Weekly Poll – Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue.  For the week beginning 23 August 2021, we asked a question about the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.


Question 1. Do you think the Paralympics and the ‘WeThe15’ campaign can help to change perceptions and attitudes towards disabled people?  

  • YES – 78% (52 respondents)
  • NO – 22% (15 respondents)


We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Perceptions and Attitudes

The Paralympics is an international multi-sport event for athletes with a range of physical, mental, and sensory impairments.  The majority of respondents believed that the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics can help to change perceptions and attitudes towards disabled people.

“The more this is brought to the front of people hopefully their perceptions will change, and disabled people will be accepted more readily instead of being pitied.”

“I think that it is showing others that disabled people can take part just as much as others and can achieve their goals and dreams too.”

“Seeing the athletes compete in the games and seeing the achievements will hopefully make others think twice about what we can do.”

“With such a positive portrayal of disabled people how can non-disabled people’s perceptions not change for the good.”

“I sincerely hope so, because something is desperately needed to change perceptions and attitudes towards disabled people. It is shocking that it comes to this and that disabled people always have to prove themselves more than able-bodied people. Why is it so hard?”

“Everyone is individual and should be treated with dignity and respect.”

In contrast, some respondents reflected on the perceptions and attitudes that could arise which may reinforce stereotypes.

“There is a slight danger that it leads to able bodied people feeling that disabled people must be inspirational and play into that troupe when in reality many of us don’t want to be othered but instead treated equally.”

“Participants in the Paralympics, although disabled, are not typical. Many people will get the impression that all disabled people are fit enough to participate in energetic sports.”

There were specific comments from respondents about the impact perceptions and attitudes have had on Para athletes who had been receiving social security benefits and grants.

“During the last Paralympics, participants lost their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit because they could take part in sport, and many were then told they didn’t need it anymore. So, on one hand London shouts about team GB and then punishes them by taking benefits off them. It’s a double-edged sword. I hope it doesn’t happen this time.”

“I remember the 2012 Paralympics – how people commented on how good disabled athletes were and so on. I then heard people saying that this proved that disabled people don’t need any help and that they are just milking benefits.”


Some respondents believed that the extend of the influence the Paralympics can have on changing perceptions and attitudes towards disabled people is dependent on how widely it is promoted.

“Any coverage which highlights the number of disabled people, the challenges they face and the successes they have is useful publicity.”

“The Paralympics puts some visualisation and topics into the world, even although media aren’t covering it the same as they do non-disabled sports.”

“The Olympics were on BBC One and the Paralympics are on Channel 4, so how many people will sit down to watch it?”

“I noticed that the news did not give much coverage to the Paralympics apart from a few seconds. The lack of coverage could impact on positive change and that is a shame.”

One respondent questioned whether the increase in disabled people on TV advertisements could be perceived as a form of tokenism.

“After the 2015 Rio Paralympics we ended up with adverts for chocolate showing disabled people on TV – this is about the only change I’ve seen. Including disabled people on TV is a welcomed step forward but smacks of tokenism.”

WeThe15 Campaign

There were specific comments about the WeThe15 Campaign, which launched alongside the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and aims to raise awareness of disabled people that make up 15% of the world’s population. Respondents were split on whether the Campaign can help to change perceptions and attitudes towards disabled people.

“I think the campaign can be a useful tool to raise awareness of how common disability is. The fact that we’re 15% of the population and that everybody will sooner or later gain some disabilities through age, can make a big difference to awareness.”

“I am not sure about the WeThe15 campaign as it does not appear to be very well advertised or spoken about on TV or Social Media but there is plenty coverage from the Paralympics.”

“The WeThe15 campaign does seem to be focused on showing that disabled people are just like everyone else which I’m pleased about but past experience of this means I’m not confident it’ll make changes.”

“It may in a very small percentage of interested people and people sufficiently motivated by the campaign, but it will not in the majority because as with so many other things in life, they are in denial as it does not affect them personally. What hope does a 15% minority have of any form of recognition by such people other than being an obstruction to their needs.”

“This campaign is just another one bleating about poor us, and people have lost interest and become jaded by them all. I would love to think this would make a difference, but sadly don’t think it will. If our own governments and medical agencies, aren’t listening to us and how we feel, then I’m afraid Joe Public won’t listen either.”

Addressing Inequalities

Some respondents believed the Paralympics and the WeThe15 Campaign will have a minimal impact on the ongoing inequalities faced by disabled people on a day-to-day basis.

“I’m not sure it will make much difference – the Paralympics highlight sporting excellence, which is brilliant, but It won’t really address the daily issues being faced by disabled people.”

“I remain hopeful that the Paralympics and the WeThe15 Campaign does make a difference in raising awareness of the needs and difficulties that disabled people face on a day-to-day basis. However, I still think that it will take much more than a campaign that has grown from the Paralympic movement.”

“While I enjoy watching the Paralympics and have the greatest of respect for the athletes, they do not project the true plight of disabled people across the globe.”

“For many years we have been fighting for recognition as people of value to society. If the world was built with wheels in mind with more lifts and ramps rather than stairs and kerbs our access to everyday, ordinary activities at work and at play would be equal. It would at least be a start.”

“I think such attempts at awareness raising can be a catalyst for change as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of our humanity and diversity. But as is the case with the Paralympian promotions, so often such campaigns end up more disabling for us than enabling. I cringe when i see hyperbolic references like ‘We’re the Super Humans’ and ‘High Ability’. I feel the over-compensation disenfranchises and marginalises the rest of us who quietly deal with overwhelming challenges every day, whether disabled or not. Those of us with disabilities do not have the monopoly on suffering or hardship. We have to remember that we are human first, with our own unique challenges. All anyone wants is a level playing field. True inclusion begins when no one is left out.”


Most respondents believed that the Paralympics will to some extent help to change perceptions and attitudes towards disabled people. However, a portion of respondents highlighted that it may also reinforce stereotypes. In order for the Paralympics to have the widest impact, it needs to be easily accessed and promoted across various media outlets. One respondent believed that the increase in Para athletes featured on TV advertisements could be viewed as tokenism. There were specific comments about the WeThe15 campaign, which launched alongside the Paralympics. Some people believed the campaign could make some difference; however, it was noted that similar campaigns have been run in the past with minimal impact. Respondents recognised that the Paralympics and the WeThe15Campaign are unlikely to address the day-to-day inequalities faced by disabled people.