Balancing employment and the Paralympics: Accessibility is key!

Balancing employment and the Paralympics: Accessibility is key!

With the Paralympics in full swing, we have been fortunate to witness amazing feats of skill and athleticism, inspiring us all.

You only have to look at the Men’s 1,500m T13 final for visually impaired athletes, with the top 4 placings all running times which would have won gold in the Men’s Olympic race.

Or David Brown of the USA, who ran 10.99 seconds to win the Men’s 100m T11 final for athletes with the highest level of visual impairment and who need to run with a guide.

Elite Athletes

Back in February, I was fortunate enough to spend a day training with the GB Wheelchair Rugby team for experience in my role as an S&C Coach. The professionalism and dedication towards training was a privilege to be a part of and was without ego or fanfare.

In Wheelchair rugby, the athletes commonly have experienced some form of spinal injury, with many having impaired use of their upper limbs. Strapping themselves onto barbells or pull-up bars because they were unable to grip properly from their injury, they worked as hard as any athlete I have trained with.

Elite athletes they indeed were. On top of this, many had travelled a long way, some from different cities, and most with jobs outside of training and competition.

Last week at The Final Whistle we went into detail on some of the challenges athletes with a disability face in terms of funding, highlighting that many Paralympians and athletes with a disability are required to work, just as the GB Wheelchair Rugby team does.

As a result, accessibility in the workplace is an area of vital importance to ensuring their ability to work is not compromised.

Why Accessibility?

Accessibility is an area which is gaining increasing attention, and rightly so. With one in five Australians living with a disability, disability affects 2.2 million of the working-age population overall.

Many companies around Australia, and the World, have programs and departments dedicated to diversity and inclusion, which incorporates accessibility. Are you aware of one in your own company? Chances are you’ll have one at least to some degree.

Employment for people with a disability goes beyond simply having a job and a steady stream of income, it is about inclusion, acceptance and being valued, the very same reason the GB Wheelchair Rugby athletes travel so far and sacrifice so much.

In 2015, the Business Council of Australia (BCA) conducted a survey into disability employment practices and experiences among companies. It highlighted that those companies with a focus on disability saw benefits that included:

  • an additional talent pool
  • reputational benefits
  • increased staff engagement and morale
  • an enhanced corporate culture, and
  • it encouraged innovation.

It is also worth noting that companies with a focus on accessibility experienced greater levels of staff retention.

For any business, recruitment and retention of valuable and skilled staff is vital for success, with focus needed to be given to alternative methods ensuring that this is so.

Looking at athlete recruitment, and notably athletes with a disability, can have significant impact in this space.

Accessibility can come in many forms too, from access and lifts, to guide dog-friendly spaces and workplaces, to technology such as headsets and tagging software that speak to people that are visually impaired, when they hover over different parts of their computer screen.


Like with most programs, there are barriers to having a completely accessible workplace.

The BCA survey highlights that many companies have their focus on disability, which competes for resources with other diversity focus areas, such as gender balance and indigenous engagement, areas of no less importance.

The Australian Network on Disability

One organisation making a difference is the Australian Network on Disability (AND), which is a not-for-profit member-funded organisation that assists companies to advance the inclusion of people with a disability in all aspects of the business.

It is a fantastic resource for athletes and people with a disability to explore companies that have a disability focus, as well as information for companies on how they can ensure accessibility for their premises and information on employing people with a disability.

Member companies of the AND who have shown a dedicated and committed approach to accessibility include Westpac, IBM, Telstra, PWC, Uber and Lend Lease.

More information on how they help, membership and what they do, can be found at

More than just an Elite Athlete

We all know the transferable skills an athlete can bring to a business; skills such as discipline, the ability to work within a team, effective communication and a high-performance mindset. It goes without saying that athletes with a disability possess these same transferable skills.

If you then consider the additional challenges of living with a disability that are overcome – never mind those of merely being an athlete with a disability – to then thrive, compete and perform, who wouldn’t want that calibre of employee in their business?!

Patrick Wright

Patrick (Paddy) is the Head of Partner Relations at The Final Whistle. A Sydney boy through-and-through, he has spent close to 9 years living in London from two different stints. He has a background in Financial Markets, but is now a student of Nutrition and Strength & Conditioning.

Interests: career transition, nutrition, strength & conditioning, surfing, most sports, education, travel, connecting with people, talking.

First article: September 2016


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