Thursday, September 15, 2016
Although I am not especially athletic or enthusiastic about sports, I’ve been thinking a lot about the paraolympics this week. Two particular aspects of this week’s news coverage stand out to me. First, Mikey Benjamin, a runner diagnosed with Autism, has been breaking records and is the first American to win gold in the 1500 meter, and will be training to hopefully compete in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Second, the winners’ medals have been made more accessible, with pellets inside and Braille inscriptions to better provide a sensory experience for the visually impaired. These, and many other, features of the paraolympics have struck a chord with me, and ignited my fervor to challenge the extent to which these feats are truly progressive.
I am inspired by the many athletes competing in this year’s paralympics. I appreciate the paraolympics for destigmatizing disability by shifting the perception to broadcast strength and ability. However, I find myself continuing wondering why the paralympics is separate from the Olympics. Mikey Benjamin provides an example of how often times paraolympic athletes are equally competitive to Olympic athletes, and should be viewed comparably and provided equal opportunity in competition. Of course, there is a valid argument for the paraolympics. Having separate events provides a space to excel for persons with disabilities. And, I agree, it is appropriate to have differing events for different bodies. At the same time, we have separate events for men and women to accommodate differences in physical ability; why don't we also have events for persons with disabilities? These athletes deserve equal attention, publicity, and fame for their tremendous achievements. For this reason, I believe the paraolympics should not be a separate event, but a component of the Olympics.
I am delighted the paraolympics has changed their medals to provide a more well-rounded sensory experience. And yet, it took 76 years for this change. One would think that an event specifically designed for people with disabilities would have realized their medals should be distinguishable by all their athletes. I do not aim to undermine this progressive action. I seek to challenge that this should have been done sooner, and that the Olympics should likewise design their medals with the full range of ability in mind.
I hope society can embrace and cherish able-bodied and disabled athletes equally. Until that day comes, I will continue to support the incredible feats achieved by the athletes of the paraolympics.