Envisioning an Inclusive Society
Executive Director, Unified Theater
NYC Global Shaper
London Olympic Park was one of the most incredible places I’ve ever visited — the towering, twisting Orbit, the glowing Stadium, the thousands of flashbulbs glittering at each race start, and the largest McDonalds I’ve ever seen.
But, what really resonated was that the tens of thousands of people gathered that evening — regardless of creed or color, orientation or ability, background or bank account — were perfectly united. United around passion for sport, love of country, and a desire to celebrate the champions who excelled on the fields, pools, and tracks before them.
As the 2012 Olympic and Paralympics came to a close, I had the opportunity to join Young Global Leaders, Olympic organizers and partners, and leaders in the inclusion space for the IPC Global Inclusion Summit. The Summit wasn’t focused on simply congratulating the London Organizing Committee on the most diverse and inclusive olympics yet — with 9% staff of staff having a disability, 5% of Games Makers (volunteers), and 3% of Suppliers owned by someone with a disability. The IPC Inclusion Summit focused on how we could continue the momentum of full inclusion and all-encompassing diversity.
But how do you teach inclusion? How do you make people value diversity? How do you create the picture perfect realization of inclusion I witnessed at London Olympic Park?
Make Inclusion Matter
Employment of individuals with disabilities is an economic, social, and rights issue. The US unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 13.9% (8% for those without). Inclusive employment a key way to affirm positive identities of people with disabilities and to promote community inclusion. But you can’t expect employers to recruit diverse workforces — whether across ability, race, or gender — because it’s nice. Instead show how it impacts their bottom line.
Studies show that individuals with disabilities are more motivated and have a higher productivity rate at their jobs. In an Adecco study 69% of employees say diverse workplaces are the best places to succeed. That’s why companies like Walgreens, UPS, and Hilton have recruited diverse, inclusive workforces. More needs to be done to quantify and communicate the value of inclusion for companies.
Kids Are Naturals
We were lucky enough to hear from Judy Heumann a the Summit. Heumann is a lifelong disability rights activist and serves as the Obama appointed Special Advisor on International Disability Rights for the US Department of State. Heumann, who has a disability herself, said that when she was a child her classmates naturally included her and accommodated her needs. But, when adults tried to get involved did inclusion become burdensome and relationships seemed forced. We’ve seen similar results in our work at Unified Theater. We must find more ways for youth to be the leaders in the inclusion movement and for adults to adopt a more youthful approach to inclusion.
It’s all in Your Head
The amount of work put into accessibility in London was unbelievable — from the Olympic Park to the South Bank — was truly remarkable. For the first time people with and without disabilities could enjoy the same spaces. But the shared experiences in those spaces is what really matters in the long term.
Inclusion happens with people — shared experiences, mutual understanding, and a personal value placed on diversity. It doesn’t happen with one project, or one study, or one experience. And it doesn’t happen in a label-heavy, tokenistic model that places with people with disabilities as someone we ‘should be nice to’. Inclusion happens over time from an inclusive pre-school class, to an performing arts group for kids of all abilities, to an inclusive college dorm, and into an truly diverse workforce. It happens when we shed labels and understand that each person has equal value and rights within the community.
Steve Frost, LOCOG Head of Diversity and Inclusion, said, “inclusion is about perspective”. The London Olympics changed a lot of perspectives — 1.9 million people visited paralympic.org during the course of the Games and ticket sales was unprecedented — now it’s up to us to continue the movement.