Russian Paralympians Outperform Their Olympic Counterparts and Draw Attention to Disability Issues
The headlines in the New York Times on May 20, 2010 was pretty amazing: Disabled Athletes Defy an Unaccommodating City. The story was about a group of Russian Paralympic athletes who returned from the winter Paralympics in Vancouver, Canada with a huge win in the medal count -- significantly more than their Russian Olympic counterparts. What made the story so unique was the fact that disabled athletes were even being compared to non-disabled athletes, and that the Russian Paralympians were being hailed as the better group of athletes in their native country.
|The number of medals earned by each country in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Paralympics|
There were pretty substantial differences between the two teams. The Russian Olympic team won a meager three gold medals while the following month the Russian Paralympic team won a staggering 38 medals, including 12 golds (The U.S. team won 4 golds and a total of 13 medals). Not bad for a group of athletes who live in the shadow of their native countrymen having to constantly battle physical, social and attitudinal barriers.
The enormous success of Russia's Paralympic team will hopefully bring greater visibility to their disability movement. The country is largely inaccessible and any attention to disability issues is a good thing. Just listen to Natalya Bakhmatova from the Moscow-based disabled rights group, Perspektiva: 'The Moscow government's attempts to make the city more accessible for disabled people in recent years have turned out horribly. There are new ramps on street corners and in front of businesses, but many are either too narrow or too steep for wheelchairs. A few buses are equipped with lifts for passengers in wheelchairs, but the bus drivers often refuse to operate them. Wheelchair elevators built in some new subway stations are frequently locked or out of order. And sirens or buzzers to alert the blind that it is safe to cross roads are little help in a city where many disregard traffic signals.'
World-class athletes have a way of capturing a nation's attention. Russia's Paralympic team can help the disability movement bring to light the struggles that millions of Russian citizens with disabilities and their families must go through for the simplest necessities that the rest of the country takes for granted.