The Paralympics: positive or negative incidental effects on inclusion?

Sally Richards is the mother of Jackson West, a young, Canberra-based entrepreneur with a disability, and I was lucky enough to have her as part a group of around 200 people at the We Are What We Do workshop organised by Disability ACT and BLITS last week in the Australian capital.

This audience are all involved in working for better inclusion of people with disability and were made up of campaigners, carers, practioners, teachers and some (very impressive) students.

Cause and effect within this inclusion work is complex and subtle, which made some of the ideas we’ve been working on very relevant – much more so than I realised when I was first offered the chance to run the workshops.

We spent a lot of the sessions discussing what forces within culture and society are incidentally inclusive for people with disability and which are incidentally detrimental to this inclusion.

An example that fell on both sides of the debate was the Paralympic Games, soon to be appearing in London just after the Olympic Games next year. This timing, as well as a series of other issues, were at the heart of the discussion about the Games’ overall effect, which, oddly enough, was elaborated upon by The Guardian just after our sessions, following research carried out by Scope which found that 42% of disabled people did not believe the Paralympics had a positive impact on public perceptions of disability.

Before this, Sally wrote to me with some thoughts which, we felt, couldn’t have summed up the debate, or our work, better.

7 thoughts on “The Paralympics: positive or negative incidental effects on inclusion?

  1. I have just been referred to you Mr Stanhope, and I read this post with interest – I have worked in the sport industry for many years – mainly with a focus of inclusion… I see where many people with a disability may see a disconnect between the paralympics and their own lives, just as able bodied people generally see a disconnect between the olympic athlete, the national cricketer or footballer and their own lives.

    From my part though, the paralympics affords an opportunity to influence sport at the grass roots level – this is where it makes a difference. The person who uses a wheelchair being paired with an able bodied person in a tennis match because they are of the same tennis ability, the person with an intellectual disability playing football with his peers because he has the same football ability as boys of similar age to him, the ability to use adapted equipment to allow the life of a lawn bowler to be extended, well after arthritis would have stolen the opportunity to bowl… and for all these participants to be accepted, given the opportunity and embraced.

    It’s not about segregation in sport, but aspiration! And this aspiration, I believe, floats down to the grass roots level, making inclusion more attractive and possible.

    I am very much looking forward to many more of your posts provoking me to rethink what I thought I already knew…

  2. Lee, you’re absolutely right, but do you think that this grassroots influence would be greater and aspirational impact more pronounced if the Paralympic and Olympic Games took place alongside each other, aligning their schedules to present events side by side, rather than two distinct events happening at different times?

    Many of our workshop attendees felt that the Commonwealth Games was a better model in this way.

    1. Potentially… The Commonwealth Games only allow a limited number of athletes to compete in a limited number of sports though – Logistically it would be a nightmare for a multi sport event like the Olympics to run concurrently – there are 47 categories of classification in the Paralympic Athletics alone – sure sports like swimming do it much better with 10 categories of athletes and yes sports like basketball, tennis could all be played concurrently! Sports in Australia at the local, state and nationals are inclusive – even single sport events like worlds generally do too, but the Olympics… ??? In an ideal world we would have a clean slate in sport and start again… I’m not sure those purists would be willing to let go though… yet!

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