Overcoming depression and becoming Dr Chris

Yet again, I find myself in conflict as my fingers hover over the keys.  Normally when I write a blog I am decisive and it is written in a few minutes.  With one topic it is always different: Depression.  Should I even write about this?  What will people think?  Will they think any less of me?  Is it just too much to share?

When I started this blog, I had one rule in my mind: That I wouldn’t back away from anything. I wanted to raise awareness about disability issues and give people what I hoped would be a useful and thought provoking perspective on things.  Writing about depression is always an acid test.  Despite the openness around depression increasing, it is still a really hard one to confront and describe due to the questions above.

I hope that this blog, written to mark 4 years since I became Dr Chris, is helpful.  If you read nothing else from this blog, just take away that depression can be beaten no matter how bleak the situation seems.

So to set this all into context:  I have always been fortunate to be successful.  I was in my early twenties, had just graduated from Cambridge and was training for the Paralympics in London alongside working on my PhD, for which I had just won a rare scholarship.  The world was my oyster and I was on course to get my PhD before my 25th birthday.  I had a loving family, brilliant friends and a season ticket to my beloved Sheffield Wednesday.

Then though things changed.  The combination of training for the Paralympics and trying to do a PhD alongside teaching was tough.  For the first time in my life I was struggling academically.  Then a series of events knocked me for six.  I had a family bereavement, my best friend was tragically killed and I started to hide away.  I then got swine flu proper to top it all off!  Things got worse and worse.  I moved home and even my relationship with my family which was normally rock solid began to suffer.  Around that time I had met someone and decided that I was going to move in with them.  I realised that things were really bad when I couldn’t decide whether to board a plane to join my family for a few days away.  Even being on the train made me nervous and I had a panic attack.  I eventually boarded the plane but it had taken me an hour to decide what do to.

Something needed to change.  After weeks of agonising I decided I needed to go to the doctor.  That was one of the hardest things I had to do.  I was lucky in that I was ‘bad enough’ to get some time away to begin to regroup, together with some prompt help and that started the process of recovery.  Though I felt as though I was on the floor for a period of time, at the back of my mind I knew that I wanted to return to my studies.

I had a long period of counselling which gave me some great insight, self awareness and the tools to keep myself in a healthier place.  In true Chris style I did this the hard way, but I got there.  Eventually I was able to return to my studies, albeit very anxiously.  I don’t think anyone thought I was ever going to get my PhD, but in a way that was all the encouragement I ever needed.  Due to the time away, I had a revised goal, get my PhD before I was 30.

My time in counselling had given me some perspective too.  I gradually began to see the people I cared about again and to let them know what had been going on.  I had not seen some of my friends for about 3 years but put that right bit by bit.  I had also met Fran who was a rock for me and had decided to start my own business representing Paralympic athletes like Fran after seeing a gap in the market.

It was a really hard slog building up my own business and finishing my PhD, but I got there.  I hit my goal, graduating from my PhD exactly one day before my 30th birthday.  I have now been Dr Chris for 4 years and during that time have got married, held down a good job and am a trustee for two charities.  I have also found my voice via this blog and am excited by life and all that it offers.  I am also in training to become a counsellor myself, so I can use my experiences to be there for others.

One of the best pieces of advice I was given is that when all feels hopeless, sometimes you just need to let other people hold on to hope for you.  Consider this blog as a contribution in that sense.  Talking about mental health issues isn’t easy but it does help, and there is a positive way forward.

I beat depression, and you can find your own way to do so too.

The NHS ‘in crisis’: A personal account

Hello.  The recent story of the NHS being ‘in crisis’ according to the Red Cross is one that hit close to home.  The following is an account of the very real human impact a broken NHS is having on the lives of two individuals.  It won’t be an easy one to read (or write!) but I hope it provokes some thought.  It has been written with Fran’s permission and is written in a purely personal capacity and reflects only our personal views and is not reflective of those of any organisations we work for or represent in any way.

It was an ordinary day in August back in 2014.  Fran had been out and she came into the house with a crash and shouted that she had fallen and hurt herself.  Falling itself is a fairly regular event so that didn’t phase me.  However, the fact that Fran said she was hurt rung big alarm bells.  Fran has a ridiculously high pain threshold, so the fact that anything hurts usually means there are significant problems. Little was I to know just how far reaching those problems would be.

Fran said her foot hurt and could not put weight on it.  Given Fran’s pain threshold I told her that I suspected it was broken and she would need to go to A&E.  With that, she burst out into tears.  To that point, Fran had the ability to walk a few meters unaided.  When you have reduced mobility, the little that you do have assumes a tremendous amount of significance, especially when you are as fiercely independent as Fran is.

We were taken into A&E after a 45 minute wait for an ambulance as we couldn’t get into hospital in any other way.  The staff were really helpful and very apologetic for the delay.  Fran was given some much needed pain relief and we made our way into Addenbrookes.  After a long wait to see someone, we were sent to x ray and sure enough Fran had a broken foot.  No surprise there.

What to do about it though?  Having a body that doesn’t work in a typical way can cause real problems for medical professionals who just aren’t used to dealing with how that body works, or what a patient needs.  By now I was becoming seriously worried as Fran’s pain levels were increasing and even the highest dose of morphine (which it took some persuading to get) wasn’t working.  Such a dose would have knocked anyone else out but didn’t touch the sides for Fran.

The next events were critical.  The consultant on duty was called.  By now we had been in A&E for hours and Fran’s name had gone to red on the patient sheet.  A traffic light system was in use based on how long patients had been in the department.  There was a palpable sense of pressure to get something done.  What happened was that Fran’s foot was cast in its resting position, facing inwards.  Fran screaming throughout.  It was one of the most horrific things I have ever experienced.  If you have ever witnessed a loved one in pain you will understand what a painful thing it is to witness and just how powerless you feel.

The result of the foot being cast in that way was that Fran’s foot was irreparably weakened, never having been the same since.  By acting in haste out of the desire to patch up Fran and ship her out, the course of Fran’s life was profoundly altered.  Fran was referred on to the foot specialist after A&E.

In what was to become a regular pattern to this date, I then has to constantly press and battle to get things done.  The first meeting at the foot clinic was a good example.  It was the name of the consultant that was on the clinic.  The appointment that took weeks to come through, despite it being ‘urgent.’  Except it wasn’t actually the specialist we saw, it was his junior, who had no experience of dealing with Fran (the consultant had operated on Fran due to a sporting injury she had in a matter of days when she had private medical insurance as a result of her funding.  If only we were able to afford that now!) and couldn’t help.  I phoned back, complained, explaining why it was necessary to see the specialist, and fortunately this happened at an appointment a week later.

It took literally months to get anything done.   Out of desperation, I even took some money out of savings to get Fran seen quicker by the same specialist. Fran needed some more tests. An ‘urgent’ CT would take 3 months.  At this point Fran was in bits.  She was living in the lounge of our house, unable to move, let alone leave the house or work. Again, out of desperation I got on the phone.  I was able to discover that there was a portable CT machine that nobody was supposed to know about, and get the CT scan done quicker.

In the mean time Fran was in plaster and her foot getting weaker and weaker.  After a period in plaster, we fast forward about 12 months to the Christmas of 2015.  After the worst and most difficult 12 months we have ever had, we decided we needed to move house to give Fran some quality of life.  Other ways to do this via the NHS were unsuccessful.  Fran waited 12 months for an appointment at pain clinic, which she had been dropped off at by her carer.  As someone with a first class degree and a masters she is more than capable of attending appointments by herself.  The pain clinic consultant however didn’t see it this way and upon seeing Fran in her wheelchair on her own and his first words to her were “Where is your carer?”  “Hello” and the ability to engage with Fran as an individual was apparently too much to ask for. 12 months on, she is still waiting for a promised follow up appointment.

The last example of the broken system I will refer to is some experimental surgery Fran had in December 2015.  The specialist said he would try an experimental procedure to loosen Fran’s foot.  Because the foot had originally been cast in its resting weakened position it had set there, weakened and now needed to be loosened if Fran was able to regain her mobility and the independence that went with it.  Due to a cancellation, this was scheduled for the night before New Years Day.  Fran had the surgery but was unable to move and needed injections.

There was no way of organising any other help over the festive period so we had to ask Fran’s mum and one of our close friends for help.  That was the difference between being discharged and a long stay in hospital.  Also because Fran needed injections, and it would be difficult to get a nurse to do it, I had to learn to give them, which was not without difficulty given my own lack of fine motor skills. Still, as ever we found a way and Fran was able to come home.  Unfortunately the surgery did not improve things and Fran has lost 90% of the little mobility she had prior to her fall, which has been devastating to come to terms with.

I have not had the time, energy or strength to chase these things up, so things are currently in limbo.  Countless appointments have been promised, cancelled and just not happened.  It should not be a full time job to ensure someone gets the care and treatment they are entitled to  Fortunately we were able to find a bungalow that Fran is able to get around in and has recently returned to work after having her car adapted.  The house didn’t need much doing to it to make it accessible, which itself is a minor miracle, and have made our own adaptions.

So when I hear the NHS is in crisis I am not surprised.  The system is as damaged as Fran’s foot.  This is a shocking reflection on those who run the system which creaks despite the good will of those who run it on the front line.

More must be done and the system must improve for the good of patients in its care.  Ours is just one story, but I wouldn’t wish the experience we have had on our worst enemy.

2016: The Year I found my voice

Hello dear neglected blog.  Unfortunately, it has been a while since I last wrote.  This is due in no small part to the fact that I  managed to get flu proper which knocked me for six for a few weeks.  Fortunately, I’m now well and truly back on the mend and so I return to my blog, amongst other things.

It seems appropriate as the year draws to a close to reflect on my experiences of 2016.  If I had to summarise it in one theme or sentence, 2016 was the year I found my voice.  Prompted by events surrounding Brexit, I decided that this was my ‘now or never’ moment and felt that it was the time to finally write about my own lived experiences of disability, or forever hold my peace!

Since then I’ve written on a number of things, with the blog hitting the headlines after events at the Cambridge Folk Festival and a subsequent open letter.  Surprisingly, I’ve not bought tickets to the Folk Festival this year!

I hope that the blog has been interesting and useful to read.  Feedback I’ve had suggests so, which is great.  If by sharing my own experiences it helps to raise issues and provoke thought, then for me, it’s all worthwhile.  That’s not to say that we’ll always agree dear reader, but I hope we can engage in discussion and debate, learning from each other along the way.

Finding my voice has underlined for me the importance of clear communication and dialogue to address social issues, and those around disability in particular.  In the challenging times we face, collaboration to find solutions to the difficult matters we face becomes all the more important.  Linked to that, one of the great things during this year has been serving as a trustee for a couple of charities and working to set up a regional group.  I’m passionate about charity work and what I have learned as a trustee has provided an invaluable insight into some of the issues third sector organisations face.

Whilst my experience is but one of many, I’d encourage those of you who have the opportunity to sit as a trustee or in other representative positions to grab it with both hands.  This is especially the case if you come from a group that is traditionally under represented in board room situations.  I’ve now found myself in demand due to the value of my own lived experience and the perspective that this offers.  I’m always glad to be of service and hopefully make a positive difference in the process.

The flip side of having a voice is the ability to listen, and listen well.  This has been one of the great things my counselling training has taught me.  Being able to listen well is fundamental to good communication, especially when it involves dealing with difficult issues.  Here’s to more good listening next year too.

Looking ahead to 2017 there are both challenges and opportunities.  Lets all  find and use our voices so we can work together to achieve progress and help the world work for us all.  As neither Fran nor I have sent Christmas cards this year (donating the money to charity…) may I take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2017.

Chris

Attitude is (almost) everything

In the slightly less glamorous location of my office, and feeling decidedly colder I write my final reflections on a great trip to Las Vegas.  This time I want to focus on the importance of the attitude taken towards dealing with impairment and the difference it made for us.  For me, I think attitude is almost everything when dealing with impairment.  Barring being offensive, if the attitude is right, I think the rest follows on and it certainly proved to be the case for us in Las Vegas.  

In a previous blog I wrote how being treated as a consumer made a real difference to how our holiday felt and how we were able to experience more as a result.  Simply put, following on from that consumer treatment, the people we encountered started with the attitude that nothing was a barrier.  To give a simple example, when we walked into a show, our seats were originally meant to be down some steps, which were inaccessible.  Within a matter of seconds, we were shown to an alternative position, with an apology.  No fuss, no nonsense, no head scratching, just a ‘can do’ attitude and a simple solution.

By contrast, when we arrived back to the UK, the wheelchairs had not been bought up from the luggage carousels to the plane.  After much enquiry, no solution could be found so we had to suggest going down to collect our belongings.  Not such a great attitude and not the best welcome back to the UK.  Now it could be said that I am comparing apples and pears here but I am trying to show how approaching issues that might arise it is attitude that is key.

In another example in Vegas, we booked airport transport, which can be a complete nightmare.  The Supershuttle, however, lived up to its name.  There was an option to book accessible transport on the front page. Easy.  I didn’t have to call, just tick the box and make the booking.   The taxi turned up ahead of time and had all the adaptions needed and off to the airport we went. I’ve not found it so easy in the UK, far from it.

Now, there are some great examples of good practice in the UK.  My point however is that the attitude we found in Vegas was everywhere and not a shining beacon.  We love visiting America because of this attitude and lament the fact that it just isn’t the case in the UK.  With the right attitude and by starting with a solution (as opposed to merely observing a problem) then life with an impairment in Vegas was easy, fun and so much more accessible than it tends to be over here.

I am not saying everything is perfect, but with the right attitude, so much more can be accomplished and experienced as a result.  The impact?  Everybody wins.  I’m already looking at booking our next trip!  Now if only the casino machines had been a little more obliging…!! 🙂

The US election and lessons to learn for UK politics 

I don’t normally blog about politics but it’s something I feel really passionate about and I’ve even toyed with the notion of trying to become an MP one day. Political policy has the capacity to directly shape every aspect of our lives which is why having good people in power matters.
While I’ve been in Las Vegas I’ve been struck by several things about the Anerican election and what it means for us. 

1. The need to have good candidates and choice: Quite how Trump especially has even been allowed to get here is beyond me. Politics is only as good as the quality and qualifications of those involved with it. If I were an American voter now I’d really feel as if I was between a rock and a hard place with my vote. Where is the good option.

2. Politics needs to connect and stop apathy winning: Much of what I’ve seen in the coverage has been meaninglessness for me. High on petty points scoring and short on substance. Politics needs to speak to all of us and provoke informed debate. I predict what we will see in voting is a continuation of low turnout, which is bad for everyone.

3. The need for a more inclusive approach: I’m struck by how incestious American politics appears to be. Bush or Clinton appears to mean you have a lifetime in politics and this needs to be shaken up. Likewise in the UK, it shouldn’t just be about Oxbridge educated, middle aged people with money. We need a range of views to make politics speak to everyone.

4. More solutions and less negativity: We live in challenging times. This means the need for solutions to our pressing problems is required more than ever before. Negative attack ads over here are so abundant and do nothing to offer the solutions we all need.

5. The importance of objective and informative media coverage: Watching media coverage over here I am so thankful for our broadcast media in the UK. The bias of the likes of Fox, and even CNN is astonishing. We need objective media coverage to highlight issues, ask questions and bring politics to life.

The closing days of the contest for the Whitehouse will be absorbing. The winner of the contest will impact us all in many ways. Make your choice with care America.

2 Reflections on experiences of America with an impairment 

This has to be one of the more surreal settings I’ve written a blog in. I’m sat in the middle of a noisy Las Vegas casino surrounded by sirens, bells and in a haze of smoke.

I’m conscious that I’ve had something of a blog draught of late. I’ve not felt moved to write about anything and only want to do so when I feel I’ve something of interest and (hopefully!) value to say. Thank you to those of you who have enquirered when my next blog will be.

The purpose of this blog is to reflect on my personal perspectives of America as a tourist. Over the past few years I’ve been fortunate to visit Vegas (twice), New York and Florida. So whilst this doesn’t claim to be a scientific study I’m confident that I have a range of experiences from which to draw.

The good: Being treated as a consumer and the impact this has

I think the American attitude I have encountered is ahead of the U.K. for one simple reason: Here I am treated as a consumer and services are easier to access as a result. The consequence of this is that life is a lot more accessible. Granted, as a tourist I may be more outgoing than on a day to day basis but it’s definitely easier to get about. So there is a positive social by product..I can do more and see more as a result.

It feels as if America has embraced the social model too. Buildings are adapted to allow access so that as a consumer I can get in and spend my money. Though it is a subjective thing it feels a bit easier to walk tall as a result. My money is as good as everyone else’s!

Though much has been written about the purchasing power of the ‘purple pound’ in the U.K. I think we lag behind. Fundamentally, I would argue that disabled people aren’t generally seen as consumers and marketed to in the way that other consumer groups are. Sport aside, disabled people tend to be discussed as passive recipients of state welfare rather than as active consumers. That can (but not always) filter it’s way though to social  and even political contexts as a consequence.
The bad: Insurance and healthcare

The consequence of being seen as a consumer has its negative side too. Insurance and healthcare is very much a product here and that has profound implications for someone with an impairment.

Getting insurance to travel to the states can be a mission. Every day life in the states would be impractical. I just couldn’t afford it. The health system appears to be very much a live issue in the election debates.

For the well documented pressures and shortcomings of the NHS in the hands of its political masters the principle of free healthcare to all at the point of need is a game changer and one we must retain.

I dread to think about the adoption of an insurance based model and its negative consequences in the uk. 

As with so many things, I hope we can retain the positives and learn from the attitude described above.

I had better go and find my long stuffering wife and go and embrace my consumer status some more!  

Lived experience of impairment and its value

A lot of my conversations, both personal and professional of late, have revolved around the importance and value of lived experience of impairment.  Growing up, I learned about the importance of being able to articulate the impact my impairment had.  If I couldn’t explain it, then I couldn’t help other to begin to understand what it was like to be me, and the kind of extra support I did (and, equally significantly, did not) need.

As I got older, I became aware that my impairment effectively gave me a ‘way of seeing’ that wasn’t familiar to lots of other people.  The things that were obvious to me because of living with my impairment and working around things just weren’t obvious to other people.  A good example of this was when I looked around universities.  I was often asked to go around with university staff to point out access issues that they could address to help ensure that the campus environment was accessible.

These days, I am lucky enough to sit on a couple of boards as a (voluntary) director and trustee.  A combination of my personal and professional experience means I am in the fortunate position to be able to add a different point of view, to constructively challenge and be a good critical friend to enhance the work of the organisations I am involved with.  This poses a really interesting dynamic to me, because one of my worries is that I should not be in roles like this for tick box or tokenistic reasons, but because of my blend of experiences and what I can bring.

I am aware though that there are lots of people out there who have a great deal to offer, for whom the nature of being on a board isn’t accessible.  I think much more work is needed to give people the knowledge, skills and tools in order to be able to make a difference using their own experiences.  The best things I am and have been a part of are those which are able to use a blend of knowledge and perspectives to give a thorough and holistic assessment of the decisions to be made at a boardroom level.

It is also really important to acknowledge the diversity of impairment and the impact that it has for people.  To take my own impairment of cerebral palsy as an example, there are different types of CP and the degree to which it can impact on the lives of people who have it can vary enormously.  This means that I always try to speak with care when talking about impairment, as I can only speak with authenticity about my own lived experience, and there will be many other different takes on things out there.

I really enjoy being able to use my own lived experience to help add value to the things I am involved with, and would encourage ways to make it possible for more people with a contribution to make to do the same.  Having a holistic and inclusive approach to decision making will improve the quality of decisions made and the way organisations function in society.

A post Parlalympics void to fill: From Rio to where?

The time following an Olympics and Paralympics is hard.  After gorging on sport for a month and experiencing every moment of drama, success and agony..there is a big void to fill.  Real life resumes and as the nights set in, the autumn cold begins to bite.  In terms of the Paralympics, it is fair to say that things went even better than even the most optimistic accounts would have suggested.  Talk of the troubled build up set aside as Paralympics GB surged up the medal table to remain in a lofty second spot.

A well earned word of congratulations must be extended here, not just to the athletes who performed so well but to the coaches, support staff and family members that helped create the conditions to make those medals possible.  Without such a ‘team behind the team’ we wouldn’t have anywhere near as many medals to celebrate.

The challenge now will be to sustain that progress in a Paralympic playing field that is becoming ever more competitive. New strategies will be have to formed in order to find medals where they have not been forthcoming and the funding and innovation so central to success will have to be renewed.  For this, there will also need to be a strong political appetite at a time when the public purse is shrinking.  I may well be utterly biased, but I would say that this is one area where funding should be retained and investment to continue.

And herein lies the rub..where do we go from here?  The answer must be in continued hard work, not only at the elite levels, but at grass roots to develop inclusive sport and physical activity, and to continue to address the cultural, structural and practical barriers that continue to stubbornly exist.  That, for me, would amount to a legacy from Rio to be proud of.

The ‘legacy’ must happen in every day life too.  Disabled people live their lives in particularly challenging times.  Success too from Rio would look like every day life getting better for disabled people everywhere. This may sound a bit utopian or idealistic, and I would agree, but we have to continue to make strides forward and recognise the challenges that exist (which are numerous) and the benefits of overcoming those (which are priceless in so many ways).

As the focus of the media switches its gaze the hard work must go on to make these things happen not just once every four years but every day.  Just as with the dedication that is required to represent ones country, the work needed to offer constructive solutions to complex problems will require leaving no stone unturned and thinking of every positive route to solutions.

Time will tell what the future holds, but progress is possible, and we all must (continue to) do what we can to build on a great summer.  With energy, dedication and enthusiasm, the autumn cold will be kept at bay.

 

Rio exceeding expectations as Paralympics capture the imagination

If the first few days of the Paralympics are anything to go by, Rio is well on the way to exceeding expectations.  This feat is made all the more remarkable given the well documented build up to the games, which was troubled to say the least.  All of that though seems a world away with busy stadiums, storming performances from Paralympics GB and excellent media coverage of events in Rio.

We are also arguably seeing to see the proof of the London Paralympic legacy, as exemplified by the emergence of Ellie Robinson.  Inspired by watching her namesake Simmonds perform on the global stage, the Northampton youngster took a remarkable gold with a maturity way beyond her years.  What is also notable is the continued emphasis on sport, with our athletes recognised for their world class sporting accomplishments in their own terms, which is the way it should be.

People have also wanted to know more about the athlete behind the sporting success.  I was fortunate enough to be asked onto the Victoria Derbyshire show to talk about the accomplishments of Ollie Hynd.  This desire to know more about the story behind the sporting success demonstrates the wider potential the Paralympics has to build awareness of disability related issues.  The swimmer in question sums it up when he says “its about ability not disability” and I totally agree.  Some of what we have seen represents our abilities as a human race to maximise our capacity for what we can do, irrespective of circumstance and the challenges we face.

There are still issues to address and questions to be tackled away from these games themselves.  The issue of whether the Paralympics can represent a full spectrum of disability is a thorny one which will not go away.  Particularly for athletes with more significant impairments, this one is a pressing issue of concern.  With the places and number of lower classification places ever under pressure, this issue is one that is in need of attention. Likewise, the issue of classification also needs seriously revisiting, with Channel 4 pundit Marc Woods commenting that some athletes were ‘right on the edge’ of their respective groups hinting at more serious issues to be addressed post Rio.

For now though let us continue to enjoy what we see before us.  Channel 4 coverage is doing a fantastic job of bringing the games home to us all, especially given the cuts they have faced as part of the aforementioned troubled build up to the games.  Other broadcasters and the printed media are also following the lead of the GB broadcaster, making the Paralympics be seen on a bigger scale than ever before.  There can be no question that the games is growing overall.

So keep watching, keep asking questions and keep appreciating the talent you see before you.  Thousands of hours of preparation have gone into getting the athletes here, and we’re also seeing the importance and value of lottery funding in the success of Paralympics GB.  Long may we all have such a wealth of sporting talent to cheer on.

Rio 2016: Time to let the sport do the talking

Imagine that you had been preparing for something all your life. You had put in thousands of hours over a period of years.  You have changed your diet, moved away from family, put yourself through training sessions every day and had beaten off stiff competition.  Now the biggest moment of your life was around the corner and you were determined to do your country proud. You do exactly that.  You compete, you win a medal and you have achieved your goal and life long ambition.

Now imagine that instead of your accomplishment, people had been talking about something else instead.  You’d be rightly deflated to say the least, and every right to feel that you had been disrespected.

We all know that the Paralympic Games bring perhaps a unique focus on the issues that face disabled people and, and arguably have a wider significance than the Olympics as a result.  This brings with it an opportunity to engage in sensible and measured debate, reflect on issues and find solutions to complex social problems.  There will be those that will merely seek to frankly hijack the games to suit their own agenda.  Certain groups will try to grab headlines at any cost and will frankly miss the point in doing so.  Away from sport, what is needed is measured debate to engage in the nuances of issues faced and engage in a collaborative way to find solutions.

Turning to the games themselves, we all know they have had a troubled build up.  We all know that there are issues with the classification system for athletes.  All of this though is beyond the control of the individual athletes who have dedicated their lives, or at least a substantial portion of it, making significant sacrifices in the process, to get to Rio.  These athletes don’t seek to be admired as ‘inspirational’ (though they may rightly be seen as being so), hailed as heroes or as universal spokespeople for disabled people everywhere.

The athletes simply want to be recognised for being world class in what they have chosen to do, and be rightly respected for the level at which they perform.  It is time for stories of sporting accomplishment to take centre stage, and for us to respect the abilities of athletes who will maximise their abilities to perform their chosen sport.

It is time to let the sport do the talking.

At this point, to focus on anything else would be to be distracted by a side issue.  Just as the Olympics provided the nation with a much needed ‘feel good’ factor, I hope and expect the Paralympics to do the same.  The temptation to be distracted by the side issues will be great.  People will use vivid headlines and messages to get your attention.  Unfortunately, the complexity of the social issues we face means that little will change in focusing on them during the games themselves.  We can tackle those issues after the Paralympics, when we’ve rightly recognised the achievement of the athletes who will be representing our country in Rio.