Why we should always refer to the Paralympics when we mention the Olympics

In 1988, I competed in the Paralympic games in Seoul, South Korea. Although the first Paralympic Games were held in 1960, the Seoul games was the first time the Paralympics were hosted in the same city as the Olympic Games, using much of the same infrastructure.

What a milestone it was. Just three weeks after the excitement of the Olympics, the people of Seoul got to witness further international sporting spectacles.

For the Korean community, disability was being celebrated. Accessible venues sprung up, and the abilities of people with disability was showcased.

The Seoul Paralympics received little media coverage back in Australia, but at the time, we did not expect much in the way of exposure.

The 1992 Barcelona Paralympics was the first one that had highlight packages broadcast on TV.(

Supplied: Jason Diederich


Things started to change in 1992, when the ABC hosted a 30-minute highlight package of the Barcelona Paralympics.

We were thrilled that our families back home could at least see some of the events, remembering that was before the internet.

The London effect

While Sydney hosted a terrific Paralympics in 2000, it is widely recognised now that the benchmark was set in 2012 when the games were hosted by London.

Not only was it a great spectacle of elite sporting prowess, but research showed that one in three people in the UK changed their attitude towards disability as a result of the way the games were run, and the way they were portrayed.

The approach taken to diversity and inclusion by the Games’ organisers was ground-breaking, and impacted people with disability beyond those that were competing.

Many people with disability obtained their first ever work experience at the games, and this has had a longer snowball effect on to employment outcomes for people with disability in the UK.

Who can forget Team GB’s incredible video We’re the Superhumans created in the lead up to Rio 2016 to build on the momentum gained during 2012?


This all came about through great leadership, and the recognition by the President of the London Games 2012, Lord Sebastian Coe, of the power of language.

Watch any video of Coe in the lead up to the London Games. He rarely mentions the “Olympics” in isolation. It is always “Olympics and Paralympics”.

This small change not only raised the profile of the Paralympics, but it put it on the same pedestal as the Olympics, sending a message that it was of equal importance.

This helped make the Paralympics to become socially valued and was a big part of the reason why tickets to watch Paralympic events were as hard to get as those for the Olympics.

It’s also the reason that attitudes in the community changed towards people with disability.

It is the reason more people with disability in the UK now have the same opportunities as people without disability to work, to shop, to play sport, to travel, to love and to live the lives they want.

Don’t lose the Para from Paralympics

In Australia, we have made some incredible gains in raising the profile of people with disability over recent years.

The work done by high profile Paralympians like Dylan Alcott has changed the way many people see disability and reinforced that we have an important part to play in mainstream society.

Dylan Alcott plays a forehand against Niels Vink at the Australian Open in Melbourne.
Dylan Alcott was Paralympian of the Year in 2016.(

AAP: Dean Lewins


Dylan’s work and high profile have made it “cool” for us to be proud of our disabilities. For example I want the world to know I did not go to the Olympics, I went to the Paralympics.

It is a great honour for me to be a Paralympian, so don’t take that title away from me by saying I am an Olympian!

Some say the two events should be merged, but I disagree.

The Para in Paralympics represents the parallel nature of the two events, and they both are amazing celebrations of elite athletes that can have a broader impact on the world as two separate events, just as we saw at the London Games.

Small change makes a big difference

Changing our language and referring more to the Paralympics is not just about benefiting athletes.

The world-leading National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) provides unprecedented levels of independence for over 450,000 Australians, resulting in more people with disability participating in the community socially and economically.

Sadly, the media focuses on the negative aspects of the NDIS, reinforcing the view that disability is a burden to the community, a cost to taxpayers.

The reality is that so much is being achieved through this innovative scheme, and so many lives changed for the better.

We need to demand to hear the good news stories from this phenomenal change and celebrate these to start recognising how much people with disability are contributing to our community.

We all have a chance to have an even greater impact on the lives of people with disability and their families with some small changes now.

I challenge all of us in Australia to recognise and celebrate the positive contributions made by people with disability in our communities.

I also challenge the media, I challenge the games officials, I challenge anyone talking about the Tokyo games to refer to the “Olympics and Paralympics” in one breath.

It will change lives.

Jason Diederich became an amputee at the age of 10 after being born without muscles below his knee in his right leg. He won silver medals in swimming at the Seoul and Barcelona Paralympics. Jason is now a board member and peer support volunteer with Limbs4Life, a community group that supports amputees. With a background in Occupational Therapy, Jason also works in the disability sector to drive inclusion and support people with disability to connect with their community.

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