I love it when the Paralympics are on. For two straight weeks, disabled athletes are in the spotlight.
I still remember the atmosphere surrounding the London Paralympics. Up until that point, the Paralympics always seemed a last gasp effort next to the main show, but in 2012 they built it up as something special, as a revival and a sort of enhancement of what had come before.
It was great. Channel 4 dubbed athletes as “superhuman”, encouraging viewers to see chairs, false legs and other aids as positive things, like add-ons in a video game.
What really hit me was hearing viewers cheering the athletes on. Suddenly disabled people were being supported and sometimes booed for their efforts or lack thereof. Athletes were being shown as people full of desires and passions and also bad tempers when it came to losing.
When the hype of the London Olympics was over, I nervously expected people to ignore its younger sibling show, but it became an event of its own. It still appeared on the news (albeit slightly below the headline slot), you could stream a lot of events, and Channel 4 gave it a fair amount of coverage (although they still needed to fit Deal or No Deal in there.) At one point the view count for Channel 4’s coverage reached 6 million. Madness.
Partway through it suddenly dawned on me: what a great way to change attitudes to disability. Disabled athletes were being portrayed as heroes. Kids could look up to them. Adults could watch their performances in awe. People who for some reason think every disabled person unintelligent or miserable would see their presumptions collapse before their very eyes as athletes joked around, laughed, cried and bulged with pride.
Surely loads of things would change now. Every building would have good access for starters, because what if a local hero wanted to get in? And attitudes would definitely change. Everyone once ignorant would now realise that, more likely than not, I had a brain, passions and wasn’t very scary at all.
Not really. But I’m sure plenty has changed outside my anecdotal evidence. The Paralympics is awareness done right. You don’t have to head to any meetings or listen to any talks. You just have fun watching sport and athletics and acknowledge for yourself how disability works. Let your curiosity run wild. Look at the stumps, the wounds, the spasms. Now get to know the people behind such aesthetics. See how they’re just like you, albeit more fit and determined perhaps.
Rio did an OK job last year. Arenas filled up more as the event went on. There were money problems and Rio apparently doesn’t have anything to boast of when it comes to accessibility, but overall it wasn’t bad. I hope the sense of competition continues into the next one as Tokyo try to top Rio in terms of scale and style.