The Views of Sarah Finlayson (Disability Officer for Blackpool South CLP)

Blackpool South CLP's Disability Officer Sarah Finlayson gives her comments on the Paralympics, cuts in support to disabled people and her view ahead of the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool.Sarah_Finlayson.jpg

By Sarah Finlayson:

Paralympians deserve to get equal recognition

This summer has seen Rio in Brazil host the Olympics, a sporting spectacle watched by hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

From fencing and rowing, to athletics and gymnastics, the Olympics unites the world like few other sporting events.

On British TV the Olympics was shown on the BBC, with almost 24-hour coverage.

We saw a prestigious amount of medals won by Team GB, with athletes like Mo Farah and Sir Bradley Wiggins rightly winning both plaudits and headlines.

Following the Olympics came the Paralympics, which originated in the UK in 1948.

Although the Paralympics are shown on TV, in the UK they were shown not on the BBC but on Channel 4, which does not have the same popularity as the BBC.

Although it is a positive the Paralympics now gets better coverage, is it right there is not comparable coverage, or is this an example of tokenism towards disabled people?

We see many Olympic athletes win sponsorship and advertising deals based on their success, but we don’t see Paralympians gain the same level of acclaim.

Whereas Mo Farah is regularly seen on TV, wheelchair athlete David Weir, who won six gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, is not well known in the same way as able-bodied athletes (and with two weeks to go only 15 per cent of Paralympics tickets had been sold, and organisers dropped many ticket prices to £2.30).

It is at least good to see Ellie Simmonds featured on an advert alongside Jack Whitehall. This following a games where Team GB collected 147 gold medals, including 62 gold.

As a person with a disability using a wheelchair, I find this disparity unfair and discriminatory.

From the personal recognition to the event itself being shown on a smaller channel, are we giving the Paralympics the same attention as the Olympics? And is this in itself discriminatory?

I look forward to the day when both events are given equal coverage and equal recognition.

Disability funding cut backs

While it was great to see the achievements of our Paralympians in Rio, it is disquieting as a person with a disability to see how attitudes have started reverting slowly backwards to a time when people with disabilities were not treated as fairly or equally as they should be as members of society.

Government budget cuts that affect day-to-day services, as well as reducing funding, have contributed, in my opinion, to this decline in tolerance towards people with disabilities.

Whereas in the past there was support and care available to people with disabilities, over the last few years, as a result of these funding cuts, much of this care and support has been, for many people, stripped right back to the bone.

For example, service users have lost funding towards trips out shopping and into the community at large, cutting them off, curbing their independence and promoting stereotypical stigmas around disability.

The negative effect of this erosion of services on people with disabilities cannot be overstated.

Everybody has the right to make a meaningful contribution to society, and to play an active role in their community.

It is sad to still encounter prejudice and negative ideas about disability in the 21st century that would have been more at home in an era many years ago.

I was brought up to be a positive member of society, and am an independent person who has learnt to stand on my own four wheels and look after myself to the best of my ability.

It is time others in the community learnt to appreciate we make just as much a contribution as our able-bodied friends and colleagues.

Labour Party leadership announcement

I was recently elected the disability officer for Blackpool South Labour Party, and I am also proud to have been selected as a delegate to the national Labour Party Conference, which takes place in Liverpool later this month.

This year’s conference promises to be an interesting one, as it commences with the announcement of the winner of the party’s leadership contest.

So much of what comes after is, at least to me, up in the air.

What is for certain, however, is that whatever the outcome is, it promises to be interesting.

If I could ask one question whilst at the conference, it would be, how, after recent events, can we remain a viable opposition party over the next few years?

Is it enough to offer idealistic policies, or do we have to provide concrete ideas on which to build an electable platform?

One thing is for sure, we’ll know more when the leadership results are finally announced on Saturday, September 24.

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