Using sport to kick-start change: WeThe15 campaign launched to end disability discrimination

  • A campaign aiming to be the “biggest ever human rights movement” turned the world purple as global landmarks were lit up to celebrate the launch of #WeThe15.

    The campaign aspires to represent the world’s 1.2 billion people with disabilities, to end discrimination and act as a global movement publicly pushing for disability visibility, accessibility and inclusion.

    WeThe15 has been spearheaded by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the International Disability Alliance . It aims to initiate change for the world’s largest marginalised group, who make up 15% of the global population – hence the name of the campaign.

    The FEI is among the many organisations to welcome the launch.

    “Para sports, like para equestrian, have shown the world that a disability is only disabling when it prevents someone from doing what they really want to do,” said FEI secretary general and president of the Association of Paralympic Sports Organisations Sabrina Ibáñez.

    “While sporting events like the Paralympics have the power to show the world just how much para athletes can achieve, there is a real need to shed light on the challenges that some of them face as they go about their daily lives.

    “A change of social attitude towards people with disabilities is very much required if we are to tear down the barriers that currently prevent them from contributing fully to their communities.

    “The WeThe15 campaign has paved the way for this change to happen. And it is encouraging to see the level of international support that the campaign has received to date and the long-term commitment of all involved to addressing the needs of people with disabilities around the world.”

    IPC president Andrew Parsons added that the campaign wants “to change the world, and we cannot change the world only through sport”.

    “We believe that change starts with sport, but we need to connect with the other sectors of society,” he said.

    “The Paralympic Games is the only event in the world with persons with disability centre stage in any field, even if you talk about art, culture, politics, education, economy. So we have the opportunity to launch a campaign of that calibre, bringing together organisations that are not from the field of sports, to really change the world not only every four years.

    “So what can we do between Paralympic Games? Can we advance legislation in nations? Advance taxation of assistive technology? Can we put persons with disabilities in front of the camera? We want to change Hollywood, we want to see more persons with disabilities in movies.”

    He added that Paralympians are a “small percentage of persons with disabilities”.

    “They are incredible examples, but we want to change the world for the 1.2 billion people,” he said.

    Reflecting what impact the evidence showing people with disabilities were disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic will have on the Games, Mr Parsons added: “That’s precisely why we have been saying this is the most important edition of the Paralympic Games ever, so now it’s time they need their voices to be heard the most. We are giving them the platform. And not only through sport, that’s why WeThe15 is so important.

    “The Paralympic movement is ready to do that. For years we have been struggling or fighting or pursuing to be recognised as an elite sports event, as a strong and relevant sports organisation. And now we want to, and will, play a major role when it comes to human rights.”

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