The alarm ringing at 5:00 in the morning, reminding you of the commitment last night. You’ve got to dress up, run and be on the track, be on the court. Legs aching and the only thing your mind’s telling you is to go back to sleep. Is all that effort worth nothing? Does it, and will it make a difference? But you listen to your heart, which will beat faster after sweat runs down your face and splashes down the ground. You sit comfortably in your wheelchair and make your way to the place you belong to because you know this chair doesn’t limit you but lifts you up. Well, does it really lift you up, is the question.
Disabled to differently abled to specially abled. The Great liberal social change has sensitized our glossary, but, what about the ignorant minds?
In 1948, Sir Luding Guttman organized a sports competition involving World War II veterans with spinal cord-related injuries in Stoke-Mandeville, England. Four years later, competitors from Holland joined the games, and the international movement, now known as the Paralympic Movement, was born. Olympic-style games for athletes with a disability were organized for the first time in Rome in 1960. In Toronto in 1976, other disability groups were added and the idea of merging together different disability groups for international sports competitions was born. In the same year, the first Paralympic Winter Games took place in Sweden.
The Paralympic Movement, a global network of individuals and organizations brought together through their commitment to providing sports opportunities for all para-athletes and through the belief to contribute to a better world with equal opportunities for all was constructed around the core values of courage, determination, inspiration, and equality.
What we as a society need to dwell upon is; has the Paralympic Movement been able to provide the equal opportunities and the platform for social change? Paralympians still strive for equal treatment with non-disabled Olympic athletes, but there is a large funding gap between Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
Well, sometimes matches cannot be won without the support of the crowd. A plethora of opportunities in isolation, directed towards increasing participation of para-athletes cannot alter the traditional views of the society.
Baroness Grey Thompson, a former British wheelchair racer having won Golds in 100 meters and 400 meters at Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, is right in saying, “If people show respect to each other and talk to people with disabilities as people rather than as disabilities, and focus on what people can do rather than on what they cannot, then the Paralympics is a huge chance to learn.”
The International Paralympic Committee, founded on 22nd September 1989, which executes and leads the direction of the Paralympic Movement, has set up strategic priorities for the years 2015-2018. It includes further enhancing the appeal of Paralympic Games by using balanced yet attractive sports programme and improving the global reach of the games using Pyeongchang 2018 and Tokyo 2020 Games. It also aims to increase and improve the opportunities for para-athletes to develop from the grassroots to Paralympic level, raising the quality of their environment.
Legal rights and actions can pave the way to bringing about equality in terms of facilities, infrastructure and education but we have a long way to go that leads to emotional security and cerebral equality.
41 years later after its advent, the standard in the global reach of the Games has taken a huge leap forward. In terms of funding and awareness, efforts are being put in and need to be put in but for equality in its true sense, an accepting mind and an open heart can give to the society what no legal rights can. When the Paralympic athletes get the same respect for their dedication and strong will as other Olympians, we will reach to a whole new level of egalitarianism. Getting out of their nutshells, that our social awkwardness and judgemental eyes have confined them to, it takes effort and integrity. Not switching off that alarm ringing uninterruptedly at 5:00 in the morning, getting up and seating yourself in that wheelchair, shoving aside all the questions raised on your capabilities and ‘Is all this for nothing?’ Let’s show them that the wheelchair wouldn’t confine but lift them up.
By Jivatneet Kaur