Jack Wallace visits The Empire State Building on August 19, 2021 in New York City.
NEW YORK — When the sun sets in New York City tonight — around 7:48 pm — the 102-story Empire State Building will light up in purple.
The midtown Art Deco skyscraper won’t be alone. Landmarks in every corner of the world, including Niagara Falls, Rome’s Colosseum, Moscow’s Ostankino Tower, Tokyo’s Skytree and more than 100 others will join in to mark the launch of WeThe15, a global human rights movement to transform the lives of people with disabilities. The gesture comes just days before the Paralympic Games kick off on Aug. 24 in Tokyo.
“It’s great to see such a cohesive effort,” said Jack Wallace, a member of Team USA’s sled hockey team, which will be going for a fourth consecutive Paralympic gold medal next year in Beijing.
“I looked at the list, and there are some incredible landmarks participating. It’s just amazing to see the support from all of these countries.”
Wallace, who hails from nearby Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, took time out Thursday to visit the Empire State Building’s open air observation decks, soak in the 360-degree view spanning six states and help kick-off WeThe15, a decade-long effort that aims to end discrimination towards people with disabilities in favor of visibility, accessibility and inclusion.
“Everyone has different obstacles in life, whether it is your disability, your background, your gender,” Wallace said. “Some (disabilities) are just much more obvious.”
People with disabilities make up the world’s largest marginalized group, comprising 15 percent of the global population — some 1.2 million people. Spearheaded by the International Paralympic Committee and International Disability Alliance, WeThe15 brings together a coalition of organizations from the worlds of sport, human rights, policy, business, arts and entertainment.
“Sport, and events such as the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, are hugely powerful vehicles to engage global audiences,” IPC President Andrew Parsons said. “By partnering with Special Olympics, Invictus Games and Deaflympics, there will be at least one major international sport event for persons with disabilities to showcase WeThe15 each year between now and 2030.”
Wallace learned the importance of inclusion early in life. His aunt, Mary Kay, has Down Syndrome.
“She is an amazing person, she contributes to society,” he said. “It’s not about ending all disabilities; it’s about being inclusive towards them.”
That’s a key part of the WeThe15 message, especially the 90-second long campaign film airing across multiple digital channels, including YouTube.
In it, people with a disability poke fun at themselves and some of the platitudes often spouted by well-meaning friends: “Only when you see us as wonderfully ordinary, wonderfully human, can we all break down these barriers that keep us apart.”
“It’s great to show that people who are differently abled have the ability to laugh at it, and it’s not just this thing to shy away from,” Wallace said. “You have to be sensitive, because everyone is different, but at the same time, we’re not going to yell at you if you ask a question. We can laugh at ourselves the same as anyone else can.”
The 23-year-old Wallace, who lost part of his right leg in a boating accident in 2008, was introduced to sled hockey in 2009 while attending Camp No Limits in Maine. A member of the U.S. National Development Sled Hockey Team from 2013-2016, he made his Team USA debut in 2016.
Wallace was on the ice in PyeongChang when Team USA scored an overtime goal to defeat Canada 2-1 and win gold. The team will arrive at the 2022 Beijing Paralympics as defending world champions, but competition will be fierce.
To maintain their edge, team members will gather in Nashville early next year to train at the home rink of the Predators, the city’s NHL franchise. There, head coach Jeff Sauer will drill his athletes to exploit any opportunities they have to make an aggressive charge.
“The unique thing about our team, we constantly have our defenseman jump up in the play and play as forwards pretty consistently,” Wallace said. “So instead of having three on five in the zone, or three on three on the rush, we can get our defense on the offense, and produce more.
“We think it will be a really good preliminary round with us, Canada, Russia and maybe China,” he added. “The Chinese team has been coming leaps and bounds this past year. They are the host nation and they are pushing hard for a podium spot, just like (South) Korea did in PyeongChang and Russia did in Sochi.”
For more information about WeThe15, visit www.WeThe15.org and follow @WeThe15 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.