Paralympic Athletes Have a Role to Play when the Games End
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
While we cannot overemphasize the historical event that is unfolding before our eyes athletes with disabilities competing in front of millions of TV viewers, we must also not forget that the vast majority of the world's citizens with disabilities are still confronted with too many barriers to engage in a physically active lifestyle. Many people with disabilities are older and are often in poor health. Some have severe disabilities that make it difficult to find exercise equipment that will accommodate their needs. Others cannot afford exercise equipment or a membership to a fitness center.
Wouldn't it be a great tribute to the world's citizens with disabilities if the more than 400 athletes, in a show of unity, spent some time after the games encouraging all the world's citizens with disabilities to become more physically active It would be cause for celebration if our Paralympic athletes were able to raise the level of consciousness concerning the importance of physical activity for every citizen with a disability. They could start by convincing our legislators that government-subsidized fitness memberships for the poor, disabled and elderly, is a right not a privilege. They could also spend their time educating the fitness industry on how to present a more inclusive image in their advertising. Watching someone with the perfect body type work out in a local health club for Bally's or some other mega-fitness corporation is not going to generalize to the other 99.9 percent of the population who struggle endlessly with excess weight, high blood pressure, back pain and many other health conditions.
This is a great opportunity for our Paralympic athletes to 'seize the moment' and call upon the world's health leaders to recognize the value and importance of sports and physical activity for all its citizens. The many barriers that people with disabilities face when trying to start an exercise program inaccessible facilities, lack of finances to join a fitness center or purchase home exercise equipment, lack of transportation, unsafe neighborhoods, poorly paved sidewalks, etc.? makes this challenge even greater than in the general population. It is my hope that our Paralympic athletes will, once the games end, become ambassadors of physical activity and good health for the rest of the world's citizens with disabilities.