Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson


Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE, one of Britain’s greatest Paralympic athletes, explains why the UK is a good place to be as a disabled person and how the country put disability sport on the map by hosting the first ever Paralympic Games in London in 1948.

Britain’s a pretty good place to be if you’re a disabled person. In terms of sport, we’re the envy of the world in terms of our support structures, our media coverage, the games that we’re going to be hosting. We’re using it as a platform to show the world what we can achieve. And actually, you know, in the outside world, away from sport, it’s still one of the best countries to be in.
Racing’s amazing because it’s speed, it’s fear, if you’re on a road race you can be going downhill at 50 miles an hour two foot from the ground, and your brakes don’t really work. It’s exhaustion, it’s elation, it’s so many things wrapped up together, and if you’re competing on the track, that can happen in 20 seconds. It’s the most amazing feeling.
But the outside world is so different from that.
My family was so supportive of me doing the things that I wanted to do. And they brought me up to believe that if somebody had an issue with my impairment, it was their problem not mine.
When I was young, literally I couldn’t go out, because there weren’t accessible toilets. Cinemas didn’t allow disabled people in on their own without adults with them. And you look back now and it’s actually quite scary that that was only maybe 30, 35 years ago. And at a time when disability was thought about very differently, they encouraged me to explore, and to leave home, and to travel, believing that the world would have to change, that it wasn’t me, because there was nothing wrong with me being in a wheelchair.
I never set out to try and change the world. I set out to become the best athlete I possibly could. The realisation that I could actually become number 1 in the world actually took quite a long time to come to me, because it was always about looking at the stats, it was about improving my world ranking, it was about making the next games.
And then as I got older I kind of recognised that I had certain strengths in being able to try and encourage people to change their attitudes towards disability.
Britain has so much to be proud of in terms of its understanding of disabled people but also in terms of putting disability sport on the map because it was in Britain that the Paralympic Games began. And sport has really led the way, underpinned by an awful lot of disabled people who have helped to make it happen. But it’s led the way in terms of showing what an inclusive world can look like.
And there it is: victory number 6. Tanni Grey-Thompson, MBE CB, the first woman of the London Marathon.
The opportunity to host the Olympics and Paralympics in London was one that anybody involved in sport wanted to be part of, because it was about showing the world how good we are at organising things. And we’re passionate about sport, we’re passionate about doing things properly, about building, you know, lovely venues. But it’s not just that – it’s about how we change the city of London, how we change the rest of the UK.

London, and in fact any old city, is a huge challenge to adapt and to modernise because there’s a sort of amalgamation of, you know, different historical and architectural designs. And we have lots of rules about what you can adapt and how you can adapt it. Erm, and that can be really difficult. But there has been, sort of step changes, either through Acts of Parliament or just the people understanding, that have made disabled people’s lives easier.

I think if you ask people from outside Britain what we’re like as a nation, there might be a thought that we’re resistant to change. But actually as a country, I think we’re very dynamic, we’re very forward-thinking, we’re very inclusive, we try to make decisions that are the best for the most number of people. And that’s actually a very exciting country to be part of, because we have this huge amount of history and culture, but actually we’re all looking forward to see what we can do in the future to make life better for everybody.


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