Will the Paralympics prove Transformational?

If I was a bit of a cynic before the Olympics started, I was, to be honest, just totally disinterested in the Paralympics. No offence, but it’s not real sport, is it?

How wrong can you be.

Even though the event turned out to be far more engrossing and successful than we expected, my feeling is that the Olympics won’t really change anything in the UK. The economy won’t miraculously revive, we won’t all start volunteering.

But the Paralympics might just turn out to be the transformational event of the summer. Millions of people are I suspect looking at the world slightly differently to how they did just two weeks ago, and whilst attitudes don’t change overnight, this may be a real long-term shift in views. “It’s cool to be disabled” was how Melanie Reid, Times journalist, and herself paralysed after an accident, put it.

It’s another cliché, but when you see people like Ellie Simmonds or David Weir, you see the person, not the disability. And a person whose main difference to me is simply that they’re an incredible athlete and I’m not!

And huge praise to Channel 4 for their coverage, in particular the ground breaking late night programme with comedian Adam Hills (and his prosthetic foot) which told us it’s OK to laugh sometimes – not laughing at people, not being viciously “funny” like some comedians, but laughing with the athletes, when the absurdities that the disabled face more than most come to the fore.

But to see 80,000 people in the stadium screaming as guys with blades for legs run ridiculously fast brought shivers to the spine or a lump to the throat. Or the cheers as a woman throws the discuss all of 8 metres - a world record for someone with severe spinal injuries.

And to any US readers – how does it feel to be whipped in the medal table by the UK? And China, and Russia. And Ukraine. And Australia. And NBC, who had the TV rights, hardly showed any coverage – your loss, I have to say. So do you think you might want to take this a bit more seriously next time?

Of course, the success might not be replicated in Rio in 2016 – will we see the same sort of crowds and enthusiasm?  Perhaps London should be the Paralympics' permanent home?  And as Matthew Syed said very pertinently  in yesterday’s Times, we mustn’t get carried away. Most railway stations still don’t have disabled access, for instance. In the real world, the event hasn’t actually changed things much – yet.

Let's try and bring this back to something vaguely procurement related. Look at our apparent support for minority owned businesses in the supply chain, or for encouraging suppliers to employ people from different backgrounds, including disabled people – how much is box-ticking, just so we can say in the annual report that we’re “doing something”? How much is focused, meaningful and genuine? Could and should we be doing more?

And I can't resist mentioning Remploy, where I served as a non-exec for four years. Remploy provides and finds employment for disabled people in the UK. It is currently looking to close many of its factories, and while there are cost issues, a genuine driver is the belief that disabled (differently abled) people should be integrated into the workplace and into life generally, rather than being “ghetto-ised”.  And Remploy has been very successful in helping find disabled people jobs in retail, catering, the public sector, manufacturing.. all over the place.

It seems to me that the Paralympics has given more support to that philosophy. The days of disabled people being in some sense shut away in their own “special “ factories or workshops seems even more dated and inappropriate – to me anyway - after the Paralympics. I know not everyone can be Jonnie Peacock or Ellie Simmonds, and there are some people who would struggle in a conventional workplace. But the general direction of Remploy’s approach feels more appropriate than ever after the last two weeks.

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