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It’s Time For A Disabled Lives Matter Campaign

August 16, 2021

People with disabilities need a global campaign similar to the Black Lives Matter movement, the president of the International Paralympic Committee has said.

Speaking before the Paralympic Games, which begin in Tokyo later this month, Andrew Parsons, 44, said that too many disabled people were invisible and held back from participating fully in society.

“We’re not advancing as much as we could,” Parsons said. “If you see some other movements, like Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ+ movement and the gender equality movement, they are advancing more than the movement for people with disability.”

An international campaign to tackle discrimination against those with disabilities will be announced on Thursday by a coalition including the IPC, the UN and the World Health Organisation.

Parsons said the pandemic had highlighted inequality across the world, pointing out that even in Britain almost 60 per cent of those dying from Covid had a disability. “We really consider they were left behind in the moment of crisis. When they needed services, they needed to be treated equally to other citizens. I think the majority of societies have failed.

“In many societies they are invisible, so one of the aims of the campaign is to make the issue visible. You cannot ignore 1.2 billion people, one in every seven human beings.”

Discrimination towards those with a disability was more hidden than other prejudices, he said. “It’s different with disability, because for example with race the motive comes from hate … No one hates a person because he or she is in a wheelchair, but many ignore what this person could do.”

Giving the example of the host nation, Japan, he said many countries stifled the potential of people with disabilities by coming from an “angle of super-protection”. He added: “While Tokyo is a very accessible city compared with other major cities in the world, you don’t see disabled people in the streets, because they are kept at home. And disabled people don’t only need protection … they need to be given opportunity.”

Parsons’s predecessor, Sir Philip Craven, 71, played wheelchair basketball for Britain and retired after the Rio Games. Unlike Craven, Parsons has never been a Paralympian and has no disability. Yet he sees his appointment as a sign of progress. “A person without a disability can be the president of the IPC, just as one day I would like to have someone with a disability as president of the International Olympic Committee. Why not?”

The television producer Ash Atalla, who worked on The Office and The IT Crowd, said that the representation of those with disabilities was still a problem. “It cannot be right that you can barely point to a disabled character that is not defined by their disability on TV,” he said.

Attalla, who contracted polio as a baby, admitted he had felt “a bit uncomfortable” when Ricky Gervais referred to him as “my little wheelchair friend”.

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