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Changing the image of disability
IF there’s anyone who knows how the face of disability is evolving it’s Paralympian Hannah Stodel.
The sailor faced a number of hurdles in her rise to dominate her sport after being born without a right forearm.
Hannah narrowly missed out on a medal at the London 2012 Games, but she could yet win a bronze. A penalty imposed on her team during the competition has been challenged by Paralympics GB and they are awaiting a decision by the Court of Arbitration in Sport.
Hannah says: “When I was getting into sailing the attitude towards many people with a disability was ‘shock horror, a disabled person doing sport? What an utterly ridiculous idea!’ “But in the wake of the Paralympics it is changing. I think the general public got to see the competitors as athletes, not victims. “Before, I think there was also almost a them and us attitude. “There was the Olympic athletes and then us, the Paralympians, but I like to think we have proved to the world we too are good sportsmen and women. We too can entertain the crowds.
“There’s work to do, but the fact the Paralympics was sold out here in London makes me really positive about will be like in Rio in four years time.”
Being born without an arm has resulted in Hannah spending her life fending off questions of “What’s wrong with you?”. This reached fever pitch when she was out in America for training.
Hannah, from West Mersea, became Britain’s first female sailing Paralym-pian when she and the British Sonar team of John Robertson and Stephen Thomas made their debut at Athens 2004.
She says: “You get a lot of questions as people are curious about your disability, but I think in general British people tend to tiptoe round it a bit. They aren’t so rude.
“In America it was on a totally different scale! Out there no end of total strangers came up and asked ‘Oh man what happened to you? Were you blown up in Iraq?’ “I ended up just agreeing in the end. I just had to laugh it off.”
A recent trip to Alton Towers theme park with a friend in a wheelchair brought back memories for Hannah.
She says: “It did make me think of when I was a kid and we went there with the school.
“I remember people would say things like ‘Are you sure you should go on that ride with your condition?’ But this time there was an attitude of go on what you like – enjoy it!
“I think the important message to get across is that even if you are missing an arm, or a leg or are in a wheelchair you can lead a normal life. You aren’t a victim. Sometimes people with a disability feel like their life is better because of it – as it has made them stronger and the person they are today.”