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Jobs & Careers magazine | October 23, 2014

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The Paralympics: an opportunity?

The Paralympics: an opportunity?
Richard Shakespeare

The biggest Paralympic Games ever are now only a few months away; this month we explore whether these games represent an opportunity for businesses and job-seekers alike.

This year’s games are expecting 4,200 athletes from over 160 countries, taking part in 20 different sports.

Figures in a recent edition of Paralympians Magazine show that it is estimated that a television audience in excess of four billion people will tune into watch the Paralympic Games this year.

In my role as an independent Disability Consultant I am often approached by large multi-national organisations and small to medium size enterprises to discuss how best to prepare ahead of the Paralympic Games. One theme that comes out time and time again in these discussions is “What do I do if I meet a disabled person?” Well first of all I would encourage anyone to see the person before the disability.  Do not focus on the fact that this person has a disability but what they have to offer as an individual.

I recently went to London with a business associate to deliver a training session for a big client; two minutes before we went into the client’s headquarters near Kings Cross I said to my colleague that I was going to get out of my wheelchair and walk into the meeting rather than go in through the door in my chair.

Now you may be asking yourself why? Does it make a difference? Having lived with a disability for almost 30 years and being the Managing Director of two businesses I have experienced a broad range of reactions to my disability.  People are often amazed when I explain to them that I drive a car, live independently, have travelled the world and now own and run my own businesses.

Experience has shown that more often than not if I go into a meeting in my chair people are automatically drawn to speak to my colleague or direct any questions towards this person. It’s often as though when it comes to dealing with disability common sense flies out the window.

Needless to say this does not always happen and many companies and individuals are indeed to be commended, I wouldn’t like you to think for one moment that this is me leaping onto a soapbox. Remember disabled bosses do exist too so if you are a business owner or a job-seeker some important considerations need to be given.

So what is my advice?

  • Avoid saying things like “Don’t you do well” “aren’t you exceptional” disabled consumers, job applicants or business owners; like all disabled people they are perfectly capable of achieving.
  • Be natural – Do not be afraid to engage in conversation with a disabled person, use the same language as you would when speaking to anyone else and relax.
  • Avoid offensive wording or language – Sounds obvious but this is an area that many people really worry about. Use phrases such as “Uses a wheelchair” rather than wheelchair bound, avoid saying “this person suffers from” as this is not always the case and is negative.
  • Always ask a person with a disability if they would like assistance before acting. Your help may not be needed. However, it is quite all right to offer help. If your assistance is needed then listen or ask for instructions.

The Paralympic Games this year represent opportunities for businesses and job-seekers alike. How does this work?

Well if we consider that disabled consumers are estimated to spend in excess of £95 billion a year in the United Kingdom economy and that we have the second highest prevalence of disability in Europe with 27.2% of the population having either a long term health condition or disability, it is clear that a strong business case exists for ensuring a business is fully inclusive.

If you are a job-seeker consider this:

Millions and millions of pounds are being spent in preparation of both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, many of the major sponsors are taking on additional staff to deal with the increased number of people on the streets and to help in the day to day running of their business during this busy period.

Estimates show that around 46% of the contracts for London 2012 have been awarded to businesses based outside of the capital – so you see wherever you are based an opportunity may exist. Do not be afraid to take a voluntary position helping out during the games, it could fill a nice gap in your CV and may even lead to something more permanent.

If you are interested in learning more about disability awareness please visit www.richardshakespeare.com or email richard@richardshakespeare.com  to discuss his latest training courses.

Image: Shutterstock/Vikmanis

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