Sarah Playforth goes to Stoke Mandeville for a Playground to Podium event. / 8 August 2010
On the last Saturday in July, I spent six hours on trains travelling to and from Stoke Mandeville stadium to observe the Playground to Podium event. I had a programme but had no real idea what I'd discover. I was welcomed by Jess Cook, who was an interesting, informative and inspiring escort. She took me to observe several different groups of disabled children trying out athletic track and field events, wheelchair basketball, table tennis, swimming etc.
I found the approach to disability in terms of sport and working towards the paralympics was very different from my personal and professional perspective. For me in my daily life, the social model approach, while not the answer to everything related to disability, is my preferred approach. Here I found that a person's impairment and level of impairment was the main measure for what sport was appropriate and at what level they competed. The focus here was on competition and striving to be better than others by aiming to do one's best performance possible. With sport, there are objective ways to assess performance, not so with art, which is much more subjective.
I wonder - can we only be successfully active or only successfully artistic? Or is aiming to be both realistic or possible? If we aim to be good at both, does that preclude being excellent at either? And is the main thing, if you are a disabled person, to have the same opportunities as non disabled young people, whether art or sport is your interest? In my experience, disabled children are often steered towards certain activities, based on the assumptions of others about what their capabilities are.
Another issue for me was that inevitably, it is those children who have adult support who will succeed - all the children had been brought to Stoke Mandeville by their parents or guardians. How many children who have the ability to be paralympians but don't have this support will be "spotted" and encouraged?
The speaker for the day was a paralympian snowboarder who held a group of parents and children spell bound with her story and pictures and had three bits of advice, of which I am sorry to say I only remember two: have a plan and never give up.
I took a few photos - no, not of the children but of the accessible loos - just because they were such a good example!