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Dr Ian Brittain being filmed for an interview

Paralympic history and its impact on the lives of disabled people

Despite being the world’s second largest multi-sport Games, the Paralympic Games has historically received considerably less media interest than the Olympic Games. Consequently, data about its history and development, and the role it has played in increasing understanding of the issues faced by disabled people in wider society, have often previously been considered of no value and been discarded.

Since 2010, research by Dr Ian Brittain from the Centre for Business in Society has established a unique database on the history and development of the Paralympic Games that, through its use by national and international organisations, has significantly increased awareness of issues connected with disability in the wider society. The research has been supported by grants totalling over £2 million.

London 2012 was perhaps a turning point for the Paralympic Games regarding its celebration and exposure. Since this time, national and international organisations have recognised the power of this exposure and sought to use the Paralympic Games as a lens through which to increase awareness, not only of the Games and the athletes’ achievements, but crucially their contribution in influencing and changing attitudes towards the wider community of disabled people. For this purpose, lasting legacies are being created through national museums and the creation of documentary films aiming to create awareness and widen participation. These initiatives draw considerably on Brittain’s research, using the credible and accurate data his work has provided to increase legitimacy.

Brittain’s initial research into the history of the Paralympic Games discovered how little material existed. The research identified that many organisations, including National Paralympic Committees and host city organisations, had discarded most of their original material, believing it would have no future importance; a lot of existing secondary material contained conflicting facts; e.g. number of countries that participated in a particular Games; and perhaps mirroring societal views of disabled people, many families of deceased Paralympians have thrown away material, including winners’ medals, deeming them not worth keeping.

To address these issues, subsequent research involved visits to previous host cities around the world, undertaking interviews with athletes, organisers and governmental bodies from these Games and purchasing relevant material from online auction sites. Material has also been gifted by Paralympians and officials who have taken part in the Games. This has enabled a far more complete and accurate picture of the history and development of the Games to be formulated.

The research, and the unique database it has generated, has highlighted many significant issues relating to the Paralympic movement that had not been visible before. It has filled a multitude of gaps in knowledge concerning the names and performances in Paralympic history, including identifying the names of all but two of the Paralympians that have represented Great Britain since 1960. Britain’s research has also corrected numerous pieces of information claimed as ‘facts’ in published work that were inaccurate or incorrect, such as the number of countries which actually competed in the first two summer Paralympic Games.

These outcomes have led to new and original research in Paralympic legacy and how the Paralympic Games themselves have impacted the lives of disabled people in wider society; and the research has been directly used by Paralympic organisations to achieve their awareness-raising goals, through the provision of credible, accurate information used to inform their museums, films, and other dissemination projects.

To find out more about the research that formed this case study like the CARNIVAL project. You can also read more about other similar research projects.

Read Dr Ian Brittain's blog.

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