Editor's Note

Mixed Messages

Paralympic Games


So all this is true:

As this October issue heads to press, the Russian Paralympic team — its appeal denied — has been banned from the Rio Paralympic Games due to state-sanctioned doping aimed at, one assumes, driving up the Russian medal count.

Also as this issue heads to press, the Brazilian edition of Vogue is under fire for altering (“Photoshopping”) photos of able-bodied models to use in a campaign for the Paralympic Games. Instead of using photos of actual Paralympians, Vogue digitally removed an arm from a female model’s photo and a leg from a male model’s photo. The Vogue staff justified this by saying the campaign was meant to boost anemic Paralympic Games ticket sales in Rio.

On the one hand, the Russian Federation presumably thinks Paralympic medals are so prestigious and desirable that it’s willing to cheat to win them, and on a large, state-sponsored scale. On the other hand, Brazil wants to sell more Paralympic Games tickets, but Vogue presumably doesn’t trust actual Paralympic athletes to be attractive or appealing enough to appear in the marketing campaign.

On the one hand, parity of a sort, albeit illegally. On the other, disability being shuffled out of the public light and into a dark corner. Again. But I guess that’s not so different from the messages that people with disabilities get all the time.

People with disabilities are routinely lauded as “inspirational,” yet they struggle to secure funding for assistive technology. They’re called “heroic,” but find drivers illegally parked in those blue-striped parking spaces. They’re “brave,” but hear people grouse about no-barrier entrances and curb cuts.

So which is it? Are people with disabilities truly invited to the table? Or is that just lip service?

The London 2012 Paralympic Games were seen as a decisive step toward inclusion, as athletes competed in front of huge, excited crowds. BBC Sport reported that 2.7 million Paralympic Games tickets were sold for London, a new record. BBC Sport also said that as the Rio Olympics were drawing to a close, only 12 percent of Paralympics tickets had been sold. As a result, Paralympic staffing has been cut, some venues have been closed, and 10 teams were in danger of missing the Games because travel funds that had been promised to them hadn’t yet been delivered.

What a cruel blow to athletes who’d been hoping for a sea change. Instead, it seems the world continues to be with them in spirit…until there’s a financial cost or even the smallest inconvenience (It’s no big deal, I just need to park here for 2 minutes while I run into Home Depot).

All the platitudes and blue-striped parking spaces in the world mean nothing if we don’t also change what we truly think. And that remains a work in progress.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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