The London 2012 Paralympic Games and Higher Education – Will Prejudice or Progress Prevail?

As London 2012 draws ever closer an increasing number of industry sectors including tourism, sport, health, business and management to name but a few are putting on conferences and events themed around the Olympic Games as a vehicle for capturing public interest as well as perhaps rejuvenating creative thinking and new developments within their sector. When discussing industry sectors this does, of course, include the higher education sector, which cuts across all the sectors mentioned above. At the interface between the education and industry sectors, the former provides research data and development suggestions for the industry sectors, as well as a large proportion of the next tranche of staff that will enter these sectors. However, despite the fact that London 2012 will be the first host city that IOC bidding regulations dictate must host the Paralympic Games if they are to host the Olympics, and despite the fact Britain is the birthplace of the Paralympic Games there still appears to be relatively little interest shown in them by the higher education sector in terms of conferences, research or teaching. If the hosting of the of the London 2012 Paralympic Games is to have a positive impact in the Higher Education sector then it is imperative that we ensure that progress prevails over prejudice.

Depending on what definition is used for ‘disability’ at least ten percent of the world’s population is ‘disabled’ in some way. That’s six hundred million people worldwide. According to the Spring 2000 Labour Force Survey 7,004,000 UK residents of working age (16+) are disabled (UK Sport, 2000; p.6), which equates to around 15.5% of the population who are of working age. Devine (1997) claims that society has a prescribed set of standards by which we are all measured and when someone’s biological make-up or function fails to meet these standards they are ‘assumed to be inferior and are subject to a decrease in inclusion in society’ (Devine, 1997; p. 4). For many of the non-disabled population the prefix ‘Dis’ brings with it connotations of less able, less important and less worthy (Brittain, 2004). This is equally true of nearly all academic disciplines when it comes to both teaching and research, which at best make a token effort to include people with disabilities and the impact of those disabilities within a particular subject area, and often simply make no attempt at all. Sport, Leisure and Tourism appear to be no exception to this. In my previous post the department in which I worked included a tourism department that scored a four star rating (out of 5) in the last but one Research Assessment Exercise. It would be hoped, therefore, that it would be safe to assume that the section of the library dedicated to the study of tourism in all its guises at that particular university would contain a fairly comprehensive and representative cross section of up to date publications in the field, similar to other universities around the country that study tourism as an academic subject However, in going through the contents section of well over one hundred of these books, I found only three that made any mention of disability whatsoever. Two of these were sports tourism books. One contained a three page section entitled Sports Tourism for People with Disabilities, whilst the other contained three lines in 325 pages. The third book entitled Strategic Management in Tourism contained one short paragraph in 350 pages and included the line ‘the disabled increasingly expect to travel as public transport becomes more accommodating to their needs’. Why should people with disabilities not expect to travel? Shouldn’t their expectations for their lives be just the same as everyone else’s, irrespective of whether they have a disability or not? A review of the key texts currently used at some of Britain’s key institutions for the provision of degrees in the area of sports studies, sports management and sports development shows that they also make little or no mention of disability sport whatsoever. Tomlinson (Ed.) (2007), Jarvie (2006) and Green and Houlihan (2005) all make no mention whatsoever of disability sport. Hylton et al (2008) simply mentions the Disability Rights Commission amongst a list of organisations. Numerous other texts appear to show the same apparent disregard for this growing area of sport.

The lack, therefore, of any substantive content in courses and textbooks designed to train the sports and tourism practitioners of the future is, for disabled people, simply a further affirmation of their exclusion from the rest of society based upon non-disabled perceptions of their abilities, which for the most part are unfounded. However, the fact that they do go unrecognised within this training process simply feeds back into their feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth and reinforces the belief that travel, sport and tourism are not for them. The Paralympic Games of London 2012 provides an excellent opportunity for all academic disciplines to try and redress this imbalance. Over four thousand disabled athletes will be descending onLondonin 2012, as well as unknown numbers of disabled spectators. How will the infrastructure (airports, transport, shops and hotels) cope? What will the impact of these Games be for people with disabilities living in and around London and for tourists with disabilities visiting London post-2012? Unfortunately, if the training of future workers in the sports and tourism industries continues to ignore disabled people, for whatever reason, any new found enthusiasm engendered by the London Paralympic Games to take part in sport or to visit the many areas of Britain that will be highlighted as possible tourist destinations during the Games is likely to be short lived when they come into contact with industries that are ill-prepared and in some cases unwilling to meet their needs.

Academics can play an important role in changing attitudes and increasing awareness of both issues and opportunities for not only the sport, leisure and tourist industries, but many other areas of society including the whole higher education sector. The higher education sector can make a huge contribution to bettering the lives of disabled people by providing the various industry sectors with useful up-to-the-minute research relating to issues around disability. It can ensure that current and future students, who will form the policy makers of the future, graduate from these disciplines with a good understanding of the impact on their discipline of being disabled, and ways to overcome or lessen these impacts. Only in doing so can we ensure that the result ofLondonhosting the 2012 Paralympic Games is that progress prevails over prejudice.


Brittain, I., 2004, Perceptions of Disability and Their Impact Upon Involvement in Sport for People with Disabilities at All Levels in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, Vol. 28(4), 429-452.

Devine, M.A., Inclusive Leisure Services and Research: A Consideration of the Use of Social Construction Theory in Journal of Leisurability, Spring 1997,Vol. 24(2), p. 3 – 11.

UKSport, 2000, United Kingdom‘s Sporting Preferences,UK Sport,London.


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