Insights of 'Thomas Williams Disability Consultant'

TWA RGBYou may have seen my Q & A in the last MEI digest. MEI have asked me to consider issues related to disability over a number of articles. For this issue I have decided to explore the common misconception that disabled people are only used at para-events as workforce, volunteers, spectators or athletes. When people think of disabled people they have an automatic link with Paralympics or Para-sport - mainly because of the connotation that para = disabled because of the word paraplegic. But this of course excludes a huge number of disabilities. Channel 4 notably pioneered a model of explaining Paralympic disability classifications called LEXI which distilled the effects of a person’s disability down to their abilities ie. what they can do rather than a model of deficit ie. what they can’t. In the LEXI clarification it is only said that people have ‘difficulty’ with an activity rather than they can’t do this. This leads to the second and in my opinion the more appropriate etymological meaning of the word Paralympics. ‘Para’ is a Greek word meaning ‘alongside’ which leads to an interesting thought. If the games run alongside each other then in London it was the first true meaning of this – the same organising committee had policies and procedures that were designed to encompass both and not be run as separate entities. Before London 2012 there was an office for the service of the Paralympics within each organising committee. 


Therefore as a company involved in Major Events we have to think of the disabled as an asset with a set of unique skills and disabilities that require  reasonable adjustments to allow them to be fulfilled and also they need to be seen as being involved outside the Paralymics and the para-games - they can be spectators and workforce at eg. the Olympic Games and all other Major Events. In terms of assisting spectators with a disability London 2012 was innovative in initiating procedures within the Olympic Park such as a mobility service to get us around the park and at the stadium, a disability lane for quick access without blocking and slowing down access for able bodied and ambulant spectators.  Our carers received free tickets and we were positioned in elevated areas to give unimpeded views.  As weather conditions changed, we were moved as necessary to avoid exposure to “wind tunnel” effects.  Around the park, as well as the usual disability toilets, there were 20 “Changing Places” facilities with hoists to lift people out of wheelchairs as needed, whilst in the stadium there was a disability toilet in every disabled enclosure.  Those disabled people with “Assistant Dogs” were also catered for, with areas for their dogs to be exercised and to get a drink.  Getting to and from the Park was eased by a “Use when you want” transport service rather than having to pre-book.


Whilst assisting spectators with disabilities may seem an obvious target of inclusion and diversity the inclusion of people with disabilities as part of the workforce at the Olympics as well as Paralympics may not be so obvious. I was very lucky to be a beneficiary of this approach. In order to send a message to the world London 2012 put in a diversity and inclusion team with specific powers to promote the use of a paid disabled workforce and disabled volunteers by using a multitude of techniques. Some of the most prominent were to allow me as a disabled person to apply before the rest of the general public, to bypass much of the general selection process and in the end have a high probability of receiving a Games Maker role.  Once at the Games, managers were taught to resolve issues and alter roles accordingly. However this had some problems ( I will talk about this in a later article ) and several persons were left without support when required because not all managers applied the policies. When it comes to the crunch all Organising Committees have one agenda which is to run a safe and secure games and they are doing this to a tight schedule with no possibility of slippage.  As Paul Deighton the CEO of Locog explained in an interview in 2012: “... we’re a project that starts with zero and got an end date so we’re all about delivering according to those plans.” Therefore Diversity and Inclusion does, however much we don’t like it, comes secondary sometimes. It is a unwritten rule of the IOC that all Games must surpass one another in all aspects. Vassil Girginov, a remowned Olympic academic whom I interviewed as part of my academic study of 2012 in my dissertation*  said to me that the benchmark set by London must be surpassed.  Future games will have to take this mantle. Potential contractors they employ like yourselves and myself can help this.Perhaps this article can help members remember that people with disabilities can be assets in the full range of Mega events, not just Paralympics and para-events. The Head Of D & I at London 2012 Stephen Frost wrote a book ‘The Inclusion Imperative’ about his experiences. It is well worth a read.  He encourages people not to think about disability as a box to be ticked but it will make the business better and consequently future Ocogs. His book ends with this paragraph:

‘The English poet WH Auden said ‘you owe it to all of us to get on with what you are good at.’  Self-actualisation is the greatest gift you can give someone.  More accurately, it is the greatest goal you can encourage them to attain themselves. To attain it through inspiring courage, by supporting leadership, and by holding people accountable for delivery. To empower people, especially those who have not been empowered before, it is not only a moral imperative and a minority interest – it is in the interest of the majority too. If we can enlarge the pie, we can all sit at the table.’


I run a consultancy that helps Major Events with the inclusion of people with disabilities. As well as helping them I can assist your company to give people with disabilities the ‘Freedom To Go’ in the products and services you provide.


* I academically explored my London 2012 Games Maker experiences in my dissertation ‘The Road Less Travelled Showing Broadcasters The Way.’ Please contact me if you would like a copy of this. 

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