Maintaining the legacy of the Winter Paralympic Games in society and the workplace

Posted on: March 23, 2018 by Neil Milliken

David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ was the anthem for athletes at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The famous words ‘we can be heroes, just for one day’ are memorable and empowering – but why settle on being a hero, for just one day? The Paralympic Games shine a light on diversity and focus on people’s strengths. For the few weeks that the Games run, the athletes truly are heroes, but their legacy as part of the Games must live on for years not just a couple of weeks, as host cities strive to improve accessibility.

Maintaining legacy is a key ingredient to the success of any Olympic or Paralympic Games, and is in fact, a crucial element of the bidding process and has been carefully considered in PyeongChang. Ensuring that the host country benefits, and indeed that those with disabilities can take advantage of the legacy of the Games, is critical. To achieve this, host cities are turning to technology to help deliver greater inclusion. New developments in technology such as conversational interfaces, IoT, wearables and autonomous vehicles promise to create ongoing impact and improvements for people with disabilities.

Host cities who are setting the standard

Since the first Paralympics in 1960 and the launch of the Paralympic Winter Games in 1976, host cities have carefully planned their own Paralympic legacy. The most successful host cities design infrastructure with accessibility in mind. Collaborating with the IPC and IOC is also paramount for driving continuous change. By setting out clear goals from the start and working with the experts, infrastructure doesn’t have to be retrofitted as an after-thought.

During the Paralympic Summer Games Beijing 2008 for example, €124m was invested to develop over 14,000 sports centers with specialist facilities. Dropped curbs also became more widespread across the city to help increase mobility. Since the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, over 200 Russian cities have adopted the city’s accessibility guidelines. An interactive map was set up to track venues and facilities where people with disabilities can take part in sport. Sochi shows how host cities can act as a catalyst for igniting widespread, nationwide change.

How technology can support long-lasting change

As we live in an increasingly digital world, technology has a significant role to play in maintaining legacy and opening up sports for the wider community. For the current Winter Paralympic Games in PyeongChang, Atos has partnered with Living Actor to create a virtual assistant for the IPC website. The chatbot helps fans access information about Paralympic sports, athletes and classifications in real-time. The technology has been tested with a range of assistive technologies to encourage as much participation as possible for people with disabilities. Following the Paralympics, further iterations will be developed to increase engagement and wow fans during the inter-Games period.

Toyota, a Worldwide Partner of the International Paralympic Committee and a company traditionally associated with automotive manufacturing, is now positioning itself as a mobility company by producing innovative solutions for the Games and beyond. For example, Toyota’s Project BLAID is a wearable technology designed to help people with visual impairments have greater awareness of their surroundings when they play sport. The company has set itself the ambitious target for Tokyo 2020 of enabling athletes to use autonomous vehicles to navigate and travel across the city.

Why businesses must ensure their workplace remains inclusive

The Paralympic Winter Games is a powerful tool for capturing the public’s hearts and minds; not only creating heroes, but also driving ongoing impact. Perceptions can be changed, and attitudes towards people with disabilities can be transformed for the better. Inspired by the Games, businesses can look to shift company culture and improve their own accessibility policies, recognizing the valuable contributions that people with disabilities can bring to their business.

The development of technology, such as speech recognition and robotics, is often driven by the need for accessibility. Finding solutions to the challenges arising from impairments is part of everyday life for people with disabilities and this mindset is valuable for innovation and growth within businesses. For companies to fully embody Paralympic Games legacy, accessibility needs to shift from solely being a HR incentive to becoming a companywide issue to ensure long-lasting change from the top down.

Atos has provided IT solutions to the Paralympic Games since 2002 and is the Worldwide IT partner of the International Paralympic Committee since 2008.

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About Neil Milliken
Head of Accessibility & Digital Inclusion and member of the Scientific Community
Neil Milliken is VP - Global Head of Accessibility & Digital Inclusionat Atos, member of the Atos Scientific Community & Atos Distinguished Expert. Neil is a leading strategist and community builder with over two decades of experience within the Accessibility and Assistive Technology fields and served as invited expert for the W3C Cognitive Accessibility Taskforce Neil is a member of the Board of Directors for World Institute on Disability, Non Exec Chair of the Board at Genius Within, member of the advisory board of the Valuable500 & Served as Chair of the Diversity Board for Institute of Coding. He is co-founder of AXSChat Europe’s largest twitter chat with a focus on Accessibility & Inclusion. Neil is dyslexic and has ADHD, he advocates for people with neurodivergent conditions as well as other disabilities and additional needs.

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