londoners, have to continue to live my life in a parallel universe and watch the able-bodied world go by? Our work on creating access is far from over; we still have a long way to go. As Erick Kristian (eHow magazine) says “a civilised society does its best to look after those who need it most, and is proud to do so”.

Nadia Ahmed is a PhD student at Queen Mary University of London and researching on practicable working environments for disabled academics at universities in United Kingdom. Her inspiration is her own disability and struggle towards getting employment as a disabled academic in United Kingdom. Nadia can be contacted at nadia.ahmed@qmul.ac.uk.

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