Inspired Whizz-Kidz describe their hopes for a London 2012 legacy

Young disabled campaigners have issued a five-point manifesto that describes the positive legacy they want to see from the success of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

The five recommendations come from young “ambassadors” of the disability charity Whizz-Kidz, which provides wheelchairs and other mobility equipment to disabled children.

In a new Whizz-Kidz report, Generation Inspired?, they say they want to see schools, disability sports clubs, young people and families working together to share their expertise and facilities, in order to improve sporting opportunities.

But they make it clear in the report that they also want to see a non-sporting legacy from London 2012.

They want young disabled people to play an “active role” in shaping decisions that affect their lives.

And they want employers to do more to provide accessible work placements and internships, they want better access to public transport, and they want to see more young disabled people “visible” in media, fashion and advertising.

One of the charity’s network of young disabled ambassadors said: “I want to see people with disabilities in more prominent places, such as in business, politics, the media and the arts world.”

Research for the report, based on the views of the ambassadors – and their parents – found two-thirds of young disabled people said the Paralympics had inspired them to get involved in sport, although more than two-thirds of the parents who took part in the survey said their children’s schools did not play any Paralympic sports.

The research found that more than 90 per cent of disabled young people had watched last summer’s Paralympic Games in London.

Many of the ambassadors who took part in the research said London 2012 had made them feel “proud to be disabled”, and that they had been inspired by the exploits of the athletes.

The report has been backed by wheelchair-racer Hannah Cockroft, a double-gold medallist from the London games, who was given her first sports wheelchair by Whizz-Kidz six years ago, and who helped deliver Generation Inspired? to Downing Street, and spoke at its parliamentary launch.

Cockroft said she wanted to see more young people becoming involved in disability sport, but added: “I just want people to be more confident and to feel accepted in society, whatever they choose to do, even if it’s not sport.

“I just want to see [disabled] people living out their dreams and not being scared to do that.”

She said London 2012 already had a successful legacy because the Paralympics were now seen as a genuinely “parallel games” with the Olympics, and because of their impact on the confidence of disabled people to engage with society.

Cockroft said: “I have just seen so many more people being opened up to more experiences. You see more disabled people out there on the streets on their own, and they know they will be more accepted.”

Joel Connor-Saunders, a talented young wheelchair basketball player with the Norwich Lowriders, who also helped deliver the report to Downing Street, said he wanted to see more sporting opportunities opened up to young disabled people.

He said he had noticed many more people talking to him about wheelchair basketball since London 2012, and recognising it as a proper sport, rather than something disabled people just do because they can’t compete in mainstream sport.

27 February 2013

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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”.

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London 2012: Golden Paralympian says ‘I couldn’t have done it without DLA’

A British Paralympian has spoken of the crucial contribution disability living allowance (DLA) has made to her independence, and to her gold-medal-winning performance at London 2012.

Danielle Brown is believed to be the first member of the ParalympicsGB squad to speak out since the games began on the importance of the benefits and other financial support received by our elite disabled athletes.

Her comments will deliver a boost to disabled campaigners who fear the government will use the success of Britain’s Paralympians as an excuse for cutting vital support to disabled people.

Brown, who won an archery gold medal in the individual compound event on Tuesday to add to the gold she won in Beijing four years ago, is believed to be the first disabled athlete to represent England in a non-disabled Commonwealth Games team, after qualifying for Delhi in 2010 and winning a team gold.

She receives the higher rate mobility component of DLA, and also the DLA care component, but prefers not to say at which level.

Like many ParalympicsGB athletes, her life is focused almost entirely on her sport, but when told by Disability News Service (DNS) of the government’s plans to replace DLA with a new personal independence payment and cut spending by 20 per cent, she said simply: “Oh, wow.”

She said: “From a personal perspective, without the support, I personally couldn’t manage. If it was to be cut I know I would struggle. I can see how that would make other people be affected in a similar way.”

She added: “I have got a Motability car [which is paid for with her DLA mobility payment] which I couldn’t manage without. I would struggle if I didn’t have a car.”

When asked whether she agreed that the Paralympics showed the need to support disabled people in all areas of life, she said: “Yes. I couldn’t do what I do without all the financial support.”

She has to drive an automatic car and also needs expensive hand controls that are paid for through the Motability scheme, and uses her car when away competing, although she often leaves her wheelchair in the car because she can walk short distances on crutches.

Without her DLA, and without her car, she would be forced to take public transport. “If I catch a train it is very difficult. What do I do when I get to the other end, especially if I have very heavy equipment with me?”

Like many other Paralympians, she also spoke of her belief that London 2012 was “changing people’s perceptions about disability”.

“Hopefully it will change [non-disabled] people’s perceptions that you are not able to do anything just because you are disabled,” she said. “People’s perceptions change, but it is not going to happen overnight.

“I do think the Paralympics have changed people’s perception of disability and hopefully that will remove some of the barriers disabled people face.”

She added: “It will be just a total shame if the Paralympics finished and that was it. It has got to be worked at.”

Partly, she said, this should mean more media coverage of disability and Paralympic sport, and “more opportunities” for disabled athletes.

She also paid tribute to Channel 4 for its extensive coverage of the Paralympics, both in the months leading up to, and during, the games.

Brown is the first of a string of Paralympians approached by DNS since the games started who has been prepared to speak out on the issue of DLA cuts.

Asked why other athletes had failed to speak out so far, she said: “I genuinely think that your focus is on the competition. You focus so hard on training, competing… it is not like real life.”

She said she and other Paralympic athletes were just not aware of what was happening with welfare reform and cuts, and other political disability issues.

“It is a bit like The Truman Show [the film in which Jim Carrey plays a man trapped inside a TV reality show]. If you don’t go actively looking for it, you don’t get any external influences at all.

“And when you’re here you are so focused on competing. That’s what it’s about. It’s to do with competing. We are sports people, not politicians.”

Brown said she loves competing. “I genuinely like being put under pressure. I really do like it. I just like the whole atmosphere.”

She first tried archery at the age of 15, at a time when she didn’t know anything about disability sport. “I figured it was down to archery or swimming and archery seemed so much more fun than bobbing up and down in a pool.”

But she has had to make sacrifices for her success. In 2010, after finishing her law studies at university – she was awarded a first-class degree – she moved away from her family and friends to Shropshire so she could train full-time at Archery GB’s base at the Lilleshall National Sports Centre.

She trains for between three and seven hours a day, six days a week, while many weekends are taken up by travel and tournaments.

“By Monday, I am shattered. I have to have a day off. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to function.”

As well as DLA, she receives lottery-funded support through UK Sport, which helps pay her living and training costs, although this funding is ruthlessly based on performance at just one top-level competition a year. Having won gold this week, she said she “should be ok for a year”.

The DLA and UK Sport funding, she said, mean she “can live independently”.

But she has also received generous backing from the charity Get Kids Going!, after meeting its chief executive Jane Emmerson early last year.

The charity helps fund equipment for disabled children and young people and is now raising funds to set up a sports centre to help more budding Paralympians.

It has helped aspiring young disabled athletes such as David Weir – since he was just eight years old – Shelly Woods, powerlifter Ali Jawad, and wheelchair tennis player Louise Hunt.

“Jane Emmerson was great because at the time my wheelchair frame was bent,” said Brown. “Every time I went out I was wheeling around in circles. They bought a new wheelchair for me, which was absolutely fantastic, and also help contribute towards equipment and training costs.

“Archery is a ridiculously expensive sport. The fact that somebody believed in me and paid for stuff I needed was incredible.”

Brown added: “Get Kids Going! is a really great charity because it helps fund equipment for aspiring athletes to achieve their dreams.”

As well as the buzz of competing at London 2012, she has also enjoyed the “absolutely incredible” atmosphere in the athletes’ village. “You meet people from other sports or countries,” she said, “and everyone will stop and say hello.”

Outside the village, there has been “so much support” from the public. “You can’t move for people wanting to take pictures with you and have an autograph.

“I was genuinely astounded by the huge amount of people in the Olympic Park: thousands and thousands of people. And they are all supporting us.”

When asked what it was like to be mobbed when she ventured out onto the Olympic Park, she said: “It’s a bit weird to be honest. I suppose I wasn’t expecting it at all. It is so great that the public are behind what we are doing. I really didn’t expect we would get this much recognition.”

After her sporting career finishes, she has decided not to move into the law. Like many Paralympians, she already delivers “motivational speaking” for company events and conferences, but would also like to move into the area of disability awareness training.

And Rio 2016 is “definitely” a target, where she will be hoping for her third consecutive gold medal. But first she is going to take some time off, “just for a chill out and rest”. It will be her first holiday in three years.

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London 2012: Only one in 50 opening ceremony volunteers was disabled

London 2012 organisers have admitted that only one in 50 of the volunteers who took part in the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games was a disabled person.

The ceremony has been widely-praised, particularly for the performance of its 73 professional Deaf and disabled performers and the work of its two disabled co-directors, Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings.

But it was clear that nearly all of the volunteer cast of 3,250 who took part – ranging from 10 to 80 years of age – were not disabled people.

Two months ago, the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG said that about 100 disabled people had auditioned for the Paralympic opening ceremony and “almost all” had been successful, as part of a cast of 3,000 adults and 100 children.

But LOCOG now says that only 68 of 3,250 volunteers were disabled people, including just 27 wheelchair-users, only three people with learning difficulties, and just one with autism.

Volunteers rehearsed for an average of 85 hours each.

LOCOG refused to comment on the number of disabled volunteers, other than to refer Disability News Service to the comments it made in June.

There was heavy criticism of LOCOG at the time over the “inappropriate” demands it was placing on potential disabled volunteers, including a call for people with “huge amounts of energy”, and its initial failure to say whether it would fund the travel and support costs of disabled volunteers.

But it claimed then that “almost everyone who auditioned who has a disability has been successful” in becoming a volunteer performer.

Ju Gosling, director of Together! 2012, the free disability arts and human rights festival taking place less than a mile from the Olympic Stadium during the Paralympics, said she was “really shocked” that the number of disabled volunteer performers was “even lower than originally thought”.

She said: “I’m particularly appalled that only three out of 3,000 performers had learning difficulties, given the world-class companies such as Anjali Dance Company and Magpie Dance who could have been featured prominently.”

She added: “How can London 2012 square this with the promise of Boris Johnson (London’s Conservative mayor) to host the most diverse and inclusive games ever?

“It would have been perfectly possible to choreograph and rehearse the ceremony in such a way as to have 100 per cent of the performers being either disabled, carers or personal assistants.”

She added: “Given all of the public money that has been invested in the games, we also had a right to expect that ‘legacy’ considerations would be paramount, but there is nothing in these figures to suggest legacy issues have been considered at all.”

The Together! festival is led by the UK Disabled People’s Council, and includes a preview of Ian Farrant’s exhibition of photographs of disabled athletes, and performances by Sign Dance Collective and the internationally-renowned Indian guitarist Benny Prasad and US comedian David Roche.

Together! is taking place between 29 August and 9 September, with some events being held during Disability History Month later this year.

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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.

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London 2012: Royal Mail thinks again on Paralympic stamps

Royal Mail has agreed to produce individual stamps to mark every gold medal won by British athletes during the London 2012 Paralympics, following pressure from leading Paralympians and campaigners.

It had faced criticism last week when it emerged that it was intending to bring out just six stamps to mark the achievements of all the ParalympicsGB gold-medallists, even though it had produced individual stamps to celebrate every one of Team GB’s 29 Olympic gold medals.

It blamed “logistical” problems, claiming far more gold medals were expected from Britain’s Paralympians than its Olympians, and over a shorter time period.

But this week Royal Mail announced that it was “pulling out all the stops” to produce individual stamps for every British Paralympic gold medal.

Because it expects as many as 60 gold medals over the 11 days of the games, Royal Mail pledged to have the stamps on sale at 518 post offices across the UK within five working days of each victory, before rolling them out eventually to another 5,000 branches.

Rower Naomi Riches, who last week said individual stamps would be another step towards giving Paralympic athletes “as much credit for their achievements as Olympic athletes”, praised Royal Mail’s about-turn, which she said would make a win “even more special” and help raise the profile of Paralympic sport.

She had previously suggested to Royal Mail that athletes would be happy to “wait a little longer” for individual stamps.

But Riches said it was now important to focus on “what we need to do in the next two weeks to put ourselves in the best position to win that gold so that we can sit on the start line and know that we have done all we can and can put in our best performance”.

Royal Mail had already announced that it would paint an extra post-box gold in the home town of every British Paralympic gold medallist – just as it has done with the Olympics – and set up a £200,000 prize fund to be split between all gold medal-winners, which is believed to be a similar amount to its Olympic fund.

Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, who was critical of the original decision not to produce individual stamps for Paralympians, praised the “very impressive” part that Riches had played in persuading Royal Mail to change its mind.

She said it was important that Paralympic athletes themselves had played a part in over-turning the decision, because “they are the role models, the ones who carry the legacy and who in 20 years’ time are going to be talking about the fact that their faces were on the stamps, inspiring the next generation”.

She said the amount of public support for the idea of individual stamps had been “overwhelming”.

Mish Tullar, Royal Mail’s director of media relations, said: “Following the success of our Olympics gold medal stamps and with clear public demand for individual Paralympic gold medal stamps, and from our Paralympians themselves, we’re pulling out all the stops to deliver these too.”

Andrew Hammond, managing director of Royal Mail Stamps, said the Paralympics gold medal stamps programme would be “the greatest logistical challenge in stamps production ever undertaken by any postal administration”.

The British Paralympic Association, which had welcomed Royal Mail’s original plans for just six stamps, said it was “delighted that the offer has been increased”.

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London 2012: Paralympic trio hope for overdue recognition

Three British Paralympians have spoken of their hopes that London 2012 will lead to a greater recognition of their talents, skills and fitness.

Naomi Riches, a five-time adaptive rowing world champion and a Paralympic bronze medallist in Beijing in the mixed coxed four,  says she is desperate for the public to move away from the typical “oh, aren’t they brave” attitude.

The adaptive rowing team now trains alongside the non-disabled team that secured nine Olympic medals, and Riches believes the standards of the two teams are comparable.

She insists that she is looking forward to racing, even though she knows it is going to be “gruelling… painful, really hard work”.

As a partially-sighted member of the quartet, she wears goggles that block out all light, so she has to concentrate on listening to cox Lily van den Broecke – who steers the boat and delivers instructions to the rest of the crew – and attuning herself to the “feel” of the boat.

She says the crowd’s encouragement will sound like a “wall of noise” that will have a “positive effect” on her performance even though she will be concentrating on the cox and the boat, because she will know that “the majority of that crowd are shouting for us”.

She adds: “You have to stay within the rhythm and help the boat move fast and not do anything that will slow it down, and be really attuned to what’s happening beneath your bum and your feet.”

Riches, who has been rowing for eight years and describes herself as “quietly determined”, was talent-spotted at an adaptive rowing awareness day in 2004.

Another Paralympian who wants the members of ParalympicsGB to win better recognition of their talents – as well as medals – at London 2012 is wheelchair fencer David Heaton.

He came out of retirement to compete in the team event at London 2012, in what will be his fifth games, and will be the only member of the seven-strong fencing team to have previous experience of the Paralympics.

He says he will judge whether it has been a successful games by the quantity of media coverage.

“Hopefully, at the end of the games the British public will recognise Paralympic sport as an elite sport and we will get the recognition we deserve,” he says.

“A lot of people will not have seen any disability sport or Paralympic sports before. I am hoping people talk about us and recognise us and hopefully the profile of Paralympic sport grows and grows.”

The aspect of the games he is most looking forward to is the opening ceremony, particularly so he can watch his team-mates – such as 14-year-old Gabi Down, who has spoken of Heaton as something of a mentor to her and other members of the team – as they come out of the tunnel into the Olympic Stadium on the evening of 29 August.

“For everybody else, it will be their first time. I am more excited for them and [looking forward to] watching their faces as we come out, than for myself.”

His first games was Barcelona in 1992, when the Paralympics “stepped up a level”, and he says the opening ceremony “is an experience you never forget”.

Britain’s most successful boccia player, Nigel Murray – with two golds and a silver from three previous games, and currently ranked number one in the world – is another Paralympian hoping for greater recognition of his team-mates’ talents.

“I think it will let people know what people can achieve regardless of their disability,” he says.

Like Riches, he hopes “home advantage” will count. “We want people to get behind all the GB athletes and give us that support and encouragement,” he says.

“Hopefully, it will inspire us to do the best we can do and also intimidate our opponents.

“In Beijing, coming out [into the arena] was deafening and it was a partisan crowd. They played a huge part in those games and hopefully ours can do the same.”

The heats of the mixed coaxed four start at 11.30am on 31 August.

The men’s wheelchair fencing team event takes place on 8 September.

The boccia events take place between 2 September and 8 September.

News provided by John Pring at

London 2012: ‘Golden’ Nyree welcomes new recruit to Team Kindred

As one half of the “golden couple” of British Paralympics, Nyree Kindred is well used to media attention; but there has been a new addition to the high profile team since the Beijing games in 2008.

Last year, Kindred gave birth to Ella, and she is determined that her daughter will be in the crowd to watch her race in the 100 metres backstroke (S6) at London 2012.

Her husband, Sascha, who she married two years ago, will also be competing in the pool, but they are now well-used to the media spotlight that was first switched on in Athens in 2004, when they both won gold medals on the same day.

“It not only gets us in the limelight,” she told Disability News Service, “but it gets disability sport in the media.”

Kindred – who already has two Paralympic gold medals from three Paralympic Games – says the early morning sessions of a professional swimmer were tough in Ella’s first few months, when she was waking frequently through the night, but her daughter’s sleeping schedule is now much more attuned to the requirements of her parents’ training routines.

“She sleeps well through the night and as we are getting ready for training she wakes up,” said Kindred.

But Ella’s ability to fit in well with her parents’ punishing swimming regime is no surprise: her mother was in the pool on the morning she was due to give birth – Ella was born the following day – and she took just six weeks off after the birth.

Ella now attends a nursery, but also comes to the pool a couple of time a week with her mother.

Kindred said she hopes she is a role model for other disabled parents, often simply by being “out and about and having Ella on my lap” in her wheelchair.

Like any other disabled parents – they both have cerebral palsy – she and Sascha have learned to adapt, and so has Ella. There are some things Nyree cannot do, and there are others that Sascha cannot do.

“We just adapt and the baby adapts,” she said. “Ella adapts to how we do things. If I am feeding her she knows that I do not get her, she will crawl over to me.”

Kindred said she was also keen to demonstrate that disabled people can achieve at the highest levels “as long as you have support”, whether it is through swimming, writing a book, or becoming a teacher.

Another key member of the swimming team, Jim Anderson, is also hoping that the London 2012 Paralympics will improve attitudes towards disabled people.

One of the British team’s most successful Paralympians, London will be his sixth games, and he already has six gold medals in the S2 category, including four from Athens in 2004.

He is another Paralympian who expresses the hope that the games will “just make people realise that disabled people are normal people”.

Being in the public eye, he says, “helps me put disabled people forward. It makes people realise that they are just people. A wheelchair is just a wheelchair.”

But he was reluctant to speak in depth about the issue of disability rights. He is, he says, “a swimmer first and foremost”.

The London 2012 swimming events will take place between 30 August and 8 September

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London 2012: New recruit set to be one of GB’s stars of the Paralympics

Nine months ago, Ibrahima Diallo did not even know that he had cerebral palsy (cp). Now he is preparing to play a starring role for the ParalympicsGB seven-a-side football team at London 2012.

It was only when a team physio spotted his unusual running style after he was called up to the mainstream English Colleges national squad that Diallo was diagnosed with cp.

Although he had never heard of cp before, he said he was “relieved” to find out what had been causing his long-standing fitness problems.

Growing up, as a talented footballer, he had been to a string of physiotherapists to find out why he had problems with long-distance running and flexibility, and with the right-hand side of his body, and why he experienced back pain after matches. None of the specialists had suggested cp as a possible cause.

Despite his fitness problems, he has been playing football nearly full-time while studying at the Bristol Academy of Sport, part of Filton College.

The Arsenal fan admitted to being “shocked” when he heard about the possibility of being drafted into the national Paralympics seven-a-side squad, which is made up solely of players with varying degrees of cp.

He And he said he “didn’t know what to expect” when he was introduced to the squad, and was unsure how to “adapt and socialise” with his new disabled team-mates.

But he added: “I didn’t have to change anything. I have just been myself and the guys were cool, I felt welcome right from the start.”

Diallo said that he didn’t think too much about disability before his diagnosis, but has now been forced to compare his own impairment with those of his team-mates.

He said: “It really makes you think about the commitment they put into it. It made me push myself a bit more not to moan about my disability compared to others.”

He also admitted to thinking that Paralympic football would be easy, until he had a rude awakening when he played against Russia and Ukraine, two of the world’s three top-ranked teams.

Diallo said: “The standard was really high. That was a big surprise. All my friends at college were surprised as well because I showed them the video.”

He hopes that he has brought a “bit of extra quality into the team” and some tactical understanding, and had tried to pass that on to some of his team-mates.

He has found it fascinating working with the team, some of whom have learning difficulties and so “tend to process things quite slow”, while in training it “takes a lot longer for some of the players to understand what is going on”.

He said he will decide his future plans after the Paralympics, but hopes to go to university in September to study IT.

He added: “I am not sure how to balance it at the moment. I am going to try hardest to do both [disability and mainstream football] and study at the same time. I think my mum will stop me from playing at all if I don’t get a degree.”

The seven-a-side football competition starts on 1 September, with the final on 9 September. Britain are in a pool with Ukraine, USA and Brazil.

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London 2012: Bombing survivor says Paralympics will be ‘dream come true’

A survivor of the 7/7 bombings says competing in the London 2012 Paralympics and taking part in the opening ceremony will be “an absolute dream come true”.

Martine Wiltshire, who had both legs amputated after the 2005 terrorist bombings in London, will be competing for the ParalympicsGB team in sitting volleyball.

She said that playing the sport at elite level had helped fill the gap left by having to quit her previous career as an international marketing manager, a way of bringing back “some sort of meaning” to her life.

Wiltshire said that entering the Olympic Stadium on 29 August for the Paralympics opening ceremony would be the moment when she realised: “Oh my God, I’m here.”

And she said that her family, Londoners like herself, would be just as emotional when they saw her in the stadium.

She said: “Obviously they are going to be really proud. I think they are going to be crying. There are definitely going to be tears in the house.

“After such an awful lot of pain in all our lives, to be able to say that your daughter or your wife is a Paralympian…”

Her last memory of being at work before she was caught up in the suicide bombings of 7 July 2005 was of watching the announcement on television that London had been awarded the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

She said: “I remember jumping up and down. We went out for a few celebratory drinks in the evening. I went to go back to work in the morning and picked up the paper, and every single page was about the Olympics.

“All I kept thinking was, ‘how do I get tickets to the Olympics?’ and then the bomb went off. I was literally holding my paper, reading about the Olympics.”

She said that repeatedly talking to the media about the day of the bombings had been “cathartic”. “In the beginning I didn’t speak about it for a year, [but since then] I have always felt like I have had a sort of duty to talk about it because it was such a big event in London, in the UK, in the world.”

She said her injury and recovery had helped her bond with other members of the sitting volleyball team, the majority of whom had become disabled as a result of a “traumatic” experience.

Wiltshire said she had always been “sporty” at school and university – where she studied psychology and communication studies – and took up sitting volleyball after a Paralympic talent-spotting event in 2009.

She said: “I was always very competitive. I tried sitting volleyball and absolutely fell in love with it. It is very dramatic… it’s a great team sport.”

Wiltshire said she believed that “fate” had played a part in her journey from 7/7 survivor to Paralympian.

She points to coincidences, such as training with the team in Roehampton while facing the hospital – Queen Mary’s – where she spent six months in rehabilitation from her injuries.

The first match she played in for the team was on 7 July, and the event that announced the sitting volleyball squad selected to take part in London 2012 was at City Hall, on the south bank of the Thames, opposite the building where she used to work.

She said: “It wasn’t by chance, it was something to do with fate. Maybe I was always meant to do this journey.”

As other disabled athletes have done, she also spoke of how she hoped that the London 2012 Paralympics would have “the power to change people’s views” about disability sport, persuading the public that Paralympians are not just “giving it a go” but are “elite athletes”.

She added: “People will hopefully see that having a disability does not mean that life stops. There are huge opportunities out there.

“As well as being sports people, we have a responsibility to show disability sport in its real light. And hopefully inspire young, old, disabled, not-disabled people to go out and achieve whatever dreams they want to achieve.”

The women’s sitting volleyball takes place between 31 August and 7 September, with Britain’s first match on 31 August against European champions Ukraine. They will also face Netherlands and Japan in the group stages.

News provided by John Pring at