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International Paralympic Day: Sir Philip calls for end to use of ‘disabled’

The British head of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has defended his suggestion that the 2012 Paralympics should be used as a stepping-stone towards stopping the use of the words “disabled” and “disability”.

Sir Philip Craven, the IPC president and a former Paralympian, first made his comments earlier this week in an interview with the BBC, in which he said the word “disabled” needs to be “removed from the lexicon as it pertains to human beings”.

He repeated his call today at the International Paralympic Day (IPD) celebrations in London’s Trafalgar Square.

He told Disability News Service that the London 2012 Paralympics “could well be a step in the right direction” in removing the word “disabled” from use.

He said: “What I object to is the use of the word ‘disabled’ about an individual.

“‘Disabled’ pertaining to an individual is pure negativity. It doesn’t allow the individual’s personality to shine through.”

He said he would “definitely not” describe himself as a disabled person, although he added: “An individual has every right to call themselves what they want.”

But Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who won 11 Paralympic gold medals, said it was important that the word “disabled” could be used.

She said: “I was an athlete but I am a disabled woman. It is part of my identity and part of who I am.

“I would rather the barriers [in society] were removed rather than worrying about language.”

She said she received many emails in the House of Lords from disabled people telling her about the discrimination they have experienced.

She added: “Just because we had a Disability Discrimination Act, the Paralympics is not going to solve all the problems of the world. Until the last barrier is gone we cannot stop fighting.”

And Ade Adepitan, the TV presenter and former Paralympic wheelchair basketball medal-winner, said he also believed there was a need for the word “disabled”, although the biggest change needed was in “people’s hearts and minds” and not in the words used to describe disabled people.

But he added: “First and foremost, people should look at everyone as individuals. We know all disabled people are different.”

Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, said she had some sympathy with the aim of trying not to “categorise people in very simplistic terms”, because “everybody is an individual”.

But she said she did not believe 2012 should be used as an opportunity to try to rid society of the words “disabled” and “disability”.

She said: “I think there are an awful lot more important things to think about.”

IPD saw 20 Paralympic sports showcased for members of the public, and featured appearances from scores of Paralympic athletes, as well as the prime minister, David Cameron, London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, and Lord [Sebastian] Coe, who chairs the 2012 organising committee.

Tickets for the 2012 Paralympics are on sale from 9 September to 26 September.