Paralympic success breeds golden funding settlement

Britain’s Paralympians have been rewarded for their success at London 2012 with a huge leap in funding to take them through to the next Paralympic Games in Rio in four years’ time.

UK Sport announced the 43 per cent increase in funding for Paralympic sports – to £70.2 million from £49 million in the run-up to London – compared with a rise of five per cent for Olympic sports.

UK Sport said its goal was “to become the first nation in recent history” to win more medals at both the Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games four years after hosting the Games.

It said the increased support – provided through National Lottery and government funding – reflected the “increasing competitive nature” of Paralympic sport and the growing opportunities for international competition.

Funding was announced for 19 Paralympic sports, with the largest increases for athletics, sailing, shooting, table-tennis, women’s goalball, judo, cycling and wheelchair tennis.

There was funding for the first time for canoeing and triathlon (sports that were not part of the London 2012 Paralympic Games), and five-a-side (blind) football, while boccia, adaptive rowing, swimming, equestrian dressage, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby also saw their funding increase.

But both archery and powerlifting were told their funding would be cut, while four sports which had British teams competing at London 2012 missed out on funding altogether: seven-a-side (cerebral palsy) football, sitting volleyball, wheelchair fencing and men’s goalball.

David Clarke, Britain’s five-a-side captain at London 2012, who announced his retirement from the sport after the Games, told his Twitter followers that it was “a proud day for blind football in Great Britain”.

One of his former team-mates, Keryn Seal, tweeted: “Today is a great day for blind football. Tonight I’ll be raising a glass to all the people who’ve brought us to this point.”

Robin Williams, another of the stars of Britain’s five-a-side team, added: “What a momentous, incredible, fantastic day for us and our sport. All of those words in one.”

Jeff Davis, performance manager of Paralympic football, said the money would enable blind football to “make the leap from part-time status to a full-time element”, although the FA has not yet been able to clarify exactly what this will mean.

Kylie Grimes, a member of the wheelchair rugby team that finished fifth in London, tweeted that her sport’s increased funding was the “best news ever for Great Britain wheelchair rugby”.

Martine Wright, who had won a BBC Sports Personality of the Year award only two days before the funding levels were announced, said she was “shocked” by the decision on her sport of sitting volleyball, but also tweeted: “This is the time to be positive about funding. Decisions have been made, so we need to think we’ve done it before and we will do it again!!”

Justin Phillips, a member of the men’s team that finished eighth at London 2012, tweeted that sitting volleyball was one the most watched sports at London 2012, and added: “Legacy? What legacy? A lot of people’s lives and dreams left devastated. UK Sport have a lot of explaining to do.”

Fencer Gemma Collis tweeted that she was “gutted” to hear that her sport had lost all of its UK Sport funding, but added: “Going to be really hard, but determined to still make it to Rio.”

Her team-mate David Heaton added: “Oh well, looks like we will be shaking buckets for a while!!”

And another fencing team-mate, Craig McCann, tweeted: “Life just got very hard but fighting is what I do!”

The British Paralympic Association said the extra funding would help with its goal of ensuring London 2012 was “a springboard onto greater things”, and said it was “delighted that the strong performance of the Paralympics GB team in London has acted as the catalyst” for the money.

But a BPA spokeswoman warned of an “increasing level of sophistication and investment” in Paralympic sport by other nations and that London 2012 had showed “just how tough the competition is getting”.

Hugh Robertson, the Conservative sports minister, said the “significant increase for Paralympic sports reflects on the extraordinary success and achievements of our Paralympic athletes this summer”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Key London 2012 adviser describes ‘frustration’ with LOCOG access failures

A disabled consultant who played a key role in ensuring the accessibility of London 2012’s purpose-built venues has spoken of her frustration that the events themselves did not match some of those high access standards.

Margaret Hickish began working as an access consultant with the consortiums that produced the London 2012 “masterplan” in early 2007, before later joining the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) as its accessibility manager.

She spent years consulting with disabled people, including local organisations in east London, to ensure that the London 2012 stadia, including the Olympic Park, were as accessible as they could be.

The ODA’s efforts were widely-praised by disabled people and their organisations for ensuring an accessible environment for both Paralympians and disabled spectators.

Hickish, a powerchair-user herself, said she was “very proud” of the part she had played, and was thrilled when she sampled the accessibility for herself in the Olympic Park during the Paralympics.

She said: “I grinned from ear to ear almost every day. It was just wonderful to see so many disabled people be free to just enjoy it. I also enjoyed having really good access myself.”

One of ODA’s major aims had been to design the Olympic Park with as few steps as possible, and to ensure any slopes were as shallow as possible. Another was to try to bring disabled spectators into the various sporting arenas on the same level as their seats, so they wouldn’t have to move up or down in lifts.

She said: “One of the comments from a lot of disabled people was that the park felt accessible.”

But what she said she most enjoyed was the change in attitudes towards disabled people. “For me, the biggest thing was getting into a lift at Waterloo and finding everyone was talking to me. What is really nice is that that continues to happen.”

But while the infrastructure of London 2012 won praise, many disabled people who attended the Games were less complimentary about the accessibility of some of the events themselves.

Some were disappointed with the lack of audio description at many events, the confusion among games-makers about the equipment and services that were available to disabled people, the failure to provide subtitles and British Sign Language interpreters on the video screens, and LOCOG’s refusal to ensure disabled parents who use wheelchairs could sit with their children in unreserved seating.

Although Hickish is convinced that London 2012 was “the most accessible games ever”, she accepted that there had been problems, and said she felt “a degree of frustration” at LOCOG’s access failures.

She pointed to the failure to allow wheelchair-users to buy tickets online from November 2011, the shortage of detailed access information on the London 2012 website, and some confusing signage around the Olympic Park venues.

She also said that some businesses that ran food concession stands had not been briefed about their own access responsibilities. This led to some of them using the lower-height counters that had been designed for wheelchair-users to store food on instead.

Hickish said she regretted that LOCOG failed to continue consulting with the same group of disabled people that ODA had used for several years on its built environment access panel.

She believes LOCOG’s own consultative group did not enjoy the same relationship that the access panel enjoyed with ODA. “They felt as though they were told what was happening, rather than being asked what should happen.

“We (ODA) went to people who weren’t normally involved in these consultations, including going out and talking to local disability groups, whereas LOCOG, because they were putting on a show, were running at a much faster pace and didn’t perhaps remember to talk to people about their plans.”

As the years ticked down towards 2012, Hickish began working as a consultant for both ODA and LOCOG, and was then appointed as Paralympics adviser to London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, and was spending two days a week with LOCOG.

She worked on projects outside the Olympic Park, taking responsibility for the access improvements to the South Bank, and access arrangements at Heathrow and the capital’s London 2012 Live Sites.

Hickish quit her post with the mayor and LOCOG last December, in part because of “misgivings” about pressures on LOCOG’s access budget, concerns that were borne out by the access problems experienced by some visitors during the Games.

Two weeks ago, she was in Brazil for the official handover from London to Rio as the Olympic and Paralympic host city for 2016 and she ensured that ROCOG, the Rio 2016 organising committee, was aware of both the access successes and the “glitches” at London 2012.

Rio, she said, was 10-15 years behind the UK on access. “Rio has big challenges on transport, much, much bigger challenges than we had, because accessible transport is pretty hit and miss.

“There are only 48 accessible taxis in the whole of Rio, all run by one particular company. Accessible hotel rooms are just a non-occurrence, and there are really big challenges with the accessibility of public buildings.”

Stadium design, too, will test Brazil’s organising body, she said. Traditionally, if a disabled person wants to sit with their family, they will be carried to their seat by staff. At London 2012, family-members were able to join wheelchair-users in the accessible spaces.

But she said Rio had already made one improvement on London 2012’s package: its Paralympic symbol was “truly accessible”, with a pulsating heartbeat so that blind and partially-sighted people and Deaf people can engage with it.

6 December 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Disabled people ‘must take the initiative’ over access to sport

Disabled people need to take the initiative and demand more accessible local sports facilities, a conference has heard.

Stewart Lucas, chief executive of Interactive, which works to increase the number of disabled people taking part in sport and physical activity in London, said that disabled people needed to decide for themselves that they wanted to become active, and it was up to them to demand accessible local facilities.

He said the level of inclusive sporting opportunities would only increase when there was a rise in demand from disabled people.

He was speaking at this week’s One World conference, part of the Together!2012 disability arts festival, and organised by the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC).

Lucas told the conference, which discussed disabled people’s rights to culture, leisure and sport under article 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: “This is about taking control. This is about us not waiting for the council to create something for us to take part in, it’s saying: ‘We are going to do it ourselves.’”

He also called for a closer relationship between disabled people’s and sports organisations, which currently speak “two different languages”.

And he argued that the Paralympics should not be seen as “the disability Olympics”, as only about 14 per cent of disabled people have impairments that could qualify them for the Games, while many disabled people take part in the Olympics, including people with dyslexia, dyspraxia and those on the autistic spectrum.

Lucas, who himself is autistic, said the level of “personal drive” needed to win a medal meant many Olympians “probably have a level of OCD that puts you on the mental health spectrum”.

Ju Gosling, artistic director of Together!2012, said that article 30 gave disabled people equal rights to access sport and the arts as both participants and audience members.

But she said it also gave them the right to secure funding to organise and participate in their own cultural activities, and this had not yet been carried through into government policy.

She said she hoped the festival – which has seen high-quality disability arts, free workshops, and new disability arts groups set up in Newham – would help create a London 2012 legacy, and see disability arts “rise like a phoenix from the ashes”.

Margaret Hickish, who worked as accessibility manager for the Olympic Delivery Authority, which was responsible for building the London 2012 infrastructure, and who later worked as Paralympics adviser to London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, described some of the challenges facing the next Paralympics host, Rio.

She had just returned from Brazil, where she attended the handover from London to Rio as the official Olympic and Paralympic host city.

She said Rio had a number of “huge challenges” around accessible transport, and access to the venues and its airports.

But she said the Rio organisers had already allocated eight per cent of seating to disabled people, with two per cent of spaces to be wheelchair-accessible, two per cent suitable for partially-sighted people, two per cent for obese people and another two per cent for people with mobility impairments.

And she said that the success of the Brazilian Paralympic athlete Alan Fonteles, who sparked headlines across the world by beating Oscar Pistorius over 200 metres in London, meant Paralympians were now seen as “people who are really important and can raise the profile of Brazil”.

She also pointed to Rio’s “truly accessible” Paralympic symbol, which has a pulsating heartbeat so that blind and partially-sighted people and Deaf people can engage with it.

Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC’s chief executive, told the conference how sport can be used to promote the inclusion of disabled people in developing countries.

He was invited to Ghana this summer to develop wheelchair basketball, and witnessed how disabled people who played the sport had “elevated their position in society” and developed their self-esteem and self-image.

Julie Newman, acting chair of UKDPC, pointed out that, despite the public being “completely captivated” by the Paralympics, 2012 had also seen disabled artists and disability arts organisations struggling with funding cuts.

She said that she and Dhani were hoping to meet with Maria Miller, the new Conservative culture secretary – and former disabled people’s minister – to discuss how her department was “intending to fulfil its obligations under article 30”.

Bill Scot, manager of Inclusion Scotland, said the government’s spending cuts would impact on disabled people’s “rights and ability” to access art and sport and other cultural activities if local authorities were only prepared to provide enough funding to ensure disabled people were bathed, clothed, fed and had their toilet needs met.

He said: “If we don’t do something we are going to be rolled back 20 or 30 years when disabled people were stuck in their homes imprisoned and were not able to get out and participate in community life.”

But he added: “We are not going to stand by and see that happen.”

4 December 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

London 2012: LOCOG has ‘let disabled people down’ on accessible info

London 2012 organisers have repeatedly refused to provide information for disabled visitors to the Olympic Park in accessible formats, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.

Ron Newman, co-ordinator of the London 2012 disability advocate group (DAG) – set up to support and engage disabled people in the games – spoke out in a final bid to force the organising committee LOCOG into action.

He and other disabled members of the group have been warning LOCOG for years that they must provide information in “easy read” and Braille versions to visitors on the Olympic Park, but their pleas have been ignored.

His call came only a day after the prominent disabled activist Ruth Bashall criticised London 2012 after helpline staff were unable to tell her if there was a charging point for her powerchair on the Olympic Park, or even if she could bring her charger with her through the security checkpoint.

Newman told DNS he was appalled by LOCOG’s failure on accessible information, and added: “They have let us down. LOCOG have let disabled people down.”

Newman worked for two years as a volunteer “trailblazer” for LOCOG and is now working as a “games-maker” on the Olympic Park, although he made it clear that he was speaking in his capacity as DAG coordinator.

He is working as a games-maker on a visitor information kiosk just outside the main Olympic Stadium but has no easy-read or Braille versions of information such as the daily athletics schedule, how the classification system works, and an explanation of each of the Paralympic athletics classifications.

During a typical evening athletics session, Newman says he has to turn down about 10 requests for easy read or Braille versions of information.

He said he and DAG repeatedly raised the need for information to be available on the Olympic Park in accessible formats and for games-makers to be trained on the accessibility needs of disabled visitors.

He said: “We were told by the diversity and inclusion team, ‘yes, guys, don’t worry, come the opening day of the Olympic Games everything will be sorted.’ So we believed them. They are the professionals.”

But Newman came onto to the Olympic Park on the second day of the Olympics as a spectator and was shocked to find that games-makers did not know what an induction loop was, or where the nearest accessible “Changing Places” toilet was.

Although the training for games-makers was improved in time for the start of the Paralympics, LOCOG is still refusing to supply information to visitors in accessible formats at its information points.

The only accessible format games-makers can offer on the information points is a large print version they can print out if requested by a visitor.

Newman said: “The Braille and easy read is still not here and we are in the Paralympic Games. I don’t know the reason behind it. I have given up asking. I just do my job as a games-maker.

“I offered to help them in the two-week break between the Olympics and the Paralympics but never got the call.”

Newman, a powerchair-user himself, also spoke out about the failure of the London 2012 ticketing team to send out information with tickets about the positioning of power-points on the Olympic Park available to recharge powerchairs.

He said DAG members had repeatedly raised this issue with the ticketing team but were told “we know what we are doing”.

Newman also criticised LOCOG’s failure to include information about charging points on the London 2012 website.

And he said power-points should have been available beside the wheelchair-accessible spaces inside all of the venues – rather than outside at information kiosks – so powerchair-users could recharge their chairs while they watched their events.

DNS understands that Chris Holmes, the multi-gold medal-winning Paralympian who is now director of Paralympic integration for LOCOG, has been informed about the problems with accessible information.

A LOCOG spokesman said the only “official publications” available at the information points were maps of the Olympic Park.

He said: “We endeavour to create all of our publications with accessible formats in mind.

“We have only ever produced publications in other formats on a request basis and the spectator guides which come with tickets are available in other formats on request. Information is also available online in a range of accessible formats.

“Sport schedules can and do change, therefore are not available in publication form. However, staff at the information points will print them off on the day.”

He added: “They do print off schedules but that is not an official publication. The fact that the information is available is because those people in the help points have made that information available.”

He has so far been unable to explain why Braille and easy-read versions of athlete classifications cannot be made available at the information points.

And he said he could not yet explain why information on charging points was not sent out with tickets to powerchair-users.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

London 2012: Activist finds helpline less than helpful

A prominent disabled activist has criticised organisers of the London 2012 Paralympics after telephone helpline staff were unable to tell her if there was an electricity charging point for her powerchair anywhere on the Olympic Park.

Ruth Bashall said the helpline assistant she spoke to did not even know if she could take her charger through the security checkpoint at the entrance to the park.

Her experience raises new questions about the training given to staff working on London 2012’s telephone lines, particularly on issues relating to disabled people and their support and access needs.

And it came only two days after Sue Bott, another leading disabled activist, was left “humiliated” and “incensed” after she was twice interrupted by London 2012 staff while watching the opening ceremony to be told her guide dog was a health and safety hazard.

Bashall, who advised London 2012’s Olympic Delivery Authority on disability issues when it was designing the Olympic Park, made several unsuccessful attempts from Friday afternoon to secure the information she needed.

It was nearly 24 hours later – and only after the issue had been raised by Disability News Service (DNS) – when a London 2012 press officer finally confirmed that chargers could be brought through the security checkpoint, and that there was at least one charging point for powerchairs, near the information kiosk in the park’s World Square.

Bashall, a prominent human rights activist, plans to accompany another powerchair-user and other family and friends to watch the athletics session in the Olympic Stadium this morning (Sunday).

But after a similar trip to the Olympic Games nearly saw her run out of power while making her way around the vast Olympic Park, she wanted to be sure she could recharge her battery if needed.

She said: “I wanted the information in advance as I want to enjoy the day and not have a debate about my basic human rights with security people.”

At one point on Friday she was told by helpline staff that she could not even bring her powerchair onto the Olympic Park because it was a “prohibited” item, and would have to use a London 2012 scooter, which would be inaccessible to her.

She was then told by an adviser that she would need permission to bring this “medical equipment” onto the Olympic Park.

She added: “They were completely uninformed. I don’t think he knew what an electric wheelchair was. Yet again we are treated as a problem, yet again no-one knows what to do with us.”

Bashall said it was “ridiculous” that she had to rely on DNS to find out “what should be basic information”.

She said: “London 2012 clearly hadn’t given the information people the tools to do the job. It’s not going to ruin my day, but it almost did.”

She said she probably spent a total of two hours trying unsuccessfully to find the information she needed over the course of 24 hours from Friday afternoon.

A London 2012 spokesman eventually told DNS, nearly a day after the issue was raised: “We have got them an answer [about the use of chargers] and it is a positive one. We have gone out of our way to help a lot of [disabled] people.”

But he has so far been unable to comment on why London 2012 advice staff appear to be so poorly briefed on the assistance needed by disabled people.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

London 2012: Deaf star calls LOCOG ‘cowardly and immature’ over access complaints

A leading Deaf performer has called London 2012 “cowardly” and “immature” for ignoring his complaints about the lack of accessibility for Deaf visitors to the Paralympic Games.

David Bower had spoken out after visiting the equestrian dressage events in Greenwich Park, and was highly critical of the treatment he received from London 2012 volunteers – known as “games makers”.

He also pointed to the failure to provide any subtitles or British Sign Language interpreters on the video screens, which meant Deaf visitors were unaware of instructions to the crowd – particularly about the importance of keeping quiet while horses were performing – and information about riders and their horses.

The London 2012 organising committee LOCOG has since admitted that the accessibility failings in Greenwich Park apply to all other London 2012 venues.

It has also failed to apologise to Bower, formerly best-known for his role in the hit British film Four Weddings and a Funeral and now just as well-known as artistic director of the “signdance” music theatre company Signdance Collective.

LOCOG claims that it “exceeds standard practice”, that its games makers all receive training on “diversity and inclusion”, that Deaf spectators can bring their own interpreter to events at no cost for the extra seat, and that they can also request a seat with a direct view of one of the video screens, which it says show “predominantly imagery”.

But it has so far failed to explain why there are no subtitles or BSL-interpretation on the London 2012 screens, and how Deaf spectators who cannot afford to bring their own interpreters are expected to understand important instructions for the crowd, such as keeping quiet during crucial parts of some events, including goalball, dressage, blind football and the starts of swimming and athletics races.

After being told of LOCOG’s response, Bower said: “When I attended the equestrian event there was absolutely no indication of any deaf awareness.

“Running after a deaf person in public and being shouted at in front of hundreds of spectators by agitated stewards is outrageous and demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt the lack of deaf awareness.

“May I suggest that the corporate sector stop interfering with access initiatives and leave it to the experts as there is more to civilisation than the profit margin.

“Issuing statements claiming success at achieving effective inclusive practice is extremely immature and cowardly to say the least.”

Isolte Avila, Signdance Collective’s disabled dance director, who was with Bower at Greenwich, said: “So a deaf person just out on a leisure day, ie not work, has to have an interpreter?

“How about deaf international guests, how about deaf courtesy and basic deaf awareness training? There was none at the venue yesterday and the so-called games makers told us they had had no deaf equality training or awareness about basic communication and access for deaf people coming into the parks.

“The games makers were obviously upset about what happened and were confused as to why they had not had any training.”

Bower and Avila had been at the event as guests of the Together! 2012 festival, organised by the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) and being held in the Olympic Stadium borough of Newham, at which they were performing.

Julie Newman, UKDPC’s acting chair, criticised LOCOG’s failure to apologise to Bower or to welcome feedback on its performance on accessibility.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

London 2012: Practice makes nearly perfect for Heathrow on busiest day

Months of planning and investment in access improvements appear to have paid off for Heathrow Airport as it welcomed more than 2,000 athletes and officials on its busiest arrivals day for the London 2012 Paralympics.

Airport bosses said about 430 Paralympic wheelchair-users arrived at the airport on Wednesday (22 August), including members of teams from the USA, Canada, Russia, Australia and Thailand.

Mark Hicks, Heathrow’s head of special assistance, said it had been a “fantastic day” and the airport had “exceeded my expectations”.

But he said what the airport had done was not “ground-breaking”, but a result of hard work and listening to disabled customers.

It has also worked with the disabled children’s mobility charity Whizz-Kidz, which had audited the airport’s facilities.

The airport said its investment in access improvements ahead of the games – which included new lifts for bringing wheelchairs up to and down from aircraft, new ramps, five new buggies for transporting disabled passengers through the airport, and three new accessible toilets – would leave a “lasting accessibility legacy” at Heathrow.

But a new onsite wheelchair repair service, available throughout the London 2012 period and mostly targeted at mobility equipment damaged in transit, will not remain within the airport after the Paralympics are over.

Instead, airlines will be given a telephone number they can use to contact a company that specialises in repairs but is not based at the airport.

Hicks said the service had been used just once on Wednesday, to repair a puncture on an athlete’s wheelchair.

He said it was probably not going to be used enough to justify a permanent facility within the airport, although that could change in the future if there was enough demand and airlines agreed to fund it.

Hicks said feedback from airlines, ground-handling crews and Paralympians themselves on Wednesday was very positive.

On one Air China flight there were 40 wheelchair-users, but airport staff managed to help them all off the aircraft within about 30 minutes.

Hicks said the airport had spoken to current and retired Paralympians and other disabled passengers, and had held more than 70 test events to “practice and practice” for coping with the Paralympics.

He also visited the Parapan American Games in Mexico last November – which hosted 1,300 athletes from 24 American countries in 13 Paralympic sports – to watch how Guadalajara International Airport dealt with the arrival and departure of so many disabled passengers.

The only problems reported on Wednesday, he said, were a couple of athletes’ wheelchairs that failed to arrive because of problems at other airports.

He would not say which teams were affected, but said Heathrow lent the athletes temporary wheelchairs, while their own equipment was expected to arrive and be delivered to the athletes’ village within 24 hours.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com