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Scout Bassett on new equal payouts: ‘This is just the tip of the iceberg’ for Paralympians

2020 marked the 30th anniversary of the ‘Americans with Disabilities Act,’ which ushered in an age of visibility for people with disabilities who have been pushing for equality in a plethora of fields. Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers sits down with Paralympic athlete Scout Bassett to discuss her career, diversity in the fields of sports, and the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

KRISTIN MYERS: Welcome back to "A Time for Change." I'm Kristin Myers.

We're talking today about women breaking barriers in sports and the lessons those women have for all of us. This year marks the 30th anniversary for the Americans with Disabilities Act. And our next guest is a leader in the push for visibility and equality.

Scout Bassett is currently training for the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics. And I want to take a look at some of these photos of her competing. They are absolutely incredible.

She's 32 years old, just 4 feet and 9 inches tall, and competes in track and field with a prosthetic right leg. Scout, thanks so much for joining us today.

Now, next year at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, which of course, have been pushed back to 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, winners are going to be receiving the same prize money as athletes competing in the Olympics. And that's the first time in history this has ever happened. What does that mean for you? And what do you think it signals about para athletes?

SCOUT BASSETT: Well, I'm so proud that our US OPC finally decided to make this necessary change for equality. Because up until these Paralympic Games, the Paralympic athletes have only received $7,000 for a gold medal, and then obviously staggered down from there. So this is a massive huge increase for us, and such a good sign in the right direction, and really an indication that the value of athletes with disabilities, the talents, the skill set, the hard work and dedication we bring to our craft is just as worthy and valuable as what Olympic athletes bring. So I think this is really just a tip of the iceberg for equality for athletes with disabilities.

KRISTIN MYERS: You know, in my conversation with [INAUDIBLE], we talked a lot about this rounding the corner that we're seeing. And I'm wondering if you think that the time has really come for our athletes, especially those that are women, to really get those same lucrative deals that we see athletes that compete in the Olympics getting.

SCOUT BASSETT: I think we're starting to just break a little bit of that ice when it comes to Paralympic athletes. Not quite all there. Most notably, you know, Paralympic athletes, even though the medal count prize money is the same, it is our monthly stipends are nowhere near the same as Olympic athletes. We have far fewer benefits. And sponsorship dollars are significantly down.

And even when it comes to gender, there are 38 fewer sports and events for women in the Paralympics than there are men, male sports and events. And of the total athletes that compete at the Paralympic Games, only 33% of them are female athletes. So obviously, we have just a long ways to go, but you know, we've got eight years till the LA '28 games comes, and hopefully by then, we're going to see equal participation of male and female sports and of also male and female athletes that compete at those games.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now, you talk a lot about visibility and how, growing up, you didn't have many women that looked like you that you were able to really look up to. How do we tackle that problem of visibility in sports? Or just even in our society, how do we change the way that we see athletes or people with disabilities?

SCOUT BASSETT: Well, I think something like this is a great start. One of the major issues that we have in the space of disability is just the lack of visibility. When we talk about diversity and inclusion, we are so quick to include so many different categories, but almost always, people with disabilities are left out of that conversation. Are not included in those discussions of diversity and inclusion. And so being able to shine spotlights like this on athletes with disabilities is a huge step forward.

But also, I think just in the way that we cover Paralympic sports, we do very little of that here in the US. If you were to walk on the street and ask somebody if they know a Paralympic athlete, if they've heard of one or if they've ever seen Paralympic sport, I think a majority of them would say they have no idea. And so I think just greater coverage of the Paralympic sports.

But also, when we talk about diversity and inclusion and in our workspaces in our communities, what is our reaction when we have those conversations? Is it of discomfort? Is it of we've done enough, but we don't need to include them?

And I think so often where we have this collective discomfort towards things that our eyes are not trained to see. And nothing about disability fits cultural or social norms. And I think we've got to continue to have those conversations in our workspace, in our families, our communities of how we look at people with disabilities. Not as lesser than, but as powerful, as being able to make vital contributions, and as being valuable and worthy members of society.

KRISTIN MYERS: I think a lot when we have these conversations around inclusion, the worry of tokenism really comes up. And this is a year where we've talked a lot about diversity and about inclusion. I'm wondering what your fear is around tokenism, and if you worry that we're going to be making a lot of really shallow and empty moves for inclusion.

SCOUT BASSETT: Of course. And I think that's an issue that I know I've certainly been concerned about in my own experiences where, you know, you don't want to be selected for something just to check a box, right, just to fill a diversity box and not really for anything else of yours to be valued, you know, your voice, your story, your experiences. And sometimes I will say I've definitely had that experience where it was clear that I was only, you know, utilized to check a box and nobody really cared about what I had to say or of my message or the experiences that I've lived through. And I think that's a thing that for people with disabilities we all have this fear of facing.

And but I do think that it's important to just to create space to be there. Because even if you're not exactly being heard or valued, I think it's important to simply exist, you know, in those spaces. And sometimes that in itself can be a revolution in some ways. And I think in many ways, that's how you get a start is you get yourself in the door and then you start to, you know, push those boundaries and you start to have those conversations.

But the one thing that's always been hard for people with disabilities is that we have always had to be our own advocate. We have always had to speak up for ourselves, because if we don't, nobody else is going to do it for us. And so that's one thing that I'm hoping to be able to, you know, use any opportunities I have to use my voice for good and for change.

KRISTIN MYERS: You know, you mentioned about some of the disparities that, even among the Paralympic community, that folks face, especially women, for example. I'm wondering about some other disparities that you see, even around race and ethnicity. How do we support some of those athletes who are facing barriers, not just from the fact that there are differently abled, but again, those barriers around gender or around race, around ethnicity?

SCOUT BASSETT: Yes. I recently read an article how, you know, it's hard enough for women in the work space to get equal pay and what about-- this actually read this article around the International Day of People with Disabilities-- imagine being a woman, being disabled, and being a minority. And those are all things that, you know, I fit in those categories, and it's a huge challenge. And I think that, largely, when we-- in particular, when we look at sport, we rarely ever see Asian athletes, male or female, in mainstream sports. And very few at a professional level.

And so, you know, I'm very aware that of sort of the importance of me being able to be out there and competing. Of not only helping people with disabilities, but hopefully motivating a whole generation of Asian-American kids or Asian kids to see that sport and activity is a path for them. It's vital for their life.

But you know, unfortunately, one of the things about the US Paralympic team is when we look at the numbers, the US Paralympic team is not reflective of the diversity of our country in any way. And that's something that we've got to change too. Not only is it difficult to access the equipment and the barrier to entry to Paralympic sport is so high, but it can be even greater for minorities in particular that may have fewer resources, live in communities where Paralympic sport isn't available. And so just working to, you know, help to break down some of those barriers.

KRISTIN MYERS: Right. Well, I've absolutely loved this conversation. Thank you so much, Paralympian Scout Bassett, for joining us today.

SCOUT BASSETT: Thank you so much.