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A new vision of disability

07 September 2012

THE effortless way in which the Paralympics have grasped the baton from the Olympics is remarkable. The enthusiasm of the crowds has not waned in the slightest. The one handicap they appear to have recognised is that of being in the Cabinet. (The only people booed at the Games this week were the Chancellor and the Home Secretary.) The hope, of course, is that the experience will change the image of disability for good. The task will be to translate the remarkable shift in focus - looking at what an individual can do rather than what he or she cannot - into everyday life.

Politics has a hand in this. It has not gone unnoticed that Atos, one of the sponsors of Paralympics GB, also holds the commission to carry out work-capability tests on those claiming Disability Living Allowance. The Government intends to remove 500,000 of the 3.2 million people presently claiming the benefit, as well as bringing in a replacement system of Personal Independence Payments in 2013.

There is no dispute about those who are severely disabled, although the amount of provision they are allowed needs to be reviewed. The difficulty comes with those who want to be treated normally, among whom are most of the Paralympians. People with a disability are no different from others who struggle to find work, housing, and purpose in a tough economic climate. They have the same aspirations and failings as able-bodied people. The one difference is that disability is expensive. It costs more to overcome mobility problems; work patterns might need to be lighter; care assistance might need to be paid for. As a rough rule of thumb, raising a disabled child costs three times as much as an able-bodied one. Before the Paralympics, however, there was evidence of a growing reluctance to provide adequate disability support.

The Paralympics have provided an opportunity for the public to absorb a positive message: not that these are poor people who need to be looked after, but that they are ordinary (and extraordinary) people who need a degree of help so that they can look after themselves. The ethos of Livability, the largest Christian disability charity in the UK, is instructive: "Our vision is of a transformed society where disabled and disadvantaged people can live life to the full." This is a useful target against which to measure the conduct of the Government and the public at large in the months to come.



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