With athletes who have a learning disability A learning disability is to do with the way someone's brain works. It makes it harder for someone to learn, understand or do things. only able to compete for 4% of gold medal chances in the Tokyo Paralympics, Mencap is calling for greater inclusion at one of the world’s largest sporting events [i].
Just 13 Team GB athletes with a learning disability will be flying to compete in Japan at this year’s Paralympics (24 August – 5 September) – out of a total of 209 disabled athletes taking part [ii].
More widely, athletes with a learning disability can only compete in three sports – athletics, swimming and table tennis - out of a total of 22, with Team GB athletes with a learning disability competing in just two sports this year [ii]. Overall, athletes with a learning disability can compete in only 21 of the 539 events taking place [i].
London 2012 saw the reintroduction of athletes with a learning disability to the Paralympics following a 12-year ban after the Spanish basketball team were found to have faked having a learning disability in order to compete. Despite being almost 10 years on from the ban being lifted, athletes with a learning disability have continued to face exclusion.
Since Rio 2016 – and London 2012 – there has been very little progression. The number of sports that athletes with a learning disability can compete in has remained at just three and Mencap are calling on the International Paralympic Committee to increase opportunities and make the games truly inclusive.
Edel Harris, Chief Executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said:
“Why is it - when we are constantly talking about the need for greater inclusion – that people with a learning disability are still excluded from so much at the Paralympics?
“It’s been 21 years since athletes with a learning disability were banned from competing in the games - something that has left a terrible legacy, long-lasting exclusion, and meant even fewer opportunities for representation of people with a learning disability on a world stage. Learning disability is still so misunderstood, and seeing more athletes with a learning disability competing at the Paralympics would help to fight stigma in wider society.
“It is also deeply unfair on the talented athletes with a learning disability who cannot compete alongside their disabled peers. We want the International Paralympic Committee to act so that people with a learning disability get the opportunities they deserve. UK sports organisations also need to commit to more funding so that more athletes with a learning disability can compete in the Paralympics.”
Abdul Hameed, who has a learning disability and is a Sports Co-Trainer at Mencap, said:
“At the moment there aren’t enough opportunities at the Paralympics. It’s absolutely not right. There shouldn’t be any barriers to getting involved in sport if you have a learning disability or not – it’s unfair.
“There is also not enough representation of people with a learning disability in sports generally. For me, sports has helped me to meet people. It gives me a boost and a sense of belonging. In my role as a co-trainer, I deliver workshops to sports providers to explain what it’s like to have a learning disability, and I also have an eye condition so I talk about that. I think my role helps to change attitudes but there is still a long way to go to include more people with a learning disability in sports, and in the Paralympics.”
To raise awareness of the issue, the BBC World Service A service gives people what they need, like healthcare services that help people when they are ill, and support services that give people support. is releasing a new six-part documentary ‘The Fake Paralympians’ on 17th August. The series – presented by British ex-Paralympic swimmer Dan Pepper who has a learning disability - investigates the Spanish basketball team’s cheating scandal which led to the ban and left a lasting shadow.
Vijay Patel, Campaigns Assistant at the learning disability charity Mencap, and who has a learning disability, said:
“I am glad that this issue is getting more attention, and it’s fantastic that the BBC is doing a series about it and that this is presented by someone who has a learning disability. When I watch and listen to programmes I don’t see or hear many people with a learning disability, and this isn’t inclusive. It’s important for people with a learning disability to be represented in the TV and radio, and also in sport, so those tuning in can better understand learning disability. This is so important in improving understanding of learning disability in society.”
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For further information or to arrange interviews, contact Mencap’s media team on:
- 020 7696 5414 (including out of hours).
Notes to editors
[i] Information about the number of events and sports at the Paralympics is available here: https://olympics.com/tokyo-2020/en/paralympics/schedule/. Athletes with a learning disability can compete in 21 events – and the chance to win 21 gold medals - out of a total of 539 events taking place. Figures are correct as of 3rd August 2021.
[ii] Figures are based on team announcements on Team GB athletes competing at the Paralympics and are correct as of 3rd August 2021. Overall figures on the number of people competing have not been released.
There are 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education Education is when you learn things. When you fill in a form to get a job, education means you write where you went to school, college or university. , employment Employment means having a job. and leisure Leisure is when you have time to do things you enjoy like playing sports or going to the pub. facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want. www.mencap.org.uk.
For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap’s Freephone Learning Disability Helpline on 0808 808 1111 (10am-3pm, Monday-Friday) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is a learning disability?
- A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life;
- Learning disability is NOT a mental illness or a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia Dyslexia is a learning difficulty. People who have dyslexia can find it hard to read, write and spell. . Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’;
- People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.