Growth of Paralympics Helps Change the World's View of Disability
The final stretch of summer is ending this year with an exciting two weeks of Paralympic competition. Underway this week in Beijing, the Paralympic Games involve more than 4,000 athletes with disabilities from 148 different countries. Eager sports fans who enjoy the height of international competition will appreciate the dedication and determination of these fine athletes, many of whom had to overcome enormous physical and attitudinal barriers to reach Beijing. Many athletes had to spend their own money or raise their own funds for several years to get to the Games, which is what makes the Paralympics such a unique event. There are no hand outs, no sponsorships, no big city lights -- just raw talent and sheer determination to overcome insurmountable odds to achieve a dream. (Read about one U.S. Paralympic athlete's determination to get to the Games at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/15/sports/othersports/15george.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin.)
|Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games|
The history of disabled sport has an interesting parallel to the disability movement. What started out as a small, friendly competition among a group of post-World War II Vets with spinal cord injuries in Stoke Mandeville, England in 1948, has morphed into an international event that is slowly starting to change the way many countries view their disabled citizens. While China and other nations still have a long way to go in terms of offering people with disabilities equal access to jobs, housing and health care, the visibility of the Paralympics is doing its share of good by promoting a greater level of awareness concerning issues that people with disabilities are confronted with on a day-to-day basis related to the built environment. Anthea Webb, the UN Resident Coordinator for the Games in China, commented: 'The Paralympics are a powerful example of what can be achieved when everyone is given the opportunity to participate and perform to their full potential. After the Paralympics have finished, citizens and visitors with disabilities will find it easier to get around Beijing thanks to the new sloped curbs and ramps for wheelchair users, Braille blocks on sidewalks and special access on public transport.'
Clearly, the Paralympic Games sends a greater message to the world that transcends sport and competition. Even within a nation where human rights have been ignored for close to 5,000 years, the Games raise a level of consciousness that can transform a society into accepting, and even promoting, human difference. The Beijing Paralympic Games will press other nations with poor human rights records to do the same for its citizens with disabilities. Jeff Klein, of the New York Times, writes: 'China was a place where, in Maoist times, the word used to refer to the disabled was 'deficient' or 'useless', and vestiges of that attitude lingered on until quite recently...Beijing is now full of newly built wheelchair-accessible facilities. Perhaps more importantly, the disabled themselves in China are newly out, visible and proud.' Even the Great Wall is now accessible with the recent installation of an elevator and ramp that allows wheelchairs to enter and exit. There was even a story on the news in China about accessible buses. Never underestimate the power of sport and competition to help change the way a society views its citizens with disabilities.
Show your support for the Games (September 6 through 17th) by logging on to one of the websites that are highlighting the Games and paying respect to a nation of athletes who are leading the way toward equality and freedom. While it's still somewhat disappointing that you can't turn on your TV to find a comparable level of coverage as the Olympics, with faster internet connections and more broadband in many homes today compared to what was available during the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, you'll be able to find several websites that are streaming live videos of the Games. If you have never viewed any type of Paralympic competition, it's worth spending some time these next two weeks viewing highlights of the Games on your computer. NBC Universal will provide US coverage of the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games via UniversalSports.com (http://www.universalsports.com) and will have about three hours a day of coverage. The Games are also being broadcast October 8th on Universal Sports TV, followed by a special presentation of the events on NBC on October 18th.