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Using the legacy of the Rio 2016 Paralympics to drive social inclusion


Posted on: September 30, 2016 by Neil Milliken

As the dust settles on another epic Paralympic Games, I look back on the IPC Inclusion Summit held in Rio earlier this month. It was a privilege to be invited to speak alongside business leaders, governments at the summit which was opened over video link by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. We explored how the legacy of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and previous Paralympic Games can be used to improve accessibility, and what lessons can be learned for future host cities. Here, I discuss the key takeaways from the two-day summit.

As someone who holds primary responsibility for developing policies and capabilities around inclusion; I was invited to share our experiences at Atos with delegates from across the world. I discussed how we’re personally using assistive technology within Atos and how this approach can be applied to a large-scale enterprise environment. My team and I documented all the discussions on our online community, AXSChat, and #inclusionsummit was trending globally on Twitter for during the two days of the summit.

“Brazil has proved you don’t have to be a rich nation to host an inclusive event like the Paralympics…”

… commented Andrew Parsons, Vice President of the IPC and President of the Brazilian National Paralympic committee during the summit. Hope and inspiration really was the central theme for the two days. We heard stories from medal-winning Columbian Paralympic athlete,Luis Herazo. Born with cerebral palsy, Luis had a tough start in life. Supported by the Agitos Foundation however, he went from being someone with very low prospects to a hero in his home town; setting national javelin records in Colombia and completely changing attitudes towards people with impairments, in the process.

We heard from Dan Brooke, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at UK broadcaster, Channel 4, which has made a tremendous effort to transform people’s perceptions of disabilities. By broadcasting TV programmes such as The Last Leg, and adverts like “We’re the Superhumans”, Channel 4 in the UK is working hard to bring disability issues to light, and normalise them. 15% of the broadcast team that went to Rio to cover the Games had a disability, compared to 3% of Channel 4’s general workforce.

Looking at the legacy of Rio 2016, we learned that one of the major buildings used for the Games is being transformed into four schools, designed to be accessible for all. Large areas of Rio have been transformed as a result of the Games, with improved transport infrastructure, ramps in place and tactile paving, making it easier for wheelchair users to move around independently.

Looking ahead to future Games

What struck me during the summit is that inclusion is a global issue, and yet each country is at a different level of maturity and therefore has different expectations as to what is reasonable as a legacy of hosting the Games. Delegates were present from London 2012, PyeongChang 2018, Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022 and even prospective hosts for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Together, we agreed that in order to make future Games more accessible for all, the planning processes must be started much earlier, allowing time for large-scale infrastructure changes to be made.

Ultimately, business leaders need to understand that diverse teams perform better, and there are plenty of individuals with disabilities that can make a fantastic contribution to the workforce. The summit highlighted the fantastic achievements of thousands of Paralympic athletes, as well as of the organisers, sponsors and volunteers behind the Games; and we must use these efforts as a catalyst for significant change in the workplace.

This week (26th-30th Sept 2016), we’re celebrating Wellbeing@Work Week at Atos and Diversity Day. We’re aiming to promote diversity initiatives and encourage strong employee empowerment with a specific focus on age, gender and disabilities.

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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 Inclusion at 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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