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UK Disability History Month

Ludwig Guttman

paining of ludwig guttmanSir Ludwig Guttmann (3 July 1899 – 18 March 1980) was a German-born British neurologist who established the Paralympic Games in England.

The Jewish doctor, who had fled Nazi Germany just before the start of the Second World War, is considered to be one of the founding fathers of organised physical activities for people with a disability.

In 1944 he became head of the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, the UK's first specialist unit for treating spinal injuries. He remained there until he retired in 1966.

 At the time life expectancy for paraplegics was only two years from the time of injury, with patients confined to beds.  Guttmann refused to accept that a spinal injury was a death sentence, and his advancements in the treatment of paraplegia have revolutionised the field. Guttman believed that sport was a major form of therapy for injured servicemen helping them build up physical strength, and helping self-respect as well as better integration. To help with this, he organised the first Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled persons on 28 July 1948, the same day as the start of the London 1948 Summer Olympics. These were the forerunners of today's Paralympic Games.

Initially just an archery contest, the following year more events were added and participants increased. The event became international in 1952, and that year Guttman helped found the International Stoke Mandeville Games Committee.

In 1960 the Stoke Mandeville Games were held in Rome, following several weeks after the Olympic Games in the same location. The event became known as the first Paralympic Games and featured more than 400 athletes from 23 countries. The Paralympics subsequently were staged in the same year as the Olympics. The first Paralympic Winter Games followed in 1976, in Sweden.