Re-defining 'disability'?

06/09/2012  -  10.48am

Dr Richard Medcalf, Lecturer in Sport and Leisure

The Paralympics have captured the imagination of the country, they have accepted the metaphorical baton from the Olympic Games in spectacular fashion.

For many spectators, these Paralympics will be their first experience of disability sport – indeed it is likely to be the first time that the masses have truly embraced the Paralympic movement and its ideals.

This seems to be the latest chapter in a period of exponential growth for the Paralympics; in Athens 1,000 tickets were pre-sold, Beijing pre-sold 5,000, London 2012 pre-sold 2.3 million tickets and looks set to be the first ever Paralympic sell out.

The platform for growth is unprecedented - the London2012 Paralympic Games are re-defining the Paralympic movement. What might this mean for a re-definition of the concept of Disability?

Society is continually changing. No longer are terms like ‘spastic’, ‘retard’ or ‘cripple’ deemed acceptable. It is worth questioning where this change might take us next.

Historically, definitions of disability have moved away from a medical model (where the disability is a problem owned only by the individual) to a social model where it is seen that environmental factors in society are the things which disable people, not their physical impairments.

The Equality Act (2010) defines disability as 'a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial (more than minor or trivial) and long-term (over 12 months) adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.

I wonder whether these Paralympic Games have made many people re-conceptualise what they consider to be ‘normal’.