Transforming Lives: London 2012 progress and challenges
The Paralympics changed attitudes towards disability and created employment opportunities10 Dec 2018
“The number one [challenge] was actually getting people to really take us seriously"
To coincide with Human Rights Day (10 December), the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and United Nations Human Rights Office have published a second short film that showcases the employment legacy of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
The film, part of the “Transforming Lives Makes Sense for Everyone” campaign, focuses on some of the employment challenges faced by persons with disabilities ahead of London 2012 and highlights what impact the Paralympic Games had on changing attitudes and creating employment opportunities. It features eight-time Paralympic equestrian champion Sophie Christiansen OBE, broadcaster and TV producer Andy Stevenson, and former London 2012 Head of Diversity and Inclusion Stephen Frost.
After London 2012, research found that one in three people changed their attitudes towards persons with disabilities as a result of the Paralympic Games . More recently, figures from the Office of National Statistics show that 3.85 million persons with disabilities are now in employment in Great Britain, nearly one million more than five years ago .
“For anyone with a disability in this country, the London 2012 Paralympics were mind-blowing,” said Stevenson who worked as a BBC Radio 5 Live reporter during London 2012. “It did make a difference in how disability is perceived by people who probably had never encountered disability before those Games.”
Pre-London 2012 landscape
Prior to the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Christiansen was one of a number of persons with disabilities who found it difficult to gain employment.
“I had a first-class degree and at the time five gold medals. To not really get an interview was really disheartening,” said the 31-year-old who graduated in 2011 with a First Class Masters degree in mathematics from the University of London.
According to Frost, there were many challenges for the London 2012 Organising Committee as they sought to be an inclusive employer.
“The number one [challenge] was actually getting people to really take us seriously. Anyone with a disability or impairment who met the job description, we guaranteed them an interview,” explained Frost, who founded Frost Included after the Games. “We were interviewing thousands of people with a disability and impairment.”
As a result of London 2012’s inclusion programme, the Organising Committee placed more than 2,000 persons with disabilities into Games-time roles, giving many their first work experience.
Catalyst for change
At London 2012, Christiansen won three golds medals, bringing her career tally to eight Paralympic titles. She witnessed first-hand the impact the Paralympics had on transforming the attitudes of British society and employers.
“The Paralympics in London were the first time that the general public really saw what disabled athletes could do,” said the four-time Paralympian who took up a role as an analyst in the technology division of investment bank Goldman Sachs soon after the Games.
“If people can see me excel in my work, they will be inspired to do the same. I always think my disability has enabled me to think in different ways and employers greatly value that,” she added.
For Stevenson - recently named on the Shaw Trust Disability 100 List, an annual publication of the most influential people with an impairment in the United Kingdom – he believes London 2012 gave him and others significant career breaks.
“I don’t I think I would now have a senior role working on the next coverage of the Paralympics in 2020 if it hadn’t been for London 2012, because I’m not sure this path would have been so open to me,” said Stevenson, a key part of the Whisper Films production team that will produce Channel 4’s coverage of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
He added: “You are now seeing a few more disabled people working in production companies in all sorts of different roles and they are part of the furniture now.
“It’s great for the statistics that I’m in a relatively senior role on the production but, at the moment, I am the only one in a senior role. I look around and there should be one or two more disabled people around me.”
Although great progress has been made since London 2012, the second IPC and UN Human Rights Office film points out several key challenges remain. Figures show that persons with disabilities are still twice as likely to be unemployed as the rest of the population . Both Frost and Christiansen are keen to share their views on what employers can do better.
“Employers that are still under employing disabled people are just missing out, end of!” said Frost who teaches inclusive leadership at Harvard Business School. “Twenty per cent of the UK population have a disability. If you don’t have that proportion in your workforce, you’re not fully empathising with the customers that do.”
“There is still a stigma, not only on the employers part but also on disabled people wanting to get in employment. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone,” urged Christiansen.
The IPC and United Nations Human Rights Office’s “Transforming Lives Makes Sense for Everyone” campaign showcases the long-term legacies the Paralympic Games have for persons with disabilities through education, employment, inclusive cities, Para sport and political leadership.
Throughout December, a series of short films, stories and graphics will be published which demonstrate how the London 2012 Paralympics contributed to greater employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in Great Britain.
The third film will be published on 18 December and will highlight what challenges still remain for persons with disabilities seeking employment. It features Beijing 2008 Paralympic swimming champion Liz Johnson, the co-founder of The Ability People (TAP), an ethical recruitment agency staffed entirely by people with impairments driven by the belief that a person’s achievement should only be determined by their ability. Adil Ghani, a recruitment consultant for TAP also stars as does James Taylor, Scope’s Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Campaigns. In 2017, disability charity Scope launched Work With Me, a three-year campaign in partnership with Virgin Media to support one million people with a disability to get into and stay in work.
The London 2012 Paralympic Games took place between 29 August and 9 September attracting 4,237 Para athletes from 164 countries. A record 2.7 million tickets were sold while a cumulative TV audience of 3.8 billion people watched in over 100 countries.