Paralympics 2012: Disabled People Making History

9 September 2012

As the UK closes the curtains on the Olympic world stage and marks the end of the 2012 Paralympics, guest writer Danny West (left), trainer, coach, mentor and leadership consultant, reflects on the last two weeks and how everyone can join in to sustain the game's legacy.

The world has just witnessed a unique demonstration of disabled people’s absolute ability to overcome adversity, achieve world records and participate as fully able and highly skilled equal members of society.

The UK is proud to be positioned in third place in the Olympic medal tables; the world’s Paralympians have demonstrated that they have a remarkable ability to achieve their goals and have impressed and inspired the world with their skills, dignity and determination. The human spirit which has been utilised to confront and overcome a multitude of physical, emotional, psychological and environmental barriers has achieved the seemingly impossible and has potentially changed the views of non-disabled people, institutions and governments throughout the world.


The 2012 Paralympics has done more to challenge prejudice and the preconceived ideas of disability perpetuated by society than any other event in history. In the UK, 2012 has been a year of celebration. Post Olympics we now have an opportunity to sustain this mood of celebration by embracing and championing disability and impairment in a proactive movement of inclusion and diversity as we work together to promote and actively support the Olympic legacy and the continued empowerment of disabled people and the disability agenda.

The Olympic legacy programme will raise many issues associated with the future of the disability agenda and disabled people's lives and generate many ideas and projects that aim to fully include and address the human rights needs of disabled people both nationally and internationally.

The social model of disability explores the many ways in which society could change its attitudes and relationship to disabled people. The Paralympics has provided the world with a snap shot of our ability and of the many ways in which we are entirely able to contribute and demonstrate excellence. It is now time for the non-disabled world to participate by contributing to the almost exhaustive number of ways to our complete equality and inclusion.

My primary aim of writing this article is to encourage you the reader to identify ideas and strategies of action which will serve to sustain and continue this debate and enable your participation in the process of societal change by creating a fully accessible and equal society for people living with disabilities.  The UK government has already pledged to support a national annual disabled people’s games event which is a start however there are many other ways in which we can all contribute to sustaining change by taking action. 

Here are some of the ways in which YOU can take action and contribute to change. 

  • Remember that we are visible, do not ignore us.
  • Make yourself aware of the ‘Equality Act 2010’ (or comparative legislation in your country) and the rights of disabled people
  • Talk to your disabled friends, neighbors, family members, work mates and colleagues about disability and the issues associated with being disabled. Educate yourself and then educate others; ask questions, disabled people want you to be disability aware....
  • If you are involved locally or nationally in a club or organization investigate how your club or organization could become more accessible to the disabled community
  • Become an advocate for disabled people, campaign and lobby your local politicians.
  • If you think we need assistance then be brave enough to offer your help, we don’t all need your help but for some of us a supportive enabling gesture will be really welcomed.
  • Challenge the physical environment; when you notice that the buildings that you use are inaccessible then challenge (in a helpful way) the proprietors of that building.
  • Challenge  prejudiced and stigmatizing viewpoints; many people hold such views because they are not aware of the real facts or because they have not been exposed to disability issues or accustomed to meeting people with disabilities
  • Write about your experiences and instigate discussions through social media and at home, in leisure and in the workplace.
  • Talk to your employer about their commitment and policies related to employing disabled people in your place of work
  • Share the business case for employing disabled people with your work mates, colleagues and employers

The Business Case for Employing Disabled People 
When you are proactive in employing disabled people, it has the potential to:

  • Widen your pool of candidates from which to recruit staff, and raise the bar for quality accordingly.
  • Gain a competitive advantage by having a diverse workforce which can attract a diverse range of customers - there are over ten million disabled people in the UK, most of whom are potential customers and/or employees.
  • Make your business more representative of the community and foster a better public image as a fair and inclusive business.
  • Improve staff morale and loyalty to a business considered inclusive and representative.
  • Utilise skills; disabled people have abilities, skills and experience that your business can benefit from
  • Save money by retaining valuable experienced staff
  • Use the experience of disabled people to understand how your customers think and what drives their spending or customer needs
  • Tap into the uniqueness of disabled people they are more resourceful, creative, resilient and determined

Did you know?
  • Most disabled people become so during their working lives. By retaining someone who becomes disabled rather than letting them go, lets you keep their skills and experience and so avoid the cost and inconvenience of replacing them.
  • Disabled people have as wide a range of talents as the rest of society. Some develop new skills in response to life as a disabled person, such as organizational skills from juggling care needs. These are often overlooked and good practice can help you capitalize on them
  • Ensuring that selection decisions and policies are based on objective criteria, and not on unlawful discrimination, prejudice or unfair assumptions
  • Good practice is the only way in which an organization can hope to avoid the pitfalls of unlawful discrimination. To try purely for compliance will waste time and money. By becoming an employer of choice you will be able to maximize your opportunity to recruit and retain staff from the widest possible labor market.
  • A representative workforce will enable you to relate with confidence to the needs and expectations of your customers and service users.
  • Making the organisation more attractive to investors. Partnerships with other organizations are a significant feature of these times. A wide variety of sources of finance and other resources have to be explored and a positive approach to disabled people can make an organization a more attractive proposition.
  • Your reputation within the local community will be enhanced, as you will be recognized both as a good employer and service provider. People will see your positive attitude towards disabled people and this, in turn, can help them feel more positive towards the organization.
  • Avoiding the cost of discrimination. As well as all the other reasons for good practice there is now legislation which outlaws discrimination. The actual expense of being taken to an employment tribunal is not the only cost consideration. You also need to consider the cost to your organization of adverse publicity and low staff morale.
  • A workforce that is diverse, inclusive and fair has better productivity, less sickness absence and low staff attrition rates.
  • Disabled people and people with long term health conditions are resourceful, loyal and resilient. These are the qualities that successful businesses look for and foster; these qualities make true leaders and pathfinders; people with these qualities will hasten our sustainable economic recovery.
Facts & Figures
  • More than 6 million British adults are disabled - 18% of the working age population.
  • The economic activity rate for disabled people is around 51% as compared with 85% for non-disabled people.
  • There are 2.9 million disabled people in employment - an employment rate of 46%. This compares with a rate of 80% for non-disabled people.
  • The unemployment rate for disabled people is nearly twice that for others of working age (11% as compared with 6%).
  • People with mental health problems or learning difficulties experience much higher unemployment rates (over 20%) than people with other types of disability.
  • Nearly two fifths (38%) of unemployed disabled people have been unemployed for at least a year, compared with 26% of the non-disabled.
  • Almost half, (41%) of those who were economically inactive are disabled.

A Final Note
Whilst writing this article I researched a number of definitions for the word ‘legacy’ which I could utilise in the context of this article the most pertinent of which is defined as follows:

‘Something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past: the legacy of the ancient philosophers’

The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896 and the first ancient Olympic Games were held in Olympia, Greece in 776 BC.

In 1960 the Summer Paralympics, originally known as the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games, became the first international Paralympics Games which preceded the Stoke Mandeville Games of 1948 and 1952 and were organised under the aegis of the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation.

The 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics has the potential to be a significant  predecessor and protagonist for change in societal attitudes and the limited expectations and viewpoints held by society about our capabilities.

The 2012 Paralympics provides society with an ancient legacy for contemporary intelligent thinking for human rights values, equality, diversity and justice; it provides us all with an opportunity to participate in our evolution for those who CAN......

Sources of Information:
The Social Model of Disability
The Equality Act

First Image Credit Flickr User Mr Moss



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