"When I Was Young, I Didn't See Disabled People on the Streets"

Article excerpt

Are you very competitive?

I'd have a competition over anything. Absolutely anything, I didn't care what it was. I think that's why my parents decided that sport was quite a good thing for me to do, because it calmed me down and gave me something to channel that competitive spirit into.

Do you think London hosting the Paralympics will have an impact on people's attitudes?

I hope so. We can see how London has adapted to cater for wheelchair users on the transport system, for instance, and this needs to be replicated across the country. I hope that the Paralympics can be the catalyst for change. Encouraging more disabled people to do sport would be a great start.

Do you think the Paralympics are taken seriously enough?

When I started, nobody knew what the Paralympics were. There have been massive changes in the time that I've competed. Lottery funding has made a huge difference.

How have public attitudes to the Paralympics changed?

I think attitudes have been changing since the Paralympics have been televised. I understand that the London Paralympics are going to be near to a sell-out, which is fantastic for all disability sport. The athletes competing in the Paralympics are elite and the best in their classification. They train as hard as their non-disabled counterparts.

Should disabled sportsmen and women be able to compete with the able-bodied?

Disability sport came about largely because of exclusion, because mainstream sport didn't want disabled people to be part of it. Now that's changing. In my sport--wheelchair-racing--I couldn't compete alongside a runner because I'm loads quicker than runners, but not as fast as cyclists. There are some areas where it works well, and some where it doesn't.

Is there enough emphasis on sport in schools?

We still need to do more at primary-school level in terms of teaching everyone good skills. Sport is hard: if you're good at it, it's easy, it's great, but if you're not so good at it, if you're maybe not quite so co-ordinated, then you stand out a lot more.

It's not just schools, it is parents as well making sure that they do a lot of physical activity with their children, that they play with them.

Are people still patronising to wheelchair users?

They can be. I mean, it's better if people recognise me as either a retired athlete or as Baroness Grey-Thompson; then they're less patronising. But it still happens. The reality is that disabled people still experience more discrimination, and it is still very challenging for disabled people to get into work, to get the right education. …