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This blog post was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Uganda: Next Paralympic champions?

I have travelled back to Kampala for the final leg of my trip with Ade Adepitan to investigate what life is like for disabled people in Uganda.


Development Minister Lynne Featherstone and Ade Adepitan hear from disabled people in Uganda. Picture: Jo Cooke/DFID.

I was very excited about our main event - we were due to meet Uganda's own wheelchair paralympic hopefuls. I was really interested to hear how their training compares to Ade's and to see them in action on the court.

We caught up with the team mid-match in a small outdoor court in the city centre. Uganda's own wheelchair basketball team may lack the latest equipment, high-tech chairs or training centres, but they certainly more than made up for it with their passion and dedication - not least because they'd been training in the sun for several hours before we arrived.

The teams limbered up for a match with Ade (with both sides proudly wearing 'Team GB' shirts in honour of their guest) and the rest of us gathered at the side to cheer. They clearly had an instant connection with Ade and everyone was speaking the same language of basketball. The match itself was absolutely thrilling. Both sides gave it their all - and while Ade's team seemed to have a natural advantage and edged the lead - it was heart-warming to see everyone's differences melt away. The team and the crowd forgot politics and policies and just enjoyed watching the match.

Afterwards, we talked about the reality of trying to become a disabled athlete in Uganda. Their story was a familiar one. A lack of interest, investment and worry about whether they have the training or equipment they need to make the grade.


Ade Adepitan meets Uganda's disabled sports stars of tomorrow. Picture: Michael Haig/DFID.

It was heartening to hear their hopes for the future. I hope they make the grade. After the UK's own team, I certainly know who I am going to be rooting for.

The match really summed up a lot of our trip. Disabled people across Africa are proving that they have the ability to take on huge challenges and face up to daily discrimination, prejudice and misunderstanding. It is abundantly clear that we will never create a level playing field unless we do more to recognise the tremendous hardship many disabled people are forced to live with - and take action to address it. Recognising disability in the new UN poverty goals will be an important step towards this.

Earlier in the day I gave a speech to an assembled group of charities, disabled lobby groups and Ugandan officials. You can read it here. I'm eager to hear your thoughts on how we can change people's perception and put an end to the discrimination that prevents so many talented people from reaching their full potential.


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