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How cool is Crip? / 21 September 2012

crippen cartoon showing a group considering how to make sports more inclusive. a man offers a suggestion that the answer is to introduce 'dwarf tossing' as an olympic sport

Crippen - 'Dwarf tossing' cartoon

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What a wonderful summer it was! The Paralympics! Unlimited! Wasn’t it fantastic?

For the first time in sporting history the Paralympics got its own Open and Closing Ceremonies, putting the Games on the same level playing field as the Olympics. The Paralympics Opening Ceremony had everything – a fly past, Stephen Hawking, the Big Bang, umbrellas, a giant blinking eye, Newton’s apple, Miranda from The Tempest, over 140 deaf and disabled artistes and volunteers. It was fab.

And then the sport started.

Jonnie Peacock, David Weir, Ellie Simmonds – and sold out arenas everywhere. Team GB did the country proud – 31 Golds, 39 Silver, 38 Bronze, second only to China.

It was if the British Paralympians were saying to their counterparts in the Olympic team, ‘Anything you can do we can do better.’

And then Unlimited started.

Sue Austin, Rachel Gadsen, Jez Colborne – great art everywhere. For 11 days at the Southbank Centre from the end of August to 9 September a festival that brought work by disabled artists up and down the country to London and kept the joyous of mood of celebration on the rise.

It was as if the Unlimited artists were saying to their counterparts in the Cultural Olympiad, ‘Anything you can do we can do better.’

It would be easy to be cynical about all of this. But let’s just go with it… For a moment it was if the country had a vision of a nation that was truly inclusive, where a Paralympian ran in the Olympics, where art by disabled people was seen in huge numbers, where it really did seem as if were all in this together.

Crip was Cool! Chic! Mainstream!

But.

And there is always a ‘but’ when it comes to how disabled people are seen in this country. Atos sponsored the Paralympics. The same Atos that carry out the Work Capability Assessments that so many disabled people are in fear of. Right on cue, Wayne Fisher, the athlete who played for the Team GB wheelchair basketball team, has had his DLA cut.

Channel 4 are still showing programmes that show a basic lack of respect to disabled people – like the Last Leg, when they asked is it OK to hit a disabled person. And this in their Paralympics ‘after show’ slot. How long before we’re back to other dubious programmes like The Undateables?

Unlimited has ended – but how many arts programmes feature disabled artists? How many big exhibitions of work by disabled artists are getting hung? How many disabled performers are being cast in West End shows?

How cool is Crip?

Like I say, it would be easy to be cynical, to say that the whole summer was just one big con, bread and circuses, with the disabled back to being targets and scapegoats for a shaky Coalition and their tabloid goons.

But I’d like to think that some of the advances made by disabled athletes, artists, and activists will make a difference. That those who cheered on the Paralympians and checked out Unlimited will continue to see disabled people as different, just like they are.

It’s time Crips demanded not just choices and rights, but their due.

Keywords: 2012 olympics