Saturday, March 10, 2012

Audio commentary for partially sighted, blind people at London Paralympic opening, closing ceremonies will be available for the first time in 2012

From the BBC in the UK:

Audio commentary for partially sighted and blind people at the Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies will be available for the first time in 2012.

Former Paralympic skier Mike Brace (pictured), who is blind, was part of the 2012 Olympic bid team and advised organisers on diversity.

"I've been to 12 Paralympics and this will be the first time I'll know what's happening at the ceremonies," he said.

"All the Olympic and Paralympic sports will have audio description," he added.

The former cross-country skier went blind aged 10, following a firework accident near his home in Hackney.

He told the BBC that providing such extensive live audio commentary at the Games was a "big challenge" for Olympic organisers Locog, who had worked alongside the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

He made his comments as London 2012 celebrated Diversity Day, which highlighted how both the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and Olympic organisers Locog had worked to make the Games as diverse and inclusive as possible.

Locog have previously said that "where relevant, information will also be available in British Sign Language to allow deaf people to enjoy the Games."

Paul Deighton, Locog's chief executive officer, said: "London is probably the most diverse city in the world and we have always said that we want to reflect this diversity in all our work - whether in our staff, volunteers, businesses we work with or anyone connected to the Games".

He said that promises to recruit a local workforce were being met, with more than 500 of Locog's staff coming from the six host boroughs, a ratio of more than one in five. More than 325 people who were previously unemployed now work full-time at Locog, about one in eight of its workforce.

Recruitment will continue to happen at a rate of 100 new employees joining per week and Locog said it is "committed to ensuring that it employs as many local people as possible and continues to recruit a diverse workforce".

The ODA, the public body which developed and built the new venues for the Games, also had diversity targets to meet.

Chair John Armitt admitted "the construction industry is not famed for inclusion and diversity" but said "we have shown there's a better way of doing things".

"We have employed 6,000 people and given opportunities to a wider audience of black and mixed communities, who made up 15 per cent of our workforce, while women made up seven per cent," he said.

He added that the ODA had exceeded their target of 150 apprentices, managing to employ 450, and that it had been put into "our contracts" that employees had to come from the "widest possible backgrounds."

"It might seem harsh but it makes contractors realise you're serious," he said.

He added that there was still work to do on employing disabled people in construction, added that they had fallen short of their target of three per cent of their workforce having a disability. "We managed one and a half per cent so there was room for improvement," he said.

Mr Armitt added that ultimately, the lead in improvements in diversity had to "come from big companies".

"We have put all of our findings online in our Learning Legacy - we want to raise the benchmark for the construction industry," he said.

Deputy Mayor of London Richard Barnes, who is openly gay, said that he had chaired the London 2012 equality and diversity forum four years ago and that when the issues were mentioned, "people's eyes glazed over".

But he said great strides had been made since then, citing London 2012 as producing the first lesbian, gay and bisexual Olympic pin badge.

He said that £3.5m had also been spent on the South Bank, making it fully accessible, that they had persuaded the City of London to "put a lift on Tower Bridge", and also "lifted medieval cobbles by Clink Street in Southwark", replacing them to make wheelchair use there easier.

He added they had looked at how to improve diversity issues on food, tickets, seating, supply chain contracts, training, apprenticeships and employing people leaving prison.

"We have wide arms, we have an enormous heart and we are going to welcome people to a Games like no other," he said.

He told the BBC that there would also be special provision made for wheelchair users on the London Underground during the Games.

"We are raising platforms on many stations so make leaving trains easier," he said. "And there will also be staff with ramps to help as well."

Former Paralympic medal winner Dame Tanni Grey Thompson added that she was also on the Diversity Board for Locog and had been involved in the Olympic bid from the start.

She praised Locog for "not being frightened to ask people their opinion" and said she was just treated like another member of the team rather than "someone who ticks lots of boxes - such as in a wheelchair, a mother, a female athlete, etc".

She said she had advised on all aspects of diversity, but had added that she had mentioned to Locog that staff and volunteers' uniforms had to be comfortable for those in wheelchairs.
John Amaechi John Amaechi advised the Olympic organisers on diversity

"You need trousers to be a bit baggier as people in wheelchairs are obviously sitting down all day," she said.

"And during Ramadan, we need to make sure that if an athlete needs to eat, we don't suddenly rush them off to a medal ceremony - all these things need to be considered."

Former NBA basketball player John Amaechi is one of world's the highest-profile openly gay athletes. He described himself as a "critical advocate" in his advisory role for diversity at the Games.

"We wanted the Games to be inclusive across the board," he told the BBC.