Ausnew Home Care | The Tokyo Paralympic Games 2020 can be the catalyst

The Tokyo Paralympic Games 2020 can be the catalyst for change in how we view life with disability

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As the Paralympic flame is extinguished this evening, and we bid farewell to Japan, we all are left to think about what comes next for disability inclusion around the world.

What does it mean for people with a disability in society? And not just those who have the privilege to represent their country on the world stage?

The Olympic and Paralympic Games are multi-sport events that occur every four years. Together they are the most watched sporting events in the world.

The Games collectively are also highly lucrative, worth billions of dollars to the successful city which can be converted to long term financial prosperity. As part of the new framework for IOC's Future Host Commission there is an increased expectation from both the IOC and IPC that a sustainable legacy plan for after the Games be at the centre of a cities bid. 

An Australian Paralympic athlete after she crosses the line in the heats of the women's 100m T35. Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
Isis Holt was one of Australia's many stars in Tokyo.(

Getty Images: Buda Mendes


London 2012 is a strong case study for this. It was these Games that set the playbook for how to both systematically normalise disability and celebrate athletic achievements to drive cultural change within the United Kingdom beyond the Games.

One in three Britons said they had a more positive outlook on disability after the Games.

The ideology that we should simply be "inspired" because these athletes had triumphed over adversity fell away, and in its place, we saw the athletes for who they are. People, in its simplest definition, competing at the highest level.

Our society still struggles with this concept of normalisation — a society free of discrimination, a society full of opportunity for all people, whoever you are — in all facets of our lives.

But it is this Sir Ludwig Guttmann, the founder of the Paralympic Games, strived to achieve throughout his life.

We know increased visibility and awareness brings interest to a given topic.

Can you remember the last time you saw a person with a disability on a big budget entertainment program that was either not in a wheelchair or shown as having a severe version of their impairment? I can't, it is very rare.

Australian medallists Ahmed Kelly and Grant Patterson are either side of Jesus Hernandez on the podium at the Paralympics.
Ahmed Kelly and Scooter Patterson after another successful swimming final.(

Getty Images: Buda Mendes


I have a very strong memory as a young teenager watching Channel 7's Packed to the Rafters where Kirsten Schmid – an able bodied person — portrayed the character Alex, who lives with severe cerebral palsy.

As someone who lives with mild cerebral palsy every day, I watched this and felt rather uncomfortable with this depiction.

It was this instance that underlined the broader misunderstanding that the media and entertainment industry has of what modern disability looks like, compounded by the fact that the character was being played by an individual without a disability.

This sort of portrayal of disability in the media, just as in billboard advertisements and glossy magazines, informs the general population as to what they think disability should look like.

It feeds our unconscious bias and is incredibly dangerous to achieving a culture of equality and fairness for all.

Our society is perpetuated into thinking that disability is a debilitating, horrible thing to go through and it is a win to simply to get out of bed. This is just not true in most cases.

It is widely reported that participation in the workplace for people with a disability is vastly lower than the rest of the general population.

Australia's Dylan Alcott comforts distraught Dutch player Niels Vink after their wheelchair tennis semi-final in Tokyo.
Dylan Alcott's semi-final against Niels Vink was one of the highlights of the Games.(

Reuters: Thomas Peter


When people with a disability are employed, they are often in graduate or low-level roles in an organisation. It is incredibly rare to see a person with a disability in executive roles.

This can be attributed to many things, but ultimately stems from societies ingrained unconscious bias that people with a disability cannot work to the same level as able-bodied peers, and so promotion is uncommon.

In fact, to bust this myth, it is proven that people with a disability are retained longer in jobs than their able-bodied peers. The only real difference is that people with a disability may at times need more support to conduct their role — but if we are honest with ourselves, is this any different to most of us?

I challenge you to think about the last 18 months due the coronavirus. What flexibilities have you have had to put into place? How have you had to home school your children, or care for a partner or parent while still balancing your work?

Job flexibility and workplace adjustments certainly are more common now than ever before. We know, because of COVID-19, that it is here to stay and become the norm.

Ellie Cole, wearing her gold Australian swimming cap, hugs competitors in the pool at the Tokyo Paralympics.
Ellie Cole has now won 17 Paralympic medals, two of them coming in Tokyo.(

Getty Images: Lintao Zhang


It is this change in workplace culture that should become the key for how we recruit, employ, and manage all people with a disability while being flexible to all their needs.

When disability becomes perfectly ordinary and normal, we are better as a society. When we accept and celebrate difference, not sound it out as something special, we will all receive dividends from it.

We should strive for a society that is diverse, inclusive, and accepting of all regardless of who you are.

These Paralympic Games in Tokyo have provided us all with an opportunity to look past the "inspiration porn" and press the reset button on our thinking of what disability really is, and what people with a disability can truly achieve.

We are now in an era of growth for the disability movement. Let us remember that 1.2 billion of us have a disability.

Look around you. Do you know someone with a disability? One in five of us do.

These Paralympic Games should be the call to action to change our society's outlook on disability. We have a real opportunity to shift our thinking so that by the time of Brisbane 2032, our next home Games, commentators like me are not writing this story.

The story I hope to write in Brisbane 2032 is about our Paralympic performances not as Inspirational moments of triumph over adversity.

But, of what they really are — moments of national pride seeing our athletes doing their very best, in the sports they love against the greatest in the world.

Matthew Haanappel swum for Australia at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics, winning a gold and a silver medal in London. He now works as the ABC's Diversity and Inclusion Strategies Project Officer.


Source: ABC

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