Making the most of the Paralympic legacy

Well wasn't it great the way the Paralympics attracted so much attention. Yes of course some people will only have bought tickets because they failed to get them for the Olympics and they wanted to experience the location, the atmosphere and the buzz. But what they possibly didn't anticipate was the insights they would gain into the abilities of disabled people which hopefully will remain with them as a lasting legacy.

In the build up to the Games there was much talk of the Olympic and Paralympic Legacy. For instance there have been many initiatives put in place to improve inclusion and access for disabled travellers – which should leave a lasting legacy – but will they?

The airlines and airports supposedly ‘rolled out the red carpet’ for the Paralympics, with Heathrow putting in place an onsite wheelchair repair service and specialist lifts, along with other facilities. Paralympians have spoken of “having a fantastic welcome at Heathrow with plenty of helpers around”.

Stansted Airport put in place its Stansted Flyers, 70 non-operational staff who volunteered and were trained to “meet and greet” the Paralympians. Their role was to greet the athletes to ensure their transfers through the airport was as smooth as possible. Well now there's an idea ... but why should this only be available during the Paralympics?

Another initiative involved providing 16 key tube stations with manual boarding ramps to help wheelchair and scooter users to board trains more easily at stations where there is a gap between the train and the platform, but which are otherwise accessible. Tube bosses told Channel 4 News they would try to keep, and even expand, a network of accessible ramps for disabled passengers which were only expected to remain for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, after pressure from campaigners and the media. I wonder what the status of these is now?

And according to the Home Office, hotels and businesses across London adapted their facilities to better meet the needs of disabled people. Let's hope these are at least still in place.

But there are other customer service issues which rarely make headline news but which are just as important. The Paralympic swimmer Ellie Simmonds has already taken 2 Golds, a Silver and a Bronze and smashed a world record, but I wonder how many self service terminals she is able to use, with the majority being designed for someone of standard height. The equestrian Sophie Christianson was awarded a Masters in Maths shortly before winning a Gold in each of her three events, yet are service providers thinking of her manual dexterity difficulties when designing their touch screen terminals, or mobile phones? And the very idea of David Weir, "the Weirwolf of London" who won 4 Golds, being turned away from establishments without wheelchair access, or being unable to easily use an ATM is frankly ridiculous.

Alex Zanardi’s, who won Gold in the Paralympic Handcycling event at Brands Hatch, is the Italian ex-Formula 1 driver, who lost both legs following a crash in 2001. Within minutes of winning Gold, he was interviewed and said "This is a great accomplishment, one of the greatest of my life," but he also expressed sadness at having reached the horizon he had been aiming for throughout his preparation.

Let’s hope that the inclusive initiatives that have been put in place by service providers in anticipation of the Paralympic games have not reached their horizon. Let the success of the initiatives put in place for the Paralympics be the inspiration to do more, to set further challenges and new horizons, which is what Zanardi will surely have been applying himself to.

Paralympic Legacy