Fielding a Full Team in Rio
Editor’s Note: This blog was cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor’s blog.
The spirit of competition and excellence resumes in Rio today, as the 2016 summer Paralympics kick off. At these games, just like at those that recently concluded, elite athletes from around the world will inspire and awe on the field of play. They will shatter records. They’ll also outstrip expectations — on more than one level.
Like all Olympians, each Paralympian has a unique story characterized by not only athletic prowess but also perseverance and drive, of finding a way in when doors were closed. Competing at the highest level with a disability, these athletes often jump one more hurdle. Similarly, it’s not just about the medals they bring home. It’s also about what’s possible, and in particular what’s possible when all people have the opportunity to develop their gifts and talents on the field of play.
I’m grateful to have had such opportunities. Sports have always been a big part of my life. My dad died when I was 12, but I still vividly remember him in the stands at my Little League games, encouraging and expecting me to give it my all. In turn, I started to develop the same expectations of myself, whether at bat or in school or on the job. Even now that I’m older, with a few replacement parts, I go for a run or ride my bike to work whenever I can. I’ve also made it a point to coach my kids’ sports teams over the years. It was important to me that they also had the opportunity to feel the thrill of victory, as well as learn how to be gracious in defeat.
But, most importantly, I wanted them to understand the importance of setting and achieving goals and experience the camaraderie that comes with being part of a team, because these are valuable skills that they’d one day need in the workplace. Indeed, research indicates that sports play an important role in this regard, helping many youth — including those with disabilities — develop the skills they need for future workplace success.
It’s important that we ensure nothing keeps people with disabilities from having these formative experiences and contributing their skills and talents, whether on the field or in the workplace. At the Labor Department, we often say that America works best when we field a full team. People with disabilities are some of our most valuable players. Employers are always looking for people who are forward-thinking, ready for a challenge, and bring fresh perspectives to the table. All of those qualities are part of everyday life for people with disabilities.
As we look towards National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, I am eager to showcase how #InclusionWorks: for workers, for employers and for opportunity. Over the next two weeks, the Paralympics will certainly help set the stage. So from today until Sept. 18, I’ll be rooting for all members of Team USA in Rio, celebrating not only their individual victories, but also the spirit of inclusion they help advance.