The golden summer of sport is now over, but what is the legacy of London 2012 for disabled people? Nadia Ahmed, a disabled student, discusses the difficulties she’s faced in finding accessible accommodation in London. She argues that while the Games are over, UK still has lots of hurdles to leap when it comes to disability equality.
The London 2012 Games are now over, the Games certainly created a marvellous environment in Stratford, London. As someone said, “Everyone in UK is talking about the Paralympics instead of the weather”. Apparently it has brought about many changes in equality and diversity rights, especially in terms of increasing accessibility of the Transport for London tubes. Bravo!
Is this really true though? Well, I wish it was. I am a disabled (wheelchair) student at the Queen Mary University of London living on campus, just a stone’s throw away from the Olympic stadium in Stratford. I have already spent a year living in the halls of residence at the University and now it’s time for me to move to a more permanent accessible accommodation. Unfortunately, there is not a single wheelchair accessible accommodation available in Tower Hamlets. Indeed the nearest accommodation of this sort is apparently in Northampton!
Post-London 2012, issues of inclusion and disabled human rights have been very much in discussion internationally. Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne recently said: “This is not just about creating the Jessica Ennises of tomorrow. It is about inspiring people all over the world to experience the joy of participation in sport, and – even more than that – to work hard in pursuit of their ambitions, to work with people of different backgrounds and beliefs, and to respect the diversity of humankind.”
I am a Muslim-British-Disabled-Woman, a person with many different backgrounds and beliefs, a fine example of diversity, but am I getting equality of opportunity and equal rights? For the first 4 months of my accommodation application, the council of the borough I live in was concerned that I might be committing fraud. My disability is quite clear to see so why was I thought to be possibly perpetrating fraud? Is this now the first conclusion reached for anyone who claims disability living allowance? My case is symptomatic of the increase in negative attitudes towards disabled people, especially with media’s portrayal of disabled people as ‘scroungers’ and benefits fraudsters. When the council was finally satisfied that I am a genuine case for accessible housing, I was told that I would be put up in a B&B in Northampton, ludicrously implying that I commute from Northampton to East London everyday on a wheelchair!
According to the ‘Guide to the Olympic, Paralympic and Legacy Transformation Planning and Olympic Village and Legacy Residential Planning’ which was released in 2007, “Thousands of new homes will be built to house Olympic and Paralympic athletes during the games…. After the games, it will be transformed into a mixed tenure residential neighbourhood, incorporating a range of affordable housing.” This suggests that approximately 4,500 homes from the conservation of the Olympics Village would be available. How many of these will be used to house the disabled residents of East London? Can we expect to be able to live in or close to the borough where we intend to settle rather than a different county?
The Paralympics 2012 are now over, however, we as a nation still have a number of hurdles to leap before the disabled citizens of London feel the benefit. We have to maintain our standards and constantly revise our policies and practices. Our work on creating access is far from over as we still have a long way to go: in my case it could be as far as Northampton!
Nadia Ahmed is a PhD student at Queen Mary University of London and researching on practicable working environments for disabled academics at universities in United Kingdom. Her inspiration is her own disability and struggle towards getting employment as a disabled academic in United Kingdom. Nadia can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.