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Employment Lawyer Richard MacMillan discusses how the Paralympics showed us what employers are missing

Yesterday, in spectacular fashion, the Paralympics closed marking the end of a golden British summer.  I think most people in the land felt a slight tinge of sadness that this golden summer (in terms of patriotic events rather than the weather) was drawing to a close.  It started with Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee and ended with a fantastic show of British sportsmanship.  I think most people agree that Team GB did the country proud.

Historically, the Paralympics has not achieved the same recognition and prominence as the Olympics, but London 2012 has shown what disabled people can achieve and that disability should not be a barrier to those in sport.  Never before has there been such enthusiasm for the Paralympics. I think going forward the Paralympics will no longer be the poorer cousin but on a par with the Olympics, which is where it should be, in terms of prestige and coverage.  It was great to see the Olympic park full of spectators, willing on Team GB.  Past Paralympics have not attracted the same levels of enthusiasm.  I hope that this will not be the case any longer and that the Paralympics in Brazil in 2016 will be equally popular.   One of the bigger questions is will there be any direct impact in other aspects of national life as a consequence of the Paralympics?  In the work place, we still see discriminatory behaviour on the grounds of disability by employers and too often a failure to make the necessary reasonable adjustments to facilitate the working life of disabled people.  

Hopefully, the Paralympics will show that disabled people can achieve great things if given the chance.  In the employment sphere, that requires managers not to be prejudiced, but think about the raw talent disabled employees or applicants possess and see what reasonable changes can be made in the work place if necessary.  A business is likely to thrive if it has talented employees working for it and so if employers invest they are likely to see a reward in that investment.  Too often, the talent of disabled people is ignored, as employers cannot see past the disability, which is the experience of many employees we advise.  Also, diversity and equality are important issues that businesses would be foolish to ignore.  There is evidence to suggest that productivity improves if a working environment is inclusive and these are the kind of issues customers look at as part of a procurement process when choosing to purchase goods and services from a company.      

I hope that one of the lasting legacies of London 2012 is not just about the redevelopment of Stratford or a renaissance in British sport, but a shift in cultural attitudes towards disabled people with positive changes in the work place.  

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By Richard MacMillan, Employment Law Expert.