Don’t ignore Dylan Alcott’s wheelchair by Phil Hayes-Brown

Australia’s Dylan Alcott has roared into the limelight with a historic win at Wimbledon and a TV Logie to boot. He is the face of disability inclusion at the moment, and what a wonderful moment it is.

I watched the Grand Slam final over the weekend with my family, including my daughter Phoebe who has a moderate  intellectual disability, and we cheered as Dylan choked back tears as he lifted the Wimbledon trophy after blitzing British rival Andy Lapthorne in straight sets, 6-0 6-2.

The win was historic because it was Wimbledon’s first wheelchair event. What an amazing moment for the 28-year-old and for disability inclusion. Finally, people of all abilities are being celebrated.

But when I was discussing the win over the weekend with a friend, they said: “Isn’t it a pity the event is called the ‘Quad Wheelchair’ singles. It’s not inclusive.”

It’s a vexed question that gets raised with me a lot in my role as CEO of a disability organisation. How do we get greater inclusion – by celebrating difference or by pretending it doesn’t exist?

Dylan himself hinted at this in his acceptance speech

“Today, everyone there did not care I was in a wheelchair. They’re like, ‘How good is this match? How good is he playing? He’s a good bloke’,” he told the packed crowd.

In all the talk of inclusion I think there is a very real risk that we forget another important concept – diversity.

Inclusion suggests that bringing groups together is a good thing, whereas diversity says more options and choice are better than less. It is a celebration of our differences.

This same debate occurred recently with the Commonwealth Games which included several para-sport events. Some commentators insisted we should just have one inclusive sporting event going forward with all the events together side by side because that’s how we achieve greater awareness and inclusion.

While I like the theory of this, I found myself disagreeing because if that occurred it would actually mean that many of the para events would have to be cut out of the schedule and the end result might well be less opportunity for these athletes instead of more.

Another example is that the AFL has an Indigenous Players Association in addition to the Players Association. There are some critics who have said this isn’t helpful – that we should just have one Players Association that represents everyone. I disagree. The driver for the indigenous offshoot were that the main Players Association wasn’t properly set up to represent indigenous players who wanted their own voice.

In terms of disability in the media, it’s fabulous seeing Dylan Alcott have so much success and I would love to see more people with disability represented in the mainstream media.

But I  strongly believe we also need separate voices and forums and spaces to achieve greater inclusion.

Australia has a national TV channel dedicated to multiculturalism in SBS, and an Indigenous channel in NITV. Both are crucial to reminding us about our cultural diversity and play valuable roles in making us more culturally inclusion. I couldn’t imagine how all those communities would be better served by having just one “inclusive” channel. And who would decide what content and which voices would be left out? The risk of homogenisation is very real.

One of my own passions is to see the creation of a channel devoted to disability. It would broadcast programs, series and movies depicting people living with disability breaking barriers and the technological advances that are changing lives.

But when I suggested this idea to someone recently who has a similar vision for greater disability inclusion , I was told it would be a bad thing because it would not be inclusive. A separate channel would reinforce the separateness of disability, they said. Better to just have a few programs about disability on the ABC as national broadcaster.

I disagree that such a channel, and similar ideas, would set back the cause for greater disability awareness and inclusion.

In fact, such a channel could actually be a major step forward for disability inclusion because it would create a space for the entire community living with, affected by or interested in disability to gather and share stories. Remember, 1-in-5 people live with a disability and many more are affected indirectly, so it’s a huge potential audience.

A separate channel could become a national brand champion, highlighting great examples of inclusion in the workplace, in schools and in the community and be a powerful driver of change. My family would love to see a channel like this bring all those stories – including Dylan Alcott’s historic win – in one place.

So there are many differences of opinion about the best way to achieve inclusion and Dylan Alcott is helping us all have it at a national level.

 

Sport and the media play such pivotal roles in the struggle for greater inclusion and Dylan’s success in both spaces is having a huge impact.

Phil Hayes-Brown is CEO of Melbourne-based disability support agency Wallara and was formerly in senior roles in the corporate world, the National Basketball Association in the US and the Hawthorn football club. His daughter has an intellectual disability.

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