'Paralympics can raise the game for inclusion'

7th September 2012 at 01:00
Disability sports chief says events offer rare chance to boost awareness

The Paralympics will have a lasting impact on Scottish education, changing public perceptions about disability and what people can do and achieve, it has been predicted.

Gavin Macleod, chief executive of Scottish Disability Sport, said there was an unprecedented opportunity to raise awareness about the potential of disabled young people in sport - and not only at elsite level.

The Paralympics will be followed by the biggest-ever parasport programme at the Commonwealth Games, at Glasgow in 2014, while Curriculum for Excellence is opening up further opportunities in schools, Mr Macleod said.

Scottish Disability Sport has started offering free disability training in schools, with seven regional managers deployed across the country. One key message is to focus on a young person's ability, not his or her disability, he said.

He believes disability inclusion has come a long way, but added: "From a schools' point of view, I would like to see an increase in the number of young people getting good-quality PE." He said he still heard of too many disabled pupils being taken out of PE lessons, perhaps to do theory work or be sent to the library.

Mr Macleod said he had sympathy with the teachers, acknowledging that they had not received training around such issues during initial teacher education.

But money for training in universities had recently been secured from Paralympics sponsor Sainsbury's, and there had been support, too, from Education Scotland. Courses have been scheduled at the University of Glasgow, and others should follow in Edinburgh and Stirling, said Mr Macleod.

Bill Ramsay, convener of the EIS's equality committee, praised the "wonderful positive showcase" of the Paralympics and the role models the Games provided.

But he warned that the feelgood factor should not mask the fact that disabled people were being presented with extra barriers as a result of cutbacks.

"Important support services are under threat, making life even more challenging for people who live with a disability," he said. "For instance, last year saw a 34 per cent cut in part-time places at Scotland's colleges for students who have learning disabilities."

Meanwhile, Richard Hamer, director of external affairs at the disability charity Capability Scotland, cautioned against attributing too much significance to the Paralympics.

There was "something particularly strong" about the games in raising the bar of expectation for young people with disabilities - but that should not mask day-to-day realities.

The Paralympics were powerful in showing - as with the highly successful Team GB - the direct connection between financial investment and results at the other end, he said.

But opportunities for young people in wider society were being narrowed by reductions in disability benefits, college places and employment services.

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk

READY TO RACE

Andrew Mullen, a 15-year-old pupil at Mearns Castle High in East Renfrewshire, is a medal hope in swimming. All being well, he will compete tonight in the final of his best event, the S5 50m butterfly. A large crowd - 250 tickets have been printed - is expected to watch him on a big screen at the school.

Depute head Anne Lewis expects the Paralympics to have a long-lasting impact on the school; PE staff, for example, are already working hard to open up more activities to more young people.

"There's a general message about seeing what you can do and not thinking about what you can't," she said. "I just think it makes us think, `What's stopping us?'"

Photo: Andrew Mullen, 15, is a medal hope in the S5 50m butterfly event. Photo credit: Jim Buchan

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