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October 5, 2021 26 mins

This is the first episode in a series of conversations asking how we achieve equality for disabled people. This episode takes a look back at the history and the legacy of the Paralympic Movement and the impact it has had on host cities and beyond. Featuring Paralympians, Olympians and influential figures in the Paralympic Movement, including Michael JohnsonTanni Grey ThompsonXavi GonzalezDai TamesueJuan Pablo Salazar, Dan Brooke and actor RJ Mitte


Hosted by Sophie Morgan and executive produced by Sophie Morgan and Sinéad Burke, Equal Too has been created by Harder Than You Think, the award winning team behind Emmy award winning Netflix documentary Rising Phoenix, and P&G Studios. The podcast aims to continue the conversation that the documentary started. 


Equal Too: Achieving Disability Equality is a new special six-part series, featured on Seneca's Conversations on Power and Purpose series, that explores the biggest challenges faced by the disabled community and starts a conversation about what is needed to drive equality.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
There's a young boy woman. Dastick was cut up from
a surgery prosthetic picks purgery, telling me I'm normal, but normal.
They never really make see they are always painting, discriminated
but livitated. I think the Paralympic Games can and Paralympic
athletes can show the potential for people with disabilities, you know,

(00:20):
and just how incredible they can be in what they
can do. He gets a good one is achsaros pro
sids go wo. Then we talks intense Passaurus started to
each other, but just gotta brea talk. We don't take
the doss. Brown takes the sales off in the unted stays.
I remember going into the Paralympic Athletics Day one morning session.

(00:44):
I'm walking out and just go this is amazing, And
there it is the coach jumpstairs feet. Their celebrations are
just incredible, as incredible as that performance. The nineteen year
old France nis in Italy. Just doesn't know what to
do with ourselves h M. The Writing Phoenix project began

(01:33):
when the documentary Rising Phoenix was released on Netflix in
August of This was the date the Paralympics were originally
due to start. The documentary tells the history of the
Paralympic Games, which has grown to become one of the
world's largest sporting events. Do you use don't you believe?
We'll try to gain the outside is done it again.

(01:56):
We are nice quite quite news tonight. It was one
of the most popular films released on Netflix in its
opening weekend, and it triggered an incredible discussion about disability
all around the world. Paralympic sport is a catalyst for change.
It challenges how we perceive disabled people and provide a

(02:19):
global stage to build a community. But what happens after
the games when athletes return home to truly create an
accessible and equitable world, a place where everyone feels safe
and is encouraged to be themselves. We have work to do.
We have to change the law, transformed culture, rebuild our cities,

(02:42):
increased visibility, and to do so, we must empower everyone
to be involved. Over the next five episodes, you're going
to hear from activists and policy makers, athletes and allies
from around the world as we listen to what they
think of where this movement and where the story of
this movement needs to go next. I'm Sophie Morgan. This

(03:06):
is equal to episode one, the change we made. If
you want to follow the equal two story and join
the conversation hashtag equal to, go to our website ht
Whitey dot world, where you will also find the transcript
and video versions of the podcast, along with subtitles and

(03:28):
a b Sell signed version in the coming days. The
Paralympics is a phenomenal sporting event. It has the power
to change lives. As a wheelchair user myself, for example,
the twelve Games in London opened the door to me
becoming one of the first female disabled television hosts in

(03:51):
the world. The games showcase disabled athletes at an elite
level and allows spectators to see what disabled sports people
can achieve. Eve But the rise of the Paralympic Games
has not been straightforward. Some games have been incredible, so
finally the sun was setting on London's glorious summer of

(04:12):
sport that they were going to go out with a bang.
We have already espoished by the triumphs and drama the Paralympics.
Some not so good Riaralympic Games are getting underway for
many of the athletes involved, though the road tario has
involved more than just hard work and determination. Questions have
again been raised over whether the host city is ready.

(04:36):
It's an extraordinary story with many twists and turns, and
it all began with a vision from one man, the
founder of the Games, Sir Ludwig Gutman. He's the doctor
who has forced paralyzed people to walk, laugh, argue, earn wagers,
run up debts. So how did the Games evolved from
Gutman's artery competition to the event we now know? Dame

(04:59):
Tanny A. Thompson is one of the most celebrated Paralympians
and politicians in the UK. I asked her to give
me a quick overview of the progression of the Paralympics.
Arm and Bright Thompson of Bright Brittany, the running parall
A brit when world read World Harder, there's going to
really have red three years in a row or pretty
Paralympics in a lively tossed Arnod stride Segon so in

(05:21):
uh the first Games in Rome in n six kind
of sat alongside the Olympics, and then there were games
that then happened in the same country but not in
the same city. H and then you know what should
have been the Games in Moscow? The governments that they
didn't have any disabled people, So the Paralympics went to

(05:43):
Arnam and then it was kind of quite interesting. So
four the game split, so the wheelchair users went to Stoke,
Mandible and everything else went to New York because l
A that was meant to host the Paralympics then decided
not to so a t A which you know, I
don't think, you know, I was sort of right on
the edges of the politics support. Then it was a

(06:06):
massive step forward because even in Korea, you know, there's
a lot of discrimination against disabled people indoor thought you're
the only done kind of doubt. So my first games
were sold and it was interesting. I mean, it was
the first time that we'd had a Paralympics that sat

(06:28):
alongside the Olympics. We had the same kit, although not
the same amount of kit, and the Olympians um and
it felt like it was a massive step forward and
a real turning point, which it was quite exciting. Yeah,

(06:49):
Barcelona Games took the baton from Seoul and they created
a dramatic shift in how the games were produced and
how they were communicated. Many say the beginnings of the
modern Paralympic Games were born in Barcelona. It felt like
it was just massive step forward in terms of the

(07:11):
games and where it was going to sit alongside the Olympics.
We have really big crowds um at the Paralympics, and
I think one of the sad things is people sort
of forget Barcelona and what a sort of a watershed
moment it was, because then Atlanta, Sydnely, Athens beyond, you know,
there weren't massive crowds. But actually for Barcelona there was

(07:32):
a really really good atmosphere in the city, uh and
around Olympic Park, you know, swimming pools packed, the athletics
was really full evening sessions UM and that that was
quite exciting sort of step forward again. Those crowds helped
propelled Tanny to a massive five metal performance that summer

(07:52):
in Spain. But long before Tanny had touched down in Barcelona,
countless hours of planning and preparation had gone into in
shuring that the event would be ready for the world stage.
The International Paralympic Committee or i p C, has been
in charge of ensuring the successful delivery and organization of
the Paralympic Games since it was founded in nine. Zavie

(08:14):
Gonzalez of Spain was CEO at the i p C
from two thousand and four until he retired in two
thousand and nineteen. He was a pivotal figure in the
Barcelona Games. Zavy tells me about what happened when I
was called to see if I was interested in enjoined
the Paralympic Games. My reaction was, Bara, what one think

(08:35):
that we did in Barcelona? I think that's what really
was there. The foundation of the success is that we
from the beginning created the alleleads and treated the event
as as an event, and we didn't really looking through
so much the disability. We needed to organize a very

(08:58):
good event, needed to be similar to the Olympics as
much as we could, and we knew that the Allies
were going to come. The Allies will will require that
level of sophistication and preparations. Gordi Eta. If they will
see Baiqual and shall pat with the should see Plin
Shendicho joined the cartoon one. Then the Games went to

(09:20):
China for the first time, and the Beijing Games in
two thousand and eight was yet another milestone for the event,
impacting the lives of China's eighty three million disabled people
for the better before the Games, the country was comparatively inaccessible,
but as Zavvy remembers, that soon changed. I think what
the real change happened or become visible. That's probably more

(09:44):
more fair to say it became visible was one the
President of China. I think it was called hug Intao
at the time, the declare that the Olympics and the
Paralympics are going to be games of equalis splendor. And
this time the games even managed to change the law.
Just weeks before the Paralympics began in Beijing, the revised

(10:06):
Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection
of People with the Disability came into force to protect
the rights of disabled people. The law meant that the
state and society had to improve accessible facilities and promote
accessible information. History was made. I guess that, in a

(10:34):
nutshell is the power of sport, the power of the
Paralympic Games, not just to move us, but to change us.
The movement was growing, and then in the Games arrived
in London. Yeah, I remember going into the Paralympic Athletics

(11:07):
day one morning session. I'm walking out and just going
this is amazing. Investment in the Games was key to
their success. But this investment wasn't just to improve infrastructure
and access, but to amplify and ignite conversations too. For
the London Twelve Games, one stakeholder who rose to the

(11:29):
challenge was the UK's most progressive and some might say
disruptive broadcaster, Channel Four. For any of us, I think
that we're lucky enough to be involved in London and
just to be involved with the Paralympic movement. It's been
that's the best thing that's happened in our working lives.
Yes I can, suddenly, yes I can, Gee, I'm afraid

(11:54):
to go on has turned into yes I can. Take
That was Dan Brook, who was the chief marketing and
Communications officer of Channel four at the time of the
Twelve Games. TV coverage of the Paralympics had always been
done by the world renowned BBC, who also broadcast the Olympics.
But spotting an opportunity to give the Paralympics its own

(12:17):
stage and to center the narratives of athletes themselves, Channel
four won the television rights to broadcast for the Paralympics.
That was an incredibly brave decision because saying no to
the BBC is like saying no to the Queen. Channel
four sought to do something that nobody had ever achieved

(12:37):
before in the history of the Paralympics, to present it
to the world on a stage as big as and
equal to the Olympics. That was exactly what founder Ludwig
Gutman had always wanted, which is why he named the
games the para Olympics, which means parallel or equal to.
Channel four were finally going to realize Gutman's dream. Dan

(13:01):
and his team came up with a revolutionary idea. We
were talking and saying to ourselves that the portrayal of
people disabilities in popular culture. The biggest thing that we
could think of where disability was portrayed in a positive
way was the X men um you know, and probably
should be called the X Men and the X Women.

(13:21):
Their disability is at the center of what their superpower is.
That was the basis for for Superhumans. Then on top
of that, we wanted to give Paralympians the Hollywood treatment,

(13:43):
the Nike treatment in a way that we felt they'd
never been given before. So, you know, in the Superhumans
advert there's amazing production values, and you know, we spent
a lot of money making sure that athletes looked amazing
should be on that plane. If you're a Paralympian, your
your disability is an integral part of your identity and

(14:07):
indeed of your presence at the Games. So we didn't
want to shy away from that in a way that
you know, we felt perhaps before people had m So
you know, stumps and scars and other aspects of disability
are presented very proudly in the advert. You know, there's
this handover period of two and a half weeks between

(14:29):
the Olympics ending and the Paralympics beginning, and that was
where marketing got crammed, and we decided, no, we want
to get this on people's agenda, on their radar, right
from the start, before the Olympics even begin. So when
the Olympics ends, there's not people already prepared for the

(14:49):
fact that there's a second party that's about to occur.
And that was that was really successful. The other thing
that we did, which which I loved, were when as
the Olympics were ended ending, all these massive billboards went
up all over the country with the Paralympics logo on

(15:10):
it and the Channel four logo on it, and it
simply said thanks for the warm up. Channel four broke
the mold and turned the Games into an event that
was watched and loved by millions of people. British athletes
like Johnny Peacock, Ellie Simmons and David Weir became household
names across the UK began is she going to do it? Then?

(15:46):
And the twelve Paralympics was also successful in shifting short
term perceptions on disability, withough the half of people asked
stating that their view of disability had changed for the better.
Dan says that one of the really important components of
the success was the backing of the games by commercial sponsors,
including one of the UK's largest supermarkets, Sainsbury's. Change occurs

(16:10):
in two different ways. There's a change that occurs to
the games and the way that the Games is held
and put on then by successive cities because you know,
everyone's this is sport, everyone's competitive, right, you want to
put on the games that was better than the ones before,
So you know, London has now become the new benchmark
for for the Paralympics. And what it definitely did was

(16:35):
it it put the subject of disability sort of front
and center in society in a way that that that
that it had never that had never happened before. I
remember lieving the stadium one night in London and there
was a a mom with her daughter, quite young daughter
with double emputy, and she was walking very slowly out

(16:59):
of the park and the man was just pootling along alongside,
and you could see the mom just wanted to pick
her up and stick her in her wheelchair and push her,
and the mom wasn't doing that. And I talked to everyone,
so I stopped and said, have you had a nice time?
And a mom was just like yeah, And I said,
what happened to? We've been here every day, We've watched
like loads of stuff and said the start of the game,

(17:20):
said my daughter covered her legs. She did, and she
preferred to be in a pram as opposed to a
wheelchair because she knew as a wheel chat, although she
knew she'd get treated differently being sort of a young
child in a pram, she felt she was treated worse
if she was in a wheelchair. And she'd watch loads
of stuff, and she'd watch Johnny Peacock and she was

(17:41):
now walking in a pair of shorts and showing off
her legs and I was like, right. So I said
to this this young girl, I said, so, you know,
what do you think of Johnny? And she liked to
know and I said, sid, you want to be like
Johnny Peacock when you grew up? And she looked at
me as kind of only a seven eight year old
card and went, well, that's stupid, because Johnny's a boy
and I'm a girl. Okay. So it's clear that the

(18:03):
London Games made the UK and perhaps even the world
sit up and take note. So what next. By the
time the Rio Games came around, even TV stars were
keen to get involved. Here's R. J. Mitty of the
US hit drama Breaking Bad. I really wanted to get

(18:33):
involved because you know, um, the the Olympics and the
Paralympics to me are such a pivotal part of our
society when it comes to what we can do, the
mentality of the human condition, of how far we can
push ourselves and um, and I was trying to get
involved with them. And in the in the US we

(18:54):
weren't really I wasn't really making making the cut and uh.
And in the United Kingdom forwards more than happy to
to pick me up. But what many people don't know
is that the Paralympic Games were very nearly canceled and
it's only thanks to the determination and the resilience of

(19:15):
the Paralympic movement that they happened. They actually had the
furthest reach of any games in history. More than four
billion people watched from over a hundred and fifty countries.
Ladies and gentlemen the Paralympic flag handle and ceremonial saying
mardis is his loradies A ceremonial Paralympica. What a roller

(19:43):
coaster these past few years have been. But here we are,
through all of the delays and hardships of a pandemic.
The sixteenth Paralympic Games are underway. So what can we
expect from the games this summer? I knew just the
person to ask, Juan Pablos Alaza. For fourteen years, Juan Pablo,

(20:03):
who is the President of the National Disability Council in
Colombia as well as president of the Inter American Committee
for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Persons
with Disabilities, has been a global and passionate activist for
the Paralympic movement and for rights of persons with disabilities. Well,
the Tokyo Games at an unusual games because well, of

(20:25):
course we were dealing with this meteorite that kill Earth
called COVID. That right now, it's it's more like that's
our vival mode. We we need the games to happen
for our for our system, and mostly because of our athletes.
And I think it's also like such of hope for

(20:45):
for the world. You know, we are a little bit
of that light at the end of the tunnel. Die
Tammaso is a legend in Japan. He represented Japan in
the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Olympics, and since retiring, has
taken a particular interest in athlete development and has a

(21:06):
passion for the Paralympic movement. I asked him about Japan's
intended legacy for the Paralympic Games. The most fundamental impact
on Japanese society, in my opinion, is about labeling. In Japan,
we offer support to people with disabilities, but conversely that
results in people with disabilities being grouped together. People with

(21:27):
disabilities are on one side and healthy people on the other,
clearly separating them into different groups. In the same way,
if we raised the question of labeling and the Paralympic
Games were not merely talking about people with disabilities, but
also those people who are not Paralympians. I believe that
the biggest legacy of the Paralympics is to free us
from the stigma of those labels like being Japanese or

(21:48):
male or female. Since we tend to confine ourselves into
certain frames, the Paralympics invites us to question the power
or importance of labels and categorization. Are they signposts for
community pride and self identification or are they used to
other and distance those who have always been on the margins.

(22:11):
Language is personal and shaped by who we are and
how we live, which is why this global lens on
disability and inclusion has never been more important, and, according
to Juan Pablo, Tokyo is taking up the charge to
forge a lasting impact that reaches far beyond their borders.
Never before in the history of the Paralympic movement had

(22:33):
inclusion been explicitly in the in the strategic plan. So
they started with um with this administration three years ago,
where we designed the like the first like the first
drawing of the first blueprint of inclusion being spoken about

(22:55):
explicity in explicitly in our in our our work. So yes,
it's fascinating times. We are indeed pioneering this with all
the additional challenges that that means, because you know this
is unchartered territories. I think that if in London we

(23:16):
matured us an elite uh competition of mass consumption and
in real we kind of consolidated that in in Tokyo
we are launching now that we know that we're a
big movement. Yeah, and now that we have that very
much well consolidated, we can start to focus on our

(23:36):
broader purpose. So of course we will always be about
sports and that's not going to change ever, but sports
for the service of inclusion of people with these abilities.
Now that we're like adults and grownups, we can say, okay,
we can use this massive platform and this uh so
wide and global reach to actually get some in s

(24:01):
done through the weed the fifteen campaign that it's a
ten year initiative to see how we can link we
can find that philosopher. So we're talking about before linking,
how para sports positively and truly and measurably and objectively
impact the implementation of the inn Convention of rights of
people with disabilities. Bringing you through this timeline of the Paralympics,

(24:26):
albeit quickly, is important because with a shared understanding of
how far we've come, we can start to map out
what's next. It's time for us to stop looking back
and to start looking forward. It's time for us to
think about what is next. In Episode two, will be
exploring the law, the limitations and opportunities of the policies

(24:49):
we work and live within, and how paralympians, advocates, activists
and allies are creating the change that we need. This
podcast has been made by disabled and non disabled people,
and this story is for everyone. Join us. These podcasts
have been made possible by the supporter Procter and Gamble.

(25:11):
P and G share our ambition to create a more
equal world, a world where everyone can have equal access
and the opportunity to thrive. We are very grateful for
the partnership in making these conversations a reality. Of people
with the direct involvement in the production of this podcast,
including guests, identify as disabled. This podcast was created by

(25:33):
Greg Nugent, co founder of Harder Than You Think. I'm
Sophia Morgan, your host and executive producer. Fellow executive producers
are Chanaid Burke, Greg Nugent, Barnaby Spurrier, Laura I'ms, Mark Pritchard,
and Kimberly Dobrunner. Thank you to the I p C

(25:54):
and Channel four for their support and use of archive material.
Thanks to our podcast production Partner Media, and also to
Seneca Women for their assistance with distributing this show. If
you want to follow the equal to story and join
the conversation hashtag equal to, go to our website ht
Whitey dot world, where you will also find the transcript

(26:17):
and video versions of the podcast, along with subtitles and
a BSL signed version in the coming days.
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