8% of medals (12 out of 147) won by Team GB at the Paralympics were won by athletes with a learning disability, despite them making up just 3% of the overall Team GB.
This success adds extra urgency to Mencap’s petition asking the International Paralympics Committee to increase the number of events athletes with a learning disability are allowed to compete in.
Currently athletes with a learning disability are allowed to compete for just 18 out of 528 gold medals. There have been concerns around a lack of demand among athletes with a learning disability to compete at elite levels, however the number of medals won by Team GB athletes with a learning disability proves this wrong.
Over 260 disabled athletes went to Rio as part of the GB team, and just seven of these were athletes with a learning disability. Despite the small number selected, athletes with a learning disability contributed 4 gold, 6 silver and 2 bronze medals to the team’s overall record tally.
Swimmer Jessica-Jane Applegate, who is an ambassador for Mencap, won 2 silver and 1 bronze medals in her events, which included 200m freestyle, 200m individual medley and 100m backstroke.
Currently, athletes with a learning disability can only compete in 3 out of the 23 Paralympic sports. Within those 3 sports, there are just 9 events open to athletes with a learning disability. Prior to the start of the Paralympics, Mencap launched a petition to the International Paralympic Committee calling for more events to be opened up to athletes with a learning disability, which has received over 3,600 signatures to date.
Harry Roche, who has a learning disability, said:
All of the athletes who competed at the Paralympics did fantastically. I’d like to say a huge congratulations to all of the athletes with a learning disability who took part and won a medal. I’ve really enjoyed watching the Paralympics this year, it has been really good to watch athletes with a learning disability do so well.
I really hope that at the next Paralympics we will see even more athletes with a learning disability take part in a larger number of events. It is unfair that athletes with a learning disability can only compete in 3 out of the 23 sports. The Paralympics has shown that there is a lot of talent and there needs to be more opportunities made available. We must overcome these barriers as soon as possible.
For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact the Mencap press office on 020 7696 5414 or firstname.lastname@example.org or for out of hours 07770 656 659.
Notes to editors
There are 1.4 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, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.
For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap Direct on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email email@example.com
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.
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.
Learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’.