Today's Sunday Post column in full
What a difference a fortnight makes. Blade Runner used to be a cult movie. Now a legion of amputee sprinters have elbowed Harrison Ford from the podium of history and almost erased memories of Jamaica's lightning-fast Olympians with the power and personality of their unusual running style. Once upon a time few had heard of swimmer Ellie Simmonds let alone her condition -- achondroplasia. Spectacular false starts were the sole preserve of Usain Bolt – not an unknown cyclist called Jody Cundy. And a man without arms wouldn't handle a pint let alone an Archery Olympic Medal. Tennis was something you played standing upright and running couldn't be done on wheels. In less than two weeks the London Paralympics have changed all that. Inspiring is just too small a word. It's been a bit like Tomorrow's World, Gladiators (and sometimes Coronation Street) rolled into one. In four years' time, we might even see blind runners running completely unaided thanks to headsets watching for hurdles and providing left and right instructions. In the arena of human tenacity and technology, anything's possible.
The public's also managed to talk a bit more frankly about disability. Folk used to be scared of saying the wrong thing – now there's open debate about whether it's alright to call disabled athletes "brave", or comment on good looks. Of course some grumble problems of comparison make disabled sports impossible to judge and not quite elite or Olympian. In able-bodied sports competition is fierce and those who win are simply the best – full stop. In the Paralympics allowances are made for disability so winning can be more of a calculation than simply who crossed the line first. But every Scottish golfer understands that -- the handicap system has let players of all abilities compete together for centuries.
These same Paralympic medal winners appeared at the opening ceremony with tracksuit tops zipped to the neck so they could conceal the logo of sponsors ATOS – the company accused of administering heartless cuts to disability benefits on behalf of David Cameron's government. And the situation facing all those living with disability isn't getting better – it's set to get even worse. Everyone who once claimed Incapacity Benefit is being moved to Employment Support Allowance and has to undergo a medical to decide if they qualify. Even patients with terminal conditions like Motor Neurone Disease, are failing to get enough points at medicals because examinations are performed by nurses not specialists in five minutes not the scheduled twenty. In the 4-12 months appeals currently take a "not sick enough" patient could actually die. And yet -- like the security firm G4S who messed up Olympic security – ATOS just get more benefit shifting contracts even though just 0.3% of disability benefits are overpaid through false claims. When David Cameron meets Britain's Paralympic heroes tonight, maybe he could explain why?