The hoopla is over in Beijing. Or is it? Sure, thousands of athletes and visitors have streamed onto airplanes and returned to their home countries. They tote medals and for some, sponsorship deals. The media assault on the world has abated. Disinterested people around the globe give a collective sigh of relief as their TV and radio programming returns to normal. However, on September 6th, the Para Olympics get underway. These are, in my opinion, the REAL games. You won’t find flaky sub “sports” such as BMX bike racing, syncro-swimming (plenty of gel and nose plugs here!) or trampoline in the Para Olympic lineup. No, instead, count on things like equestrian, swimming and goalball.
The Para Olympics began in 1948, when British war veterans with spinal cord injuries decided to participate in a sporting ‘olympics’. Since then, the Para Olympic Games has grown into a huge ‘after’ event with thousands of ‘disabled’ athletes (the lucky ones who are have the resources and facilities at home to participate in para sport). These Games come on the heels of the ‘real’ Olympics. Frankly, I would love to see the day, when there is no separation of the games. It would be a logistical nightmare to facilitate all this ‘inclusion’ and access to venues etc, but how wonderful it would be for Olympic fans (able bodied and not) to be able to wander from ‘Olympic Girls Gymnastics’ in one part of a stadium, to the ‘Para Olympic Fencing’ competition in another part of the same stadium.
‘They’ (and I mean the government funders and planners and other do-gooders who spout ‘inclusion’ and ‘accessibility’ in all things) often do not really walk the para-walk, so to speak. It’s one thing to provide an automatic door opener and modified washroom in a sports arena or community centre and announce with great fanfare that the complex is “ACCESSIBLE”, but it’s another thing to provide accessible PROGRAMS for the kids with disabilities who want to use them. These facilities are erected at great cost and are intended for EVERYONE’S use. However, they often have physical barriers to PWD (persons with disabilities) or, there simply is no provission for PWD (kids and adults) to access programs. What is the point if someone in a wheelchair can get INTO the building, onto the pool deck and maybe, even into the pool, but there are no programs for them? The big bucks and support go to mainstream (able-bodied) sports. I think there is really little genuine interest on the part of government and society in true ‘accessibility’, ‘inclusion’, ‘full participation’, ‘diversity’…yada, yada, yada. For many ‘Planners’ (the able-bodied guys and gals in suits) who tweak design and convince the tax payers that they have done an admirable job with their ‘accessible’ design, it’s ‘all about the money’ and creating a building that minimizes spending on the project and provides what is mandatory by law in the way of accessibility features. There is much time and effort (ergo money) spent (ie. wasted) on legal consultation by city planners to avoid the risk of not meeting the minimum accessibility requirements and, god forbid, a Human Rights or other legal (ie costly and embarrassing) challenge by some ‘minority’ group (persons with disabilities or cultural, ethnic or other). Sigh. Do you need to live the experience of seeing YOUR kid in a wheel chair before you start thinking, “Hey! there are hardly any programs for my little Johny!” ? Sadly, that’s the way it seems to work. A physiotherapist and advocate for kids with disabilities recently told me that she has spent 3 years trying to hammer home the need for programs, not just physical accessibility to a proposed Halifax sports venue to some of our city ‘suits’. She described ‘vacant stares’ by some of these dudes and dudettes. Her frustration was evident but her conviction?…unwavering.