Just before my 25th Birthday I started to have severe epileptic seizures and life changed over night for me. I went from being successful in my job, having an active social life & being extremely fit to being in a situation where I was taking my employers to employment tribunal for constructive dismissal & disability discrimination, having very few friends who anymore and not being able to go anywhere by myself. I had to start claiming disability benefits as I had no way of earning any money anymore, which after having a successful career previously was incredibly tough. Going through the process was the most degrading and humiliating experience of my life & I was constantly made to feel like I was a burden and faking my illness. ATOS the company who assess our disabled people treat everybody like benefit cheats & when you are having to deal with that kind of attitude every day it really does effect your self worth. Yet ATOS were one of the main sponsors of the games.......Really?!?! Our team however hid all ATOS branding during our opening ceremony in protest of the way the firm treats our disabled people! You can read more about that here.
The way our current government are attacking our disabled is only making this situation worse! They have launched a blanket attack on everybody who claims any benefits regardless of the reasons. The people who really suffer when this happens is always the people who really need it! The system is designed to make it hard to claim anything and when you are struggling to get through every day these added obstacles can seem impossible to deal with. It really does make my blood boil watching rich, privileged and able bodied politicians with no concept of the physical, emotional & financial hardships of living with disability spout out judgemental & derogatory speeches linking our disabled to our countries financial woes. This attitude spreads & many people who don't come in to contact with disabled people actually do believe this sentiment and see our disabled simply as a drain on our country's resources.
However I have been pleasantly surprised by the way our country has embraced the Paralympics and supported the athletes. The audiences have been packed & cheering with the same enthusiasm that they had for the Olympics. The athletes were seen for their achievements not just their disability which is fantastic! It has been a chance to show that despite facing obstacles Paralympians are capable of fantastic feats equal to that of Olympians. When I was facing so many obstacles trying to live an independent life while having up to 10 seizures a day I didn't have any role models to show me that life can still be great & you can still be outstanding despite of your imperfections. However young people who are in the same position now have had 2 weeks of hope & positivity fill our country showing that disability is not something that has to stop you in your tracks! Seeing veterans & a victim of the London tube Bombings say that they are proud to be where they are & that their lives have changed for the better has to change public opinions doesn't it?
Seeing the Parade go through London with the athletes from the Olympics & Paralympics standing side by side celebrating as equals & receiving the same warm welcome from the crowd really is heart warming to watch. But will this effect last? Will there be a long standing change in the attitudes of our nations disabled? Or will tomorrow bring about a return to previous form? Will the government to continue their attack on our most vulnerable without protests? I really hope that is not the case.