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WeThe15 and Paralympics Shine the Spotlight on Those Living with Disabilities


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Last Thursday (Aug. 19), over 125 famous landmarks around the world lit up in tandem, bathing the night in a purple glow in support of those living with disabilities. For a single evening, iconic sights such as the Tokyo Skytree, the London Eye, the Empire State Building, and Niagara Falls shone as beacons of hope for a more inclusive future—and in the hope that supports for change will last much longer than one night.

Several organizations, including the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the International Disability Alliance, are responsible for Thursday’s event. These institutions, headed by the IPC, are working together in support of the new WeThe15 campaign, which was started to spotlight the 1.2 billion people (15 percent of the world’s population) with disabilities.

Singapore’s iconic Supertree Grove at the Gardens by the Bay shone brightly in support of WeThe15’s campaign. Photo thanks to NPR.

The campaign’s goals are ambitious but noble: “WeThe15 plans to initiate change over the next decade by bringing together the biggest coalition ever of international organizations from the world of sport, human rights, policy, communications, business, arts and entertainment,” says WeThe15’s official website. “At a time when diversity and inclusion are hot topics, the 15% who have a disability want effective change to remove the inequality and inactivity… A global movement that is publicly campaigning for disability visibility, inclusion and accessibility.”

“It will build greater knowledge of the barriers and discrimination persons with disabilities face on a daily basis at all levels of society,” the mission statement continues. “By doing so we will break down these barriers so all persons with disabilities can fulfill their potential and be active and visible members of an inclusive society.”

Lighting iconic landmarks across the globe purple—a color long-associated with the disability community—is just the herald of what’s to come. With just one night in the spotlight, the campaign already has the backing, force, and attention needed to be one of the biggest movements for people with disabilities in history—and this, according to the IPC, is the obvious goal.

“[WeThe15] aims to put disability right at the heart of the inclusion agenda,” IPC President Andrew Parson said in a statement to Global Citizen. “By uniting several leading international organizations and the world’s 1.2 billion persons with disabilities behind one common movement, we will make a tangible and well overdue difference for the planet’s largest marginalized group.”

Niagara Falls was another landmark lit up in purple Thursday night. Photo thanks to the Toronto Times.

The decade-long campaign will strategically launch at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, which are scheduled to begin on August 24. According to the official Paralympics website, this year’s Games are expected to break all previous broadcast viewing records with an estimated 4.25 billion television viewers.

Not only will athletes with disabilities be in an even brighter limelight during the 2020 Games, but their unique backgrounds, struggles, triumphs, and accomplishments will be on the forefront alongside their athletic talents.

“In addition to delivering exciting and entertaining world-class sporting action from Tokyo, broadcasters are also telling the stories of Paralympians to inspire the next generation, challenge biases and stereotypes,” said Alexis Schaefer, the IPC’s Commercial, Partnerships, and Broadcasting Director. “We are extremely grateful to all rightsholders for helping to share the outstanding performances and powerful narratives with billions of viewers around the world.”

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, which showcase athletes with disabilities competing at the highest caliber, begin August 24 and end September 5. Photo thanks to Inside the Games.

Brightening the night around the world with an unforgettable purple glow is just the beginning of WeThe15’s plans. With such a beautiful, vibrant, and hopeful start, there’s no doubt the campaign will be able to accomplish great things.

“Sport, and events such as the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, are hugely powerful vehicles to engage global audiences,” said Parson in a press release for Special Olympics. “By partnering with Special Olympics, Invictus Games, and Deaflympics, there will be at least one major international sport event for persons with disabilities to showcase WeThe15 each year between now and 2030… I strongly believe WeThe15 could be a real game-changer for persons with disabilities.”

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