The opportunity to celebrate disabled people’s diversity has been “stolen” by organisers of the Paralympic torch relay, according to a leading disabled people’s organisation.
The UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) spoke out after research by Disability News Service (DNS) showed disabled people were set to be heavily out-numbered by non-disabled people on next month’s Paralympic torch relay.
An analysis of about 250 of those chosen to take part in the 24-hour relay shows that more than 150 appear to be non-disabled people.
Many of those taking part have been nominated for fund-raising or other charity exploits, while there will also be scores of representatives of the three “presenting partners” – London 2012 sponsors – who appear to have been picked only because they work for those companies.
Julie Newman, UKDPC’s acting chair, said organisers had “effectively stifled the voice of disabled people”.
She said: “I believe the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of disabled people’s experiences and lives has been stolen from us through corporate greed.
“How brilliant it would have been if the Paralympic torch relay had just gone from one disabled person to another disabled person.
“It would have been such a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate to the world that we are out and proud and part of the rich existence of society in the UK.”
Newman added: “The Paralympics is about disabled people, not about non-disabled people.”
The DNS analysis, which has been carried out on those selected to be torch-bearers whose “stories” have been revealed on the London 2012 website, shows that nearly a third seem to have been chosen because of their charity work.
The figures suggest that the process of asking members of the public to nominate people to take part has backfired, and has led to a glut of non-disabled charity volunteers, fund-raisers, carers and special school teachers.
Those nominated for the torch relay are supposed to embody the Paralympic values of “courage, determination, equality and inspiration”.
A significant number – more than 10 per cent – have been heavily involved in raising money for charity.
Only about a dozen disabled people seem to have been selected on the basis of their work campaigning for disability rights, while only one of 255 whose stories have been analysed appears to have been recognised for work with a disabled people’s organisation.
Newman said: “I don’t think it represents us. It reflects how society likes to see us, as recipients of either care or charity.
“I think it is very, very sad, because that is not what our experiences are.”
Channel 4 has already been criticised for its “absurd” decision to choose five non-disabled people – and not a single disabled person – to take part in the relay.
The three “presenting partners” – Sainsbury’s, Lloyds TSB and BT – have each chosen about 140 people to take part in the relay, with the other 150 or so being selected by bodies linked to the Paralympics itself and other London 2012 sponsors.
There will be a total of 580 torch-bearers, working in teams of five, with each team covering about half a mile, while a further 40 will carry the torch at the three “flame festivals” in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, and at the flame lighting event in London.
Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, usually thought of as Britain’s greatest Paralympian, who is an “ambassador” for the torch relay, said that many British athletes who will be competing in the Paralympics had taken part in the much longer Olympic torch relay.
She said she thought that the reason for the distribution of torch-bearers “ultimately comes down to who was nominated”, but she said the relay had achieved a much higher profile than at previous games.
A spokesman for LOCOG, the London 2012 organising committee, said: “Nowhere have we said you have to be disabled.”
He said the three sponsors had “made an effort to ensure that it is a fair representation across the board”, and added: “This is not like a recruitment drive, it relies on public nominations. We wanted it to be open to everyone but [those selected] can obviously only reflect people who have been nominated.”
A spokesman for Sainsbury’s, which has already been criticised for using a panel of four non-disabled employees to select its torch-bearers, said: “All the nominated torchbearers were selected by Sainsbury’s panel following a nationwide in-store nomination process.
“The nominees were selected for their contributions to local communities and inspirational personal achievements and submitted to LOCOG for final inclusion in the relay.”
A BT spokesman said: “We are quite happy with the criteria and the nomination process we went through.”
He pointed out that BT’s final selections were made by the multi-gold-medal winning Paralympian Lee Pearson, and added: “We are delighted with the people that Lee Pearson selected.”
Lloyds TSB refused to comment.
LOCOG has also revealed the torch relay’s 87-mile route. The flame will start at Stoke Mandeville, in Buckinghamshire, the spiritual home of the Paralympic movement, before travelling through Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire and all six London host boroughs.
It will enter the northwest of the capital, travelling through Harrow, Barnet, Brent and Westminster.
Once in the centre of London, it will be carried down Regent Street from Oxford Circus to Piccadilly Circus, passing Westminster Abbey, Downing Street and Trafalgar Square, before crossing the Thames over Lambeth Bridge, Waterloo Bridge and Tower Bridge, which will by then be displaying a giant version of the Agitos, the symbol of the Paralympic Games.
It will pass through Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich, Canary Wharf, Hackney, Waltham Forest, Barking and Newham, before finally making its way into the Olympic Stadium in Stratford.