The Paralympics received an unusual amount of attention this year—for an unfortunate reason. The trial of Oscar Pistorius cast a shadow on athletes with disabilities. The games are now over, and they didn’t exactly garner stellar ratings. If you passed on watching them, you weren’t alone. Most people with disabilities and, surprisingly, even former Paralympians, didn’t watch, either.
Why is this? Scope, a disability charity in the United Kingdom wanted to know, so they conducted a poll in 2011, and their results were eye-opening. They discovered that people with disabilities don’t find the Paralympic Games inspiring. In fact, they find them condescending and patronizing. According to the results of the poll, a full quarter of people with disabilities find the games insulting on some level. Sixty-six percent would rather see them merged with the Olympics. In a way, the Paralympic Games are seen as segregation.
The reason for this is that the coverage of the events all too often focuses on the disabilities and impairments rather than the achievements of the athletes. The games are also seen as somewhat degrading, because they come right after the Olympic Games. This makes many people with disabilities feel like they’re being highlighted as second-class citizens, almost as if to say, “Look how great the U.S. team did in the Olympics! Oh, and here’s the Paralympic Team. How cute are they?”
There’s also the fact that, by the end of the marathon that is the Olympic Games, viewers are worn out and tired, ready to put the Olympics to rest, and so the Paralympics just represent more viewing when viewers aren’t up for it.
Finally, the Paralympics, in some peoples’ opinions, is a gross misrepresentation of disabled people. They highlight “triumph over tragedy” stories to appeal to the masses, while downplaying and, in many cases, blatantly overlooking or ignoring the hurdles which the typical person with a disability must overcome every single day. Inspiring accomplishments, it is observed, don’t necessarily have to represent great victories in athletic events.
The person in a wheelchair who manages to take a single step or who develops a new kind of mobility device is every bit as inspiring, if not more so, than the athlete who wins a gold. This is because the athlete is leveraging natural abilities that not everyone has, and their accomplishments, while astounding, suggest that these great strides are the only ones that matter. To this end, the games misrepresent the daily lives of people with disabilities.
How this can be fixed is unclear. Is it a natural step to either merge the Games with the Olympics or move them further away from the Olympics? Is there a way to shine more of a light on the lives of everyday people with disabilities, so that the Paralympic Games cease to be viewed as insulting or condescending to people with disabilities? Here’s a video produced by Scope that suggests change is needed. the How do you feel about the Paralympic Games? What do you think would make them appeal to a broader audience?