Inclusive language part of Olympic and Paralympic Games

gold, silver, bronze medals

Recently, Brisbane has been announced as the ‘preferred’ choice to host the 2032 Summer Olympic Games. This is exciting news for many sport-loving Australians, but the games create amazing legacies much broader than sporting circles.

Jason Diederich, General Manager of APM Communities, and former Paralympian, reflects on the opportunity that presents itself and how a simple change of language now, will have a dramatic impact on social and inclusion outcomes in the future...

Brisbane 2032 - Let's change our language now

In 1988, I competed in the Paralympic games in Seoul, South Korea. Although the first Paralympic Games were held in 1960, the Seoul games was the first time the Paralympics were hosted in the same city as the Olympic Games, using much of the same infrastructure.

What a milestone it was. Just three weeks after the excitement of the Olympics, the people of Seoul got to witness further international sporting spectacles.

For the Korean community, disability was being celebrated. Accessible venues sprung up, and the abilities of people with disability was showcased.

South Korea finished 7th on the Paralympic medal tally that year, with 40 gold medals, so the locals were able to embrace new sporting heroes.

The Seoul Paralympics received little media coverage back in Australia, but at the time, we did not expect much in the way of exposure.

Things started to change in 1992, when the ABC hosted a 30-minute highlight package of the Barcelona Paralympics, we were thrilled that our families back home could at least see some of the events, remembering that was before the internet.

Jason diving in the pool at the Paralympics

The London effect

Whilst Sydney hosted a terrific Paralympics in 2000, it is widely recognised now that the benchmark was set in 2012 when the games were hosted by London.

Not only was it a great spectacle of elite sporting prowess, but research showed that 1 in 3 people in the UK changed their attitude towards disability as a result of the way the games were run, and the way they were portrayed.

The approach taken to diversity and inclusion by the Games’ organisers was ground-breaking, and impacted people with disability beyond those that were competing.

Many people with disability obtained their first ever work experience at the games, and this has had a longer snowball effect on to employment outcomes for people with disability in the UK.

Who can forget Team GB’s incredible video “We’re the superhumans” created in the lead up to Rio 2016 to build on the momentum gained during 2012?

Power of language

This all came about through great leadership, and the recognition by the President of the London Games 2012, Lord Sebastian Coe, of the power of language.

Watch any video of Lord Coe in the lead up to the London Games. He rarely mentions the “Olympics” in isolation. It is always “Olympics and Paralympics”.

This small change not only raised the profile of the Paralympics, but it put it on the same pedestal as the Olympics, sending a message that it was of equal importance.

This helped make the Paralympics to become socially valued and was a big part of the reason why tickets to watch Paralympic events were as hard to get as those for the Olympics.

It’s also the reason that attitudes in the community changed towards people with disability. It is the reason more people with disability in the UK now have the same opportunities as people without disability to work, to shop, to play sport, to travel, to love and to live the lives they want.

Leading the way

In Australia, we have made some incredible gains in this area over recent years.

The world-leading NDIS provides unprecedented levels of independence for people with disability, and the work done by high profile Paralympians like Dylan Alcott has changed the way many people see disability.

At APM, we are all about enabling better lives by increasing opportunities and inclusion for people with disability.

We all now have a chance to have an even greater impact on the lives of people with disability and their families with a small change of language now.

I challenge the media, I challenge the games officials, I challenge anyone talking about the bid by Queensland to host the 2032 games to refer to the “2032 Olympics and Paralympics” in one breath.

It will change lives.