With the Paralympics rapidly approaching, the world is once again gearing up to see the best athletes in their fields take to their sport with focus and determination. If the Olympic Games united the world, the Paralympics aren’t just a source of inspiration, but also one of strength, of overcoming numerous obstacles simply through perseverance, camaraderie and one’s own grit. But while the Paralympics might shine a spotlight on those athletes with disabilities, for the wider population the fact remains that discrimination and prejudice continues for those living with a disability. From stereotypes to barriers in the workplace and outside of it, 1.2 billion people with a disability face such struggles daily.
Now, Paralympians and others are looking to change the narrative with the introduction of a new worldwide campaign that seeks to end such discrimination for the disabled community. WeThe15 has been hailed as a major human rights movement, representing the 15 per cent of people around the world living with disability.
The campaign comes from the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in partnership with major organisations across the fields of sport, human rights, arts and policy. Ahead of the Tokyo Games, WeThe15 aims to change attitudes towards disability and increase awareness of accessibility. One of the many athletes supporting the campaign is Aussie swimmer Ellie Coles, who will be competing at her fourth Paralympis in Tokyo. Speaking about the struggles she faced, Cole said: “When I was younger, there was such stigma around disability; the word disability was almost hushed in every single language.” She added, “I think most people aren’t aware that their communities aren’t even accessible to the 15 per cent of the community that have a disability.”
Among the organisations joining the cause are the likes of UNESCO, Invictus Games and The Valuable 500. For the next decade, the campaign will focus on a different area of inequality each year, like education, healthcare and employment. As IPC president Andrew Parsons explained, “WeThe15 aspires to be the biggest ever human rights movement for persons with disabilities and aims to put disability right at the heart of the inclusion agenda, alongside ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.”
He added, “We will make a tangible and well overdue difference for the planet’s largest marginalised group.”
Paralympian Kurt Fearnley has also joined the campaign. “In Australia we have a very strong disability rights movement, we have grounds that we still need to make, but when travelling internationally often you see disability completely on the fringes of life,” he said. “This is an advocacy campaign that uses the huge platform of the Paralympics and brings it into as many lounge rooms as it can, and it can challenge misconceptions around what it is to be a person with a disability.”
Fearnley hopes WeThe15 will see many reconsider their attitudes towards disability and inspire real change in the community. “We need everybody to look around in the room they’re in right now and say is disability in it and if not, why not?”
He added, “Let’s use this moment where we get to celebrate disability on the third biggest sporting event in the world and lets get outcomes and let’s try and make this campaign the most successful campaign.”
A 90-second video showcasing WeThe15 will be shown at the opening ceremony in Tokyo on August 24. It will coincide with Paralympians wearing temporary tattoos featuring the campaign symbol: a clock face showing the 15 per cent of the world’s population living with disability.
“Don’t ignore the disability, don’t look through the disability and don’t say that these are superhuman, because they are wonderfully human and wonderfully normal,” said Fearnley.