This time last year, the Paralympics was well underway and for weeks it was almost impossible to open a newspaper without reading about the amazing achievements of Paralympic athletes.

It opened people’s eyes to what some disabled people can do – and more importantly – the focus was on people’s abilities and achievements, not their disability.  A year on and new research commissioned by United Response shows that 9 out of 10 British people believe that the Games made disabled people more visible than ever before.  However, a third fear that they are once again becoming invisible.

Of more concern is the feeling from some disabled people that they have become more visible, but often for the wrong reasons.  As the debate around the Government’s welfare reforms has intensified, the image of disabled people as scroungers living off benefits has gained more prominence with increasingly damaging effects.  Darren, a member of United Response’s Campaigns Panel felt that “the recent stories on benefit cuts were unfair and unbalanced.  [We were] branded as scroungers and spongers.”

The latest report from United Response’s Campaigns Panel explores the two stereotypes of disabled people often seen in the news – either superhuman Paralympians or benefit scroungers.  The Campaigns Panel is an informal network of around 20 people supported by United Response and includes their relatives.  The Panel is a diverse group of people from across the country who volunteer their time to make sure that our campaigning is focused on issues which matter most to the people we support.

The two extreme stereotypes of superhumans and scroungers leaves little space for ordinary disabled people to make their views and opinions heard.  As Shairaz, one of the members of the Campaigns Panel says, “we shouldn’t only be portrayed when we do something amazing or something bad. We should also be portrayed when we are doing ordinary things.”  Shairaz’s feelings were overwhelming shared by other members of the Campaigns Panel who told us that too often the lives of ordinary disabled people are completely invisible.

The report has been published at the same time as United Response launches Postcards from the Edges, a new and unique exhibition of art by ordinary disabled people.  The project has been created to give disabled and non-disabled people a creative space to talk about their passions, interests, challenges and thoughts.  Over the last few months, nearly 600 unique postcards have been created; their extraordinary range of topics and views reflecting the diversity of people’s lives and opinions.  Our hope is that both projects will continue to build on the legacy of the Paralympics and ensure that disabled people’s voices are heard as clearly as everyone else’s.

Postcards from the Edges exhibition dates:

London, Bankside Gallery – 10-15 September

Gateshead, Sage – 1-4 October

Bristol, Grant Bradley Gallery – 10-15 October

Liverpool, Camp and Furnace – 5-10 November

Rachel Bowen, campaigns officer.