4 December 2012
Richard Downes explores the parallels between art, sport and recreation. Hosted by Together 2012! Festival, the UK Disabled Peoples' Council's conference took place at St John's Church, Stratford, London on 3 December, International Day of Disabled People
When I first attended festivals rock 'n' roll was leavened and made more palatable by speakers with their own agendas. I remember Monseigneur Bruce Kent, Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone. Love or hate their politics, there was a time when their words carried meaning. I also read Ralph Ellison's 'Invisible Man' and recall scenes where black people from the streets spoke up their cause.
The Disability Movement has had its own speakers, but people with this talent seem a bit thin on the ground. I was not let down when anticipating I might find another at this conference.
The conference focused on Article 30 of the UN Convention, concerning: 'Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport', a particular interest of disabled people in Newham who feel that being a host borough of the Paralympics meant a lost opportunity to develop such aspect; something the Together 2012 festival actively challenges.
Having pre-ambled such you now know why I now promote a speaker on sport on an arts page; disabled sports administrator, Stewart Lucas, CEO of Interactive.
Stewart is a joy. Spindly, spidery, a wave of slender sinews. Stewart hits you with his passion for 'activity'. This is more important than sport. Something else is too. Cultural change. A sports-person talking up the social model no less. Society and disabled people within society need to change its way of thinking. I believe him.
Interactive exists to influence sports governors to think of us as equals, but Stewart asks us not to think of equality so much as quality, citing public transport as an example. We have campaigned for an accessible system for decades, but if you share it with the public you find they hate it. Should we be asking for an equal system lacking quality?
Stewart is concerned sport remains inclusive and at an elite level such as the Paralympics becomes exclusive; not just in the concept that their can only be one winner but also in respect of an organisational barriers actively excluding some disabled people.
This is why Stewart promotes activity over sport. Funded events should not just be about a pursuit of excellence for the few but be based on activities that we all do, at our own level, and the enjoyment we find within that. Stewart believes if we represent 20% of the population then 20% of funding from Sports England should come to us. But does it?
Stewart threw in another anecdote concerning a disabled friend running around Tooting parks. He was stopped on a regular basis and asked if he was running for the Paras. How many non-disabled runners would share that experience? So there is something about attitudes here. Importantly do we or the administrators truly recognise the impact of our being active on our lives.
Stewart is clear on one point here. We should be getting active. Not because of health or anything we are usually asked to become active for, but because we have a right to be equal. Following on from the right is the concept that all sport is disability sport, if disabled people take part in it. In this Stewart challenges us to claim our rights and not to be led down the path of events such as Wimbledon which he calls segregated based on gender.
He tells us to demand it. If we demand it the field of dreams will come. He urges; demand it now! Only you can get you active. Stop making excuses for yourself. We may not go to the gym because we know the gym will not be accessible. Demand it to be so. Do this from personal experience, lead. bring in direct action. Understand the importance of the active stance. We are active because we want to be active. In being active we find something we can do together, something that connects us to others, to new understandings, new strengths. Take it now!