Paralympics 2012: paralympic legacy, inclusion and accessibility

“We’re never going to see disability the same way again…”
Lord Coe, Chairman of Locog

Back in 2008 one of the worst things I read was a really offensive complaint by a BBC viewer about seeing too much of ‘these people’ on the TV, referring to athletes in the Beijing Paralympic coverage. I just didn’t know where to start in response.

Fast-forwards 4 years and I can’t believe Channel 4 are getting complaints about the huge amount of Paralympics coverage over the last 9 days. People didn’t want it to end.

The world has changed.

Britain is basking fabulous in a Paralympic and Olympic afterglow, and all the things I was hoping the Paralympics would bring seem to have happened, and much, much more.

It seems normal now for disabled people to be on our screens every night. Oscar Pistorius is no longer the only Paramlypian people know. The Weir-wolf’s selling masks. Jonnie Peacock’s given us our first British 100m gold-medalist since 1980. Sarah Storey would get a place in the Olympic cycling squad of any country other than England and Australia. And, for drama and emotion, Ellie Simmonds in the pool was only beaten by the astonishing ending of the 100m women’s medley.

And the categorisation which aims to make the competition fair has made people genuinely fascinated by people’s differences, now LEXI has enabled us to understand it.

Any moment someone’s going to suggest bringing the Olympics and Paralympics together, with the Olympic events becoming just another Paralympic category for ‘people with no impairment’. The two sets of athletes certainly came together gloriously in the victory parade watched by millions in London yesterday.

Now that’s inclusion!

And it’s not just been the athletes, but the comedians too… Trust Channel 4 to get this right. Someone give an award to the brilliant ‘Last Leg’ show with Adam Hills and their #isitok. Thousands of people have just got disability awareness trained in the most funny, real, disarming way. Owners of disability awareness courses should immediately contact Channel 4 and ask if they can get a licence to include clips to bring their courses up to the new gold standard.

Jimmy Carr summed it up well in the Closing Ceremony coverage: the Paralympics has become the weather – the one thing that total strangers can talk about on the tube.

Talking positively about disability has become normal. For a while at least.

So what impact does this have on accessibility and inclusion?

And how do we keep the momentum going?

How we got here – the inclusion journey

“We’re never going to see disability the same way again… That was what we set out to achieve in Singapore. I don’t think people really got it at that point. I may not have actually got the full impact of the Paralympics in Singapore. But I’ve understood it by the day. And that’s been great. And all my teams have been on that journey with me.”
Lord Coe

For a nation so accustomed to doing ourselves down, I think it’s worth just pausing to reflect on what we achieved! In terms of organisation and logistics, Locog and their army of Games Makers did the impossible, at an extraordinary level of excellence which I don’t think any of us were expecting. We’ve just seen how it can be when strategy, mindset and a belief in possibility are aligned.

When inclusion is included in the definition of the excellence you are striving for great things happen. For the most part, both the Olympics and Paralympics have been inclusive – from the representation of disabled people in the ceremonies as well as the track, the accessibility of the venues themselves, the accessibility of the transport infrastructure to get to the venues, to the accessibility of the BBC and Channel 4 websites keeping people up to date with events they’d missed. It wasn’t perfect, as the controversy around separate purchase methods and prices for wheelchair tickets, and the lack of captions on the Olympic Stadium screens showed. But that wasn’t for the lack of focus on the importance of inclusion.

Stephen Frost and the inclusion team at London 2012 have done a great job.

Because accessibility is a journey. It requires people creating products and services to constantly think beyond themselves and see the diversity of people’s needs and preferences. Paul Edwards – Product Manager for the Channel 4 Paralympics site – speaks eloquently on what he and his team learnt about accessibility through building the Channel 4 Paralympic site.

So to those who say that change isn’t possible – that silo’ed organisations can’t make the changes of mindset and practice needed to embed inclusion in all they do – well, you’ve just had a wake-up call. It is possible. We’ve just seen it done. And we’ve seen what comes from it.

As Lord Coe said on numerous occasions ‘you just need to get the environment right and make the athletes happy – if the village is good, then everything else will take care of itself’ – happy athletes give extraordinary performances, and those performances bring the ‘wall of noise’ from the crowd, the buzz, the euphoria, the sense that anything’s possible…

That’s why inclusion is so important. When organisations produce great services products that include all of their users, including disabled people, just look at what everyone can do as a result!

The importance of stewarding the Paralympic legacy

So the Paralympic legacy could be immense. Or a few wet months and dark nights might dampen the post-party buzz and bring us ‘back to normal’ as some commentators predict.

Have attitudes changed for good? Have the Paralympics changed the way people think and feel about disability? And is that about all disabled people or just the athletes?

In 6 months, will people still look at disabled people with the same respect they do now? Or will they start to lapse back into thinking of disabled people as Paralympians or scroungers and whingers?

Will they still get that the main challenge for most disabled people is to live the normal life the rest of us take for granted?

That’s the legacy I think that disabled people want – certainly it’s what I learnt from Yves Veulliet in my interview with him last week.

But legacy is a tricky thing, and so easy to get wrong.

When I went to the Paralympics last week, I went not to the Olympic Stadium but to the North Greenwich Arena, otherwise known as the O2. And known in a past life as the Millennium Dome.

I find the Dome fascinating. I completely missed it on its first incarnation in 2000. Whilst I was in London for the entire year, and the reviews of the exhibition in it actually turned out to be much better than everyone feared, like many people I just didn’t get around to visiting. What I did do, because my office moved to somewhere near it a year later, was to visit in 2001, on a lunch break. I think it was a Thursday. It was a ghost town.

I don’t know if you remember what the Dome was like between 2001 and 2007. For a while it was a millstone around London’s neck. It’s legacy was an embarrassment. No-one knew what to do with it. There seemed to be no stable plans in place.

Then, after enduring a 6 year doldrums, 5 years ago someone with vision transformed it into the best concert venue in the world. Nowhere else do musicians have quite the same residencies (maybe other than Vegas). The glorious place started off well, went down an extreme dip, rose from the ashes like a phoenix, and has now played a part in making the Paralympic wheelchair basketball the great experience loads of us enjoyed last Saturday.

So will the same thing will happen with the Paralympic legacy, and the part of that legacy that impacts all disabled people? Will the high water mark we have at the moment have to go through another trough before it’s resurrected in Rio? Is it possible that we could just continue on the trajectory London 2012’s established? If we kept the momentum so Rio could be even better Paralympics than London?

I’ve very little influence to keep the momentum going in sport.

But I’ve already done something to keep the Paralympic legacy going in digital inclusion…

BS 8878 – helping to secure the Paralympic legacy in digital inclusion

One of the main things that all digital inclusion champions agree on is that it’s hard to keep up the momentum and focus on inclusion over time – to build for the long term, and reinforce practices that have resulted in great achievements in inclusion.

Often organisations do great things but then staff move on and all the competencies the organisation learnt somehow get lost along the way. So, years later they’re having exactly the same problems that kicked off the learning in the first place. Staff relearn things that previous occupants of their jobs learnt 3 years ago. Organisations’ inclusion quality peaks up and down across product ranges and versions of the same product.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could retain the competency? Wouldn’t it be great if inclusion just became an ongoing part of your business as usual?

That’s what disabled people want, and what businesses want as well. They don’t want to reinvent the wheel every 3 years. They certainly don’t want to have a potential legal case arise, like BMI baby, and get rid of the problem, only to find the situation reoccurring.

Everyone knows it’s a good idea to learn from your mistakes. But it’s not just about learning from your mistakes. It’s about not forgetting what you’ve learnt. You don’t want to repeat your mistakes in the future.

So one of the ways of making sure the legacy is secure, that the lessons aren’t forgotten, is to embed the learning in organisations.

Here in Britain, we created BS 8878 to do just that, to allow organisations to embed inclusion in their work, so it’s not a new thing, an odd thing, a different thing, an added thing. It’s just how they do things.

It’s not just about getting accessibility right once, or even not just getting accessibility right with one set of people who happen to be creating your products at any one time. It’s about getting accessibility right over time, with whoever is creating your products, whether it be new teams or old teams, or even people outside your organisation who you’ve commissioned to create your products and services.

That’s what BS 8878 allows you to do. So if that sounds interesting to your organisation then please check out my summaries of BS 8878 and please get in touch with any questions. As the lead-author of the Standard I’d love to introduce you to how BS 8878 can help you get things right, not just in the short term, but in the long term – how you can establish an accessibility legacy in your organisation.

As Oscar Pistorius said: “the games here have forced the world to see disability through the eyes of the British”.

The Great British attitude to disability and thinking around disability is summed up well in BS 8878. It’s something those of us who worked on it are very proud of. Something we have to share with the world. Something to secure the legacy, to keep the buzz going.

So maybe it’s time for your organisation to find out more…

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Deaf says

Paralympics organizers excluded millions of deaf and add of hearing by not providing open captions for the venues and also online videos. Shame on them.

Also, Olympics committee supports Paralympics, but never supported Deaflympics – both financially and by spreading more awareness about deafness.

Jonathan Hassell says

Thanks for your comment.

Yes, it’s unfortunate that the Paralympic (and Olympic) organizers excluded people by missing captions on the venue screens. As for the online videos – you’re right that the online Paralympic clips and programmes from 4od and Olympics clips from the BBC had no captions, but I’m sure the online form of the Olympics programmes on iPlayer did have captions – certainly the last remaining Olympic videos on iPlayer definitely have them now. It would be interesting to know why each of the broadcasters made the decisions they did about captioning. There’s obviously still room for improvement.

And thanks for mentioning the Deaflympics. These are much less well publicised than the Paralympics or Olympics. Readers can find out more at: and

Deaf says

Regarding online videos, I was meaning YouTube videos as well as NBC Olympics videos app. Many people outside of the UK were watching opening and closing ceremonies of Paralympics live on YouTube (because not all countries were covering them on TV), and organizers did not do anything to enable good quality captions. Many told deaf and hoh people who complained to click red button, but it was nowhere to be seen. One person even insulted a deaf person to tell her she must be blind not to see the button.

I do not live in the UK, so iPlayer is not accessible to those living outside the UK.

There’s no excuse for organizers not to invest money into good quality captions as basic and necessary accessibility if they could afford those lavish ceremonies.

Deaflympics need not just to be mentioned, but also to be funded. Deaflympics started long before Paralympics and yet never get any funding from Olympics organization. Paralympics has been covered on TV for a long time and gotten substantial funding, too.

Sadly, it looks like deaf and hard of hearing people are the population segment that was ignored most during both of those games. Even three deaf athletes from USA who participated in London Olympics were not mentioned in the news – at least not as frequently as Oscar Pistorius was.

Jonathan Hassell says

I’d agree that captions are an essential part of the necessary accessibility of huge events like the Olympics and Paralympics.

It’s puzzling that captions weren’t provided in the stadium, as I understand from blind people who attended the Opening & Closing ceremonies that an ‘enhanced commentary’ similar to Audio Description/Descriptive Video was available via special headsets in the stadium.

The interesting thing with the live YouTube coverage is to know which broadcaster was responsible for the streaming. From my experience at the BBC, it’s often the complex relationships between broadcasters and the people who own the event being broadcast (in this case the IOC or Locog) that can sometimes get in the way of ensuring that captions are made available. Creating the captions themselves is relatively straightforward, but licensing contracts between stakeholders need to include captions as well as the video feed from the moment they are negotiated, or else it becomes difficult to ‘add captions’ after that.

So it’s complex to make sure captions are made available for video. But that doesn’t excuse the lack of captions and bad communications that deaf and hoh people experienced.

From my knowledge of news organisations, I’m guessing that the deaf athletes in the Olympics weren’t mentioned as frequently as Oscar Pistorius because they weren’t considered so ‘news-worthy’. While I agree that deafness is often a ‘hidden disability’ that doesn’t get covered well, could it be that their athletic performance didn’t merit as much mention as Oscar’s? Especially in the Olympics, it’s people’s sporting abilities that are celebrated, rather then their impairments. And isn’t that a good thing? As Yves Veulliet would say: ‘I am not my disability. I have a disability.’

Deaf says

Here’s a powerful quote by Robredo: “All of us have the moral duty to break barriers for people with disabilities. For societies to truly function, no one should be left behind.”

People are disabled not by their disabilities, but by the barriers set up by society. If deaf and hoh people have access to aural information via captions, they would not be left out or feel disabled.

Yves Veulliet says

The Paralympic games were a success in terms of disability awareness for a large audience. No doubt about it. An aggressive media coverage was key to this success. Now comes the tricky question: how to keep the momentum going, beyond sport? How to leverage this success to promote the importance of including people with disabilities in the workplace, supported by an active policy of digital inclusion? This is where disability organizations, policy makers, academics and… people with disabilities themselves will have an important role to play! I’m curious to see it happening…

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