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When the Games are over ... will anything change?

When Dr Ludwig Guttmann created the Paralympic Games, his aim was not to change society's attitude to the disabled, but to encourage the rehabilitation of injured war veterans.

Yet, over the past few weeks in which the games were staged in their country of birth, the potential for wider change is the topic of the moment. The legacy of the 2012 Paralympics, many seemed to be saying, is to be about more than sport.

David Cameron proposed "eyes are being opened, attitudes shifted", while Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested that the "best way to get attitudes to change around the world is by hosting a fantastic Paralympics". And Britain did that, hosting a games that, as Mark Bush of the charity Scope said, offered "unprecedented visibility", delivered to us through 300 hours of live footage on Channel 4 – the biggest coverage of a Paralympics, which achieved a peak audience of three million every night.

But what has the legacy been? Has it altered the way we view disabled people, and in some way made life better for those with impairments? Here eight disabled people living in Scotland – activists, performers, athletes, a politician – consider that question. What emerges is a mixed picture.

The games have taken place against a backdrop of cuts in disability benefits, and government rhetoric that posits many claimants as scroungers. Many campaigners believe the image of the disabled has been not so much improved as polarised: reduced to the stereotypes of saint or sinner. George Osborne was booed by an audience of 80,000 when he participated in a medal ceremony.

A sponsor of the games was Atos, the company invested with carrying out the "fit-for-work" tests of disabled people, a fact which caused a week of action at its offices. And in Edinburgh last night, activists projected anti-Atos images on to the Scottish Parliament, while former Paralympian Tara Flood, a recipient of disability living allowance, came out in support.

Nevertheless, over the past few weeks, during which Edwina Currie and Frankie Boyle both provoked outrage for their insensitive remarks, perhaps we have learned to speak more freely about disability. We have become used to seeing the physically impaired on mainstream television. We have started to talk about issues confronting the disabled. The real question is whether this will last.

Aileen McGlynn, 39

Paralympian cyclist and medallist at Beijing and London 2012

I'm hoping that the Paralympics will have changed attitudes in this country. I've not been reading or watching much of the coverage, because I've been so cocooned here in the village I haven't even had a chance to watch my own races or interviews.

But I do think that Channel 4 did a good job in the build-up by profiling certain athletes, and talking about the sport rather than so much about the disability. I think probably prior to the Paralympics in Beijing I did the odd interview, but this time a lot of people wanted interviews, particularly of people like Jon-Allan Butterworth, who has a good story. I wasn't asked for so many. But that was fine.

Also, everybody knew the Paralympics were happening. My mum said before it started loads of people were passing on their best wishes. I can see how it has been encouraging for other people who are disabled. I had people contacting me on Facebook before the Games, including one couple who said: "Our granddaughter has albinism. We were really worried about her, but now we've seen you we're no longer worried."

I'm not sure how attitudes have changed in the past few weeks, but there was one thing that struck me. When I was younger I used to get called names – that would happen if you looked different. Now all these kids are coming up to me and standing beside me for photographs and asking for my autograph. And I think that's what it's about – the public seeing disabled people and accepting them.

For instance, I went to an integrated school in Uddingston and I think that was important, because people get used to seeing you.

Dame Anne Begg, 56

MP for Aberdeen South and first wheelchair user to be elected to the House of Commons

There has been a change in attitudes to disabled people. I think that Channel 4 has done a great job in busting some of the myths about disability and empowering people to talk about it. It has managed to mainstream the Paralympics. The public have been able to talk about disability without getting tongue-tied.

In terms of any far-reaching legacy, I'm not sure. It's been great to see disabled presenters on television, but my fear is they will be returned to the ghetto outside the mainstream and that in the medium to longer term positive effects will fade. And, more generally, I worry that those who aren't able to be elite athletes will have an even harder time now that everyone knows disabled people can do these incredible things. In the backdrop are benefits cuts. Some of these athletes will not qualify for the new PIP, which replaces Disability Living Allowance. They became elite athletes because of the support that they've been given through the benefits system, particularly DLA. But I think the glow of the Paralympics will be there for a few months.

Caroline Bowditch

Glasgow-based dancer whose work is part of the Southbank Unlimited Festival for deaf and disabled artists

I would like to think it might have a miraculous effect, but I'm quite realistic. I'm Australian and I was there when the Paralympics took place in Sydney and all this temporary infrastructure was put in. For two weeks, Sydney was the most accessible it had ever been. Then the Paralympics went, as did all the infrastructure. London is different because it was already more accessible.

People have started to see Paralympians as elite athletes, rather than disabled people who are competing in the Paralympics. The coverage on Channel 4 isn't necessarily helping because they're putting a lot of focus on the disability of the athlete. Children are now quite intrigued with anyone who has a physical or visible disability.

There's an expectation that because you're in a wheelchair you are going to be superhuman. There is something lovely about that, but it's tinged with disappointment.

Murray Elliot, 50

Paralympian archer who trains with the Balbardie Archers

When I first got involved in Paralympics it opened my eyes to the opportunities for disabled athletes. I've seen people doing things I've thought would be impossible. The Channel 4 coverage must be inspiring other people in that way.

I think we raised the bar in Beijing and we raised it again in London.

There has also been an attitude change. On social media sites, there has been a upsurge of support for the Paralympics. People seem to look at it on a par with the Olympics in terms of sporting prowess. It's showing people there are opportunities out there whether you have cerebral palsy or are in a wheelchair. When I started out, I didn't regard myself as disabled, and it was bittersweet when I was classified because I had to accept I really was disabled.

Tressa Burke

Chief executive of Glasgow Disability Alliance

In some ways the Paralympics have provided a platform for us to talk about disability issues. But the problem is, particularly in this economic climate where the government agenda on welfare reform seems really hostile to disabled people, and a stereotype has already been created of the disabled person as scrounger, this new myth of the superhuman is not helpful. It leads to the idea that you have to be superhuman or you're a scrounger. Given this, there has not been wide enough coverage of the real experiences of disabled people. The truth is the Paralympians are as representative of disabled people as Olympians are of average people.

People can have accidents or acquire conditions like me – I have MS – and their lives can change in a heartbeat. It could be you, or anyone of us, at any time.

I chair an accessibility group for the Commonwealth Games 2014 and we are looking at the legacy. In London it used to be that two wheelchair users would not be allowed on a bus together, but now they can. Will it last? We are watching and learning.

Martin Dougan

Channel 4 Paralympics presenter and wheelchair basketball player

It would be a bit of a shame, given the tickets sold out and the viewing figures were so high, if it didn't leave a legacy. I think Britain is ready for a change – and television is as well; with this coverage, people have been saying it's refreshing to see us. But the hope after this is we will continue to be on mainstream television and compete with able-bodied presenters and reporters for jobs.

And also the hope is that attitudes will have changed in such a way that this won't just apply to television. I was sitting on the train the other day listening to these two 15-year-old girls talking to each other. One was saying, did you see that guy with the blades running the other day, he's like amazing? Then she started imitating Richard Whitehead's run in the middle of the train. I would never have imagined that day happening. Then you see kids making cardboard cutouts of running blades and stuff and pretending they've got no legs. They're pretending to be Oscar Pistorius.

A stigma has definitely gone. Now people are going to want to know people who are disabled, and it's going to be cool to know someone who has got a disability or who does a disability sport.

George Lamb

Activist and member of Disability History Scotland

The big fear, I guess, among disabled activists is that, given the rhetoric around benefits cuts, that there will be this feeling that the majority of disabled people are choosing not to be like Paralympians.

During the run of the Paralympics, many of us have been involved in protests against the government's Welfare Reform Bill, and Atos, the company that carries out the tests for eligibility for benefits. George Osborne got booed by 80,000 people last week [while presenting Paralympic medals in the Olympic stadium]. That was just a brilliant moment. To me the Paralympics are a distraction, a little like the games the Romans had. You put on this event, you throw a bit of bread around, and the population quietens down for a while.

Have the Paralympics changed attitudes? There was an interesting discussion on the radio this morning and someone was saying they didn't think the Paralympics was going to change the "PC culture". What they meant was they didn't think that beyond the end of next week that people would be any more understanding than before the Paralympics. I think she's got a point.

Ramesh Meyyappan

Deaf performer whose work is at the Southbank Unlimited Festival celebrating disability

I do think all the events around 2012 – Paralympics and the Cultural Olympiad – have raised the profile of deaf and disabled and I would like to hope this has a positive impact, not just in raising awareness of specific issues but as a lasting legacy where change is achieved in areas that need attention.

Attitudes were already changing in places, but there is still work to be done – and there are issues with access. Performing in Edinburgh last year, a few friends had made the effort to try and see me in Edinburgh and found the venue I was performing in wasn't accessible for wheelchairs – the venue offered to carry one of them up the front stairs into the building (there wasn't even a portable ramp). My personal access issues have involved getting funding for interpreters, which are so important – there is not always an acceptance of their cost.

Having been given two commissions for the Unlimited festival I was given a great opportunity to explore, develop and create. Through the process I do think I was able to raise my profile as a performer/creator in Glasgow and I have found mainstream theatre companies have become familiar with who I am and what I do – what I can offer and in future venues who are familiar with me would be open to programming my work.

What I hope for performers is that we are given more opportunities to present our work but also to collaborate with mainstream companies. For this to happen there has to be an awareness of what we can offer not as deaf or disabled but as performers, creators, artists. I feel that the opportunities through Unlimited have gone some way to raise profiles and raise awareness that will allow us to contribute to the arts in Scotland.

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