With the Closing Ceremony of the Paralympic Games in London last night, I hope that you will allow me to use your newspaper to congratulate and thank all our local athletes who made the Games so exciting and so memorable — especially swimming gold medal winner Bethany Firth from Seaforde in Co Down.
Bethany was one of the nearly 200 athletes with a learning disability who made a welcome return to the Games following a 12-year ban on athletes with a learning disability, introduced after Sydney’s 2000 Paralympics.
As one of the organisations which campaigned for the ending of the ban, Mencap is delighted that people with a learning disability have been able to join athletes with a disability and compete in London 2012.
In Northern Ireland, there are around 33,000 people with a learning disability and — like all of us — they are individuals who want different things in life and need different levels of support to achieve them.
Mencap is working towards a world where people with a learning disability are valued, listened to and included. Their re-inclusion to the Olympic family will do much to highlight the contribution that people with a learning disability can — and do — make to the world of sport.
Our hope is that their dedication will be matched by funding and support to enable even more athletes with a learning disability to compete at Rio 2016.
MAUREEN PIGGOT OBE
Director, Mencap Northern Ireland