Bethany Firth and Jessica-Jane ApplegateAthletes with learning disabilities won 12 medals – including 4 golds – at the Rio Paralympics, despite being only able to compete in events in 3 out of 23 sports at the games.

In Rio, athletes with learning disabilities won 8% of the teams medals – 12 out of 147 – even though they made up just 3% of the British team.

Currently athletes with a learning disability are allowed to compete for just 18 out of 528 gold medals. There have been concerns around a lack of demand among athletes with a learning disability to compete at elite levels, however the number of medals won by Team GB athletes with a learning disability proves this wrong.

More than 260 athletes with disabilities went to Rio as part of the GB team, but just 7 were athletes with a learning disability. Despite the small number, athletes with a learning disability contributed 4 gold, 6 silver and 2 bronze medals to the team’s tally. 

Two of the most successful were swimmers Bethany Firth and Jessica-Jane Applegate (pictured). Firth won 3 golds – in the 100m backstroke, 200m freestyle and200m individual medley and silver in the 100m breaststroke. Meanwhile, Applegate, who is an ambassador for Mencap, won 2 silver and 1 bronze medals in her events, which included 200m freestyle, 200m individual medley and 100m backstroke. 

Currently, athletes with a learning disability can only compete in 3 out of the 23 Paralympic sports. Within those 3 sports, there are just 9 events open to athletes with a learning disability. Prior to the start of the Paralympics, Mencap launched a petition to the International Paralympic Committee calling for more events to be opened up to athletes with a learning disability, which has received more than 3,600 signatures to date. 

Harry Roche, who has a learning disability, said: “All of the athletes who competed at the Paralympics did fantastically. I’d like to say huge congratulations to all of the athletes with a learning disability who took part and won a medal. I’ve really enjoyed watching the Paralympics this year, it has been really good to watch athletes with a learning disability do so well. 

“I really hope that at the next Paralympics we will see even more athletes with a learning disability take part in a larger number of events. It is unfair that athletes with a learning disability can only compete in 3 out of the 23 sports. The Paralympics has shown that there is a lot of talent and there needs to be more opportunities made available. We must overcome these barriers as soon as possible.”