When The World Games commences in Birmingham, Alabama in July of 2022, it will be the most accessible edition in the event’s 40-year history.
Officials from the Birmingham Organizing Committee and Lakeshore Foundation recently announced a new partnership that will focus on making The Games more inclusive of adapted sports, athletes, fans and experiences for people with a disability.
Together, the organizations will develop and implement A Journey to One World, One Games, an initiative for disability inclusion and access.
To learn more about the initiative, the Lakeshore Foundation and its partnership with The World Games 2022, we spoke to Lakeshore Foundation President and CEO Jeff Underwood and Associate Director for Communications Mary Allison Cook.
Personally, what does this disability inclusion initiative mean to you?
Underwood: Partnering on this initiative, The World Games 2022 Birmingham and Lakeshore Foundation are recognizing the importance of disability inclusion in all aspects of The Games: competition, fan experience, messaging, governance and access. We want to use sport and this large, worldwide event to remove barriers and unify people.
Cook: This initiative is important because it addresses so many aspects of access and inclusion that most people don’t think about unless they live the experience. This plan will serve as an important tool that we can all use, whether hosting a sporting event or not, to ensure more people can take part and be leaders in our community.
Can you share some of the initial plans that Lakeshore Foundation and The World Games Birmingham have around this initiative?
Underwood: Our first step is to form a steering committee of experts across all sectors to develop, guide and support the implementation of the Disability Inclusion and Access Initiative. This committee will be diverse with disability representation. Disability inclusion should be woven throughout every aspect of The Games, so it is important that we have a strong foundation of experts to lay the groundwork for all elements of the plan.
Cook: The World Games 2022 Initiative for Disability Inclusion and Access is definitely going to function as a team sport where every person and organization will bring their talents and specialization to achieve a common goal. Forming that team, our steering committee, is the key first step in this multi-faceted plan. Once the team is formed, we will be able to address our other areas of focus within the initiative: the athlete experience, fan experience, training and education.
How can those in the Birmingham community get involved with this initiative and further promote inclusion of adapted sports, athletes, fans and experiences?
Underwood: Our goal for The World Games 2022 Disability Inclusion and Access Initiative is for it to be a legacy for future Birmingham events. This is going to be a learning experience for all of us. Firstly, we need to thank The World Games leadership for their support of this initiative. I encourage people with disabilities to volunteer and share your expertise through this process. I encourage people without disabilities to listen and learn. Then we can use the lessons learned from The World Games 2022 to make all aspects of our community more accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities.
Cook: A great starting point is for us to look beyond basic access and intentionally examine how disability inclusion and this initiative will benefits us all – not just one group of people. Then we can determine how to infuse the basic concepts of the initiative into our daily lives. For a business owner. This might mean assessing the accessibility of your business. For a teacher, it might mean ensuring that disability is included in your lessons on diversity and inclusion. For a family, it might mean inviting friends with a disability to The World Games and experiencing the action together in an inclusive way.
How exciting is it to see an initiative like this one connected to such a large, global event like The World Games 2022?
Underwood: It is tremendously exciting to be a part of The World Games 2022 and this Initiative. At the same time, I feel like an athlete with butterflies in my stomach before the big game, like taking the last shot in a tie game for the Championship with the world watching. We have the opportunity to do something big. We are ready to go.
Cook: For me, a disabled person, it is very validating to see a large organization like The World Games promote and support this initiative. At the same time, it is a reminder of how far we have to go in creating societal inclusion. My goal is that one day – hopefully soon – disability inclusion will not need its own initiative. We will all have the education, motivation and representation to ensure that all people can experience life more equitably.
What sport are you most looking forward to seeing at The World Games 2022?
Underwood: Low point wheelchair rugby, of course!
Cook: That is a tough question. I am a big gymnastics fan, so I can’t wait to watch all of the different disciplines. I also am very excited to check out and learn about some sports I am unfamiliar with like orienteering, artistic roller skating and martial arts. And I can’t leave out the adapted sports. I think I am just going to say everything!
The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee. The 11th edition of The World Games will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 7-17 July 2022. 3,600 athletes from over 30 sports and 100 countries will take part in The World Games.