Just seven Team GB athletes with a learning disability out of 264 being sent to Rio.
Mencap has launched a public petition demanding that the International Paralympic Committee addresses the severe inequalities faced by athletes with a learning disability at the Paralympics, which has just 3 out of 23 sports open to athletes with a learning disability.
At this year’s Paralympics (7-19 September), disabled athletes will compete in 23 sports, with 528 gold medals to be won but only 18 for athletes with learning disabilities. Athletes with a learning disability are only permitted to compete in three sports – athletics, swimming and table tennis – and just 9 events – 4 in athletics, 1 in table tennis and 4 in swimming - meaning athletes with a learning disability can only compete for 4% of medal chances.
Just seven athletes with a learning disability have been selected for this year’s GB Paralympic team out of 264 athletes, a representation of just 3%, and these athletes will only compete in swimming events. In London 2012, nine athletes with a learning disability competed across the three sports. This drop in already tiny numbers indicates a lack of opportunity for athletes both in the UK and internationally, as a result of a lack of funding to support athletes with a learning disability to compete at elite levels.
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 the ban being lifted, athletes with a learning disability still face heavy restrictions towards inclusion at the Paralympics. Mencap are calling for this to change.
Stephanie Moore, an athlete with a learning disability who is unable to compete in the Paralympics because her discipline is not open to her, has launched an online petition calling for more sports and events to be available for athletes with a learning disability at the Paralympics and in top level sport.
Stephanie Moore has a learning disability and is a 100m and 200m runner, events that athletes with a learning disability cannot currently compete in at the Paralympics. She’s attempted to train for 400m but has found it extremely difficult to adjust:
Competing at the Paralympics has always been a goal of mine, and it would mean the absolute world. It’s frustrating and disappointing to not be able to compete in the 100m and 200m. I’ve attempted to train for the 400m so I could try and compete at the Paralympics, but it’s a lot harder. It’s not just the racing, it’s the training as well, the sessions are a lot harder and trying to adjust to the different stages within the 400m.
I’d love to see more inclusion at the Paralympics, it’d be great for more athletes with a learning disability to be able to compete in more sports. People think they should be able to ‘see your disability’ and because a learning disability is a ‘hidden’ disability, that’s why more sports are not allowed. Athletes with a learning disability should have more opportunities, and should be included more.
Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, said:
It is unacceptable, that despite dedicating their lives to training, athletes with a learning disability have such little opportunity to be recognised for their talents and are unable to achieve their dream of competing in the Paralympics alongside their disabled peers.
It is wholly unfair that since the ban in 2000 a shadow has been cast over athletes with a learning disability. Not only do we need to see more opportunities available at the Paralympics, but this inequality needs to be addressed in the UK as well. The drop in numbers of athletes with a learning disability selected for Team GB highlights a lack of recognition of skills and a lack of support to ensure athletes with a learning disability are able to reach qualifying standards.
We want the International Paralympic Committee to act so that athletes who have a learning disability no longer have such limited opportunities to compete on the world stage. It is now also key that UK sports organisations ensure the right levels of funding and resources are available so that more athletes with a learning disability are supported to compete in the 2020 Paralympics in a larger number of sports.
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’.