Paralympics could pave the way for a 'more inclusive' post-pandemic recovery, experts say

  • The Paralympic Games present an opportunity for businesses to embrace workers with disabilities and aid the global coronavirus recovery, experts said.
  • Already, pandemic-induced lockdowns have paved the way for more flexible and inclusive work environments.
  • It is estimated that some 1.3 billion people, around 15% to 20% of the workforce, have the lived experience of disability.

This summer's Tokyo Paralympics present an opportunity for businesses to embrace a vastly underrepresented segment of the workforce and aid the global coronavirus recovery, experts said.

The decades-old Games, which showcase the sporting talents of leading disabled athletes, have been instrumental in removing taboos around often "shunned or excluded" members of society, International Paralympic Committee CEO Mike Peters told CNBC.

That, in turn, has helped stir up important conversations about how businesses and society at large can better understand and engage the 1.3 billion people globally with a lived experience of disability.

"Aside from the fact that it's an incredible moment for athletes, all athletes — Paralympian athletes or Olympian athletes — it's a great moment for us to challenge the perceptions of inclusivity," Caroline Casey, a disability activist and founder of The Valuable 500, told CNBC's "Capital Connection" on Wednesday.

That has become especially important after the coronavirus pandemic, which has exposed the "gross inequity and injustice" suffered by people with disabilities, said Casey, whose organization helps CEOs initiate and implement diversity and inclusion commitments.

Yet, the crisis has also exposed a "glimmer of light," she said, noting that many of the barriers that previously prevented employers from embracing workers with disabilities have now been broken.

"We have seen that the business system can flex and change — whereas before it said it couldn't — to accommodate people with disabilities working remotely, or from home, or in the different ways we've seen it be so easily adapted in the last 15 months," said Casey. "That's very important."

That opens up a huge opportunity to embrace not only workers but also consumers with disabilities, she said. Indeed, after the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, employment among workers with disabilities rose, she said.

"As we have to recover from this pandemic, why on earth would any business in their right mind leave the value of 15% to 20% of our global population behind, which is a spending power of $13 trillion," she said.

The comments come as the delayed Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics continue to be beset by the pandemic and associated challenges, sparking criticism from Japanese citizens and international observers.

However, Peters said the measures taken by the organizing committee alongside the Japanese government and the Tokyo metropolitan government meant that the Games would be "one of the safest places on earth."

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics is the U.S. broadcast rights holder to all Summer and Winter Games through 2032.

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