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Natalia Dannenberg-Spreier: Changing Attitudes About Disability Through Sports

Natalia Dannenberg-Spreier: Changing Attitudes About Disability Through Sports

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.

Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! I have one more interview for you this week. Today I’m excited to cruise around with Natalia Dannenberg-Spreier, head of paralympic heritage, International Paralympic Committee. Are you ready to be inspired?

Spiffy: Welcome Natalia. Let’s jump right in. Can you tell me what challenge the International Paralympic Committee is addressing?

Natalia: It’s great to be here, Spiffy! At a time when diversity and inclusion are hot topics, the 15 percent in the world who have a disability want effective change to remove the inequality, discrimination, and inactivity they face. The International Paralympic Committee wants to change attitudes about disability, improve accessibility, and increase opportunities for people with a disability through the power of sport. By using the platform of the Paralympic Games, we are raising awareness of the barriers and discrimination people with disabilities face on a daily basis at all levels of society. Paralympic athletes can act as a catalyst to break down these barriers, so all persons with disabilities can fulfill their potential and be active and visible members of an inclusive society.

Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?

Natalia: The issue of disability has touched my life in several ways, both through my work and with me navigating the world with hearing loss and my children having physical or cognitive differences. The adaptiveness and inclusivity of the world make a huge impact on whether I, my family, or anyone else can thrive. That's why changing the way the world sees and reacts to disability is so important. We all should have the right to equal opportunities and not be exposed to damaging and stigmatizing stereotypes so that we can all participate fully in all aspects of life.

Spiffy: That’s a great motivation! What would you say is the impact of your work?

Natalia: The International Paralympic Committee aims to change the world through paralympic sports by changing attitudes about disability, increasing opportunities for people with a disability, and removing barriers for people with a disability. We want to put persons with disabilities at the heart of the diversity and inclusion agenda. We are working to implement a range of activities targeting governments, businesses, and the public to drive social inclusion for persons with disabilities. We want to break down societal and systemic barriers that are preventing persons with disabilities from fulfilling their potential and being active members of society and ensure greater awareness, visibility, and representation of persons with disabilities.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent milestone/initiative by you or your org. What impact does that make?

Natalia: The Paralympic Games is often a catalyst for change and the Paris 2024 Paralympics will be no exception. Last year, French President Emmanuel Macron presented his government’s policy which prioritizes accessibility, education, and employment. The measures included fully reimbursing wheelchair purchases in 2024, reducing value-added tax (VAT) on a range of adaptive sports equipment from 20 percent to 5.5 percent, and more inclusive schooling for 430,000 students with disabilities. The French government also pledged to invest 1.5 billion euros to improve accessibility in places like small shops and restaurants, as well as improve digital accessibility of public websites. These are ways the Paralympic Games can have a tangible impact on society.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Natalia—it’s been an honor!

Natalia Dannenberg-Spreier is an innovative and award-winning brand strategist with over 13 years of experience. Currently serving as the head of paralympic heritage at the International Paralympic Committee in Bonn, Germany, she has led teams in delivering the award-winning #WeThe15 human rights campaign and A Winning Mindset podcast. Natalia is passionate about the power of inclusion and leverages technology alongside brand purpose. With a rich background encompassing journalism, media management, and brand strategy, Natalia Dannenberg-Spreier continues to make impactful contributions to the world of sports and media. (First published on the Ladderworks website on March 1, 2024.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2024 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Sujit Kunte. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.