This year, the British Paralympic Association (BPA) celebrates its 25th anniversary. As founding partner and a long-term supporter of disability sport, BT has joined the Telegraph to celebrate this important milestone by announcing the launch of BT’s 25th Birthday Bursary Fund – with five £5,000 grants being awarded to amateur sports clubs involved with disability sport.
On the judging panel is the renowned Australian comedian and presenter Adam Hills. Born with a disability, he revealed that he was never public about it. “I’d been wondering for 10 years what it would take to crack Britain and it ended up being the one thing I’d been hiding for much of my adult life,” he explains.
Hills has come a long way in the past 25 years. The opening show in the fourth series of The Last Leg, which he hosts, aired on Channel 4 last Friday.
“When we went into making The Last Leg in 2012, our intention was simply to show the Paralympics and make people realise how great they were. That’s all. All the other stuff – making people accept and understand it – came about off the back of that.
“I didn’t talk about my foot on stage for the first 13 years of my stand-up. Someone said to me early on that if I did I’d only ever be known as the one-legged comedian. Then another comedian, an older comedian, said to me, ‘Well, you should learn to be funny first. Then you can talk about your foot.’
“It has kind of defined me a little bit now and what I love about doing
The Last Leg is that we don’t have to talk about disability.” Like the Paralympic movement itself, there is widespread acceptance.
Britain is the home of the Paralympic movement and for many years the British Paralympic Association was almost a lone voice driving disability sport forward. Then brands including the Telegraph and BT got involved and started to raise the profile of disability sport.
Channel 4 first provided Paralympic TV coverage, which went on to reach a peak at London 2012. Now BT leads the way in supporting the BPA – but the journey for disability sport continues and the work must not stop.
“When you’ve got someone like BT, Channel 4, Sainsbury’s and the Telegraph, it all helps,” says Hills.
“The public then think more of the Paralympics if a big company is giving it attention. All that stuff is invaluable. It must be great for the athletes as well.
“Everybody at the Paralympics has a story. It just adds a little bit of colour and character to who they are. In a lot of cases, that goes for the disabled people who aren’t necessarily athletes. I once read something that said, in ancient Greece, disabled people were asked their opinions on current issues because it was believed that they had a slightly different view of the world. I’m not entirely sure that’s true, but I’d like to think that our show is the modern day equivalent of that.”
Hills grew up at a time when sports for kids with disabilities was not widespread nor as cool as they are now perceived.
“I was born with a deformed right foot I could put weight on. The first GP my mum took me to see when I was only a couple of months old (in 1970) said I would never be able to walk and would never have a decent quality of life. She was devastated.
“She took me to another specialist who said the first guy didn’t know what he was talking about and that it would all be OK. To think that in 1970 someone would look at my foot and say I was never going to have a decent standard of life is astonishing. Compare that to now – when we’ve seen the Paralympics and we know that’s not true.”
That second specialist said the best thing his mother could do was to treat Hills “like any other kid”.
“So from a young age, I played cricket, football and tennis with the kids in the street, but I had no idea disability sports even existed back then.
“But if I was 12 now and had watched Jonnie Peacock run the 100m with the same prosthetic leg that I’ve got, and be treated like a hero and be sponsored and be on billboards, damn right I’d have trained for the Paralympics.
“The most emotional moment for me was watching Paralympics GB enter the stadium in 2012 as confetti canons went off and David Bowie’sHeroes played out. That single moment in 2012 illustrated exactly what I love about the Paralympics. To see your child walking out like a rock star in front of 90,000 people must have been incredible for the parents, not just the athletes.
“We had people tweeting photos of their kids wearing home-made prosthetics. It was incredible to think that able-bodied children would want to be like disabled athletes.”
This is the legacy that 25 years of education and awareness from both athletes and sponsors has created.